For a team with playoff aspirations, the Memphis Grizzlies don't look the part right now.
The Minnesota Timberwolves don't have the same postseason prospects, but they're suddenly playing like a team vying for a playoff berth.
The Grizzlies look to get their offense back on track and avoid losing a fifth loss in six games Saturday night when they visit the Timberwolves, who will try to extend their season-best winning streak to four.
After winning seven of eight Jan. 12-27, Memphis (26-23) moved into seventh place in the Western Conference. The Grizzlies, who haven't been to the playoffs since 2006, have since lost four of five to drop to 10th, two games behind eighth-place Oklahoma City.
A sputtering offense has been the biggest reason for the slide.
Memphis is averaging 93.2 points and shooting 21.4 percent from 3-point range in its last five games, after scoring 106.4 points per game and shooting 42.6 percent from beyond the arc in the previous eight. Rudy Gay is emblematic of the slump, averaging 14.0 points in his last five games after scoring 22.6 over the previous five.
The Grizzlies are coming off a lackluster 101-83 loss to Houston on Friday. Despite a significant height advantage over the undersized Rockets, Memphis got outrebounded 50-35.
"We played soft,' said Zach Randolph, who had 14 points - more than six below his team-best average. "They did what they wanted to. It was very disappointing. They treated us like little girls.'
The Grizzlies defeated Minnesota (12-23) 135-110 at home Jan. 15, in the midst of last month's surge. Gay had a team-high 21 points and was one of five Memphis players to score at least 17, as the Grizzlies racked up season highs in points, field-goal shooting (58.5 percent) and 3-pointers (11).
Memphis has won the first three meetings with Minnesota this season after losing all three games between the teams in 2008-09, by an average margin of 14.0 points. The Grizzlies, who needed to rally from 11 down to win 97-95 at the Target Center on Dec. 2, have never swept a season series from the Timberwolves in their 15-year history.
Completing the sweep might not be easy considering how well Minnesota is suddenly playing.
The Timberwolves, owners of the worst record in the West, ended a 12-game skid against teams above .500 with a 117-108 victory over Southwest Division-leading Dallas on Friday. Jonny Flynn had a team-best 19 points and Minnesota finished the game on a 13-2 run to win its third in a row.
The Timberwolves now will try to win four straight games for the first time since a five-game run Jan. 2-10, 2009. Minnesota is averaging 113.3 points on 51.8 percent shooting during the winning streak, which has come immediately after five consecutive losses.
"I just think we've matured as a team,' Flynn said. "We are just starting to find ourselves.'
Al Jefferson has been a big part of Minnesota's offensive revival, averaging 17.0 points on 61.1 percent shooting during the winning streak. He'd averaged 9.0 points and shot 32.4 percent during his previous three games.
The Associated Press News Service
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