The Memphis Grizzlies' normally elite defense has fallen into a lull of late, costing them back-to-back losses in the process.
Memphis will need a return to its stout form Saturday night as it plays host to a Denver Nuggets team that is shooting extremely well and looking to beat the Grizzlies for the third time this season.
The Grizzlies (18-8) were 14-3 before losing five of their last nine, but the last two results have been especially glaring. They still rank near the top of the league in points allowed per game (90.8) and field-goal percentage defense (43.5), but they haven't looked like it in two straight defeats.
Memphis had no answer for Houston's high-scoring attack last Saturday, losing 121-96 - allowing 20 more points than its previous high by the Clippers in the season opener, with those being the only two times the Grizzlies have surrendered 100 this season.
Philadelphia nearly made it happen again Wednesday, shooting 52.1 percent in a 99-89 victory in Memphis.
"We just had no energy," said Zach Randolph, who leads Memphis in rebounding at 12.6 per game and is second with 17.1 points per game.
"We played hard, but couldn't run anymore. We didn't get stops. They had open jump shots all night. It's a combination of them playing well and taking advantage of us."
The Grizzlies were outscored on the fast break by a combined 49-5 in the last two games, and the Rockets and 76ers combined to go 21 of 44 (47.7 percent) from 3-point range.
That could mean trouble against Denver. The Nuggets (17-14) have won three of four, including two in a row in which they hit a season-best 12 3-pointers each time. They had made more than seven from beyond the arc only five times in their first 29 games.
The Nuggets averaged 116.0 points in those two victories, with Danilo Gallinari posting a career-high 39 points and hitting 7 of 11 from 3-point range in Friday's 106-85 win at Dallas.
Denver is shooting 35.9 percent from long range in its wins compared to 30.5 percent in its losses.
"When we make shots, I think we're pretty good," coach George Karl said.
Memphis didn't make shots against Philadelphia on Wednesday, hitting 38.9 percent from the field. The Grizzlies have made 7 of 28 3-point attempts in their last two games, but coach Lionel Hollins is more concerned about something else.
"It's effort. It's effort on defense, and it's effort on offense," Hollins said. "We get the ball, we have to run up the court with some pace. We have to move the ball quickly. We've got too much ball sticking. We have too much walking."
The return of leading scorer Rudy Gay (18.2 ppg) after a one-game absence should help. Gay intended to play Wednesday after spending time in Baltimore with his ill grandmother, but couldn't make it to Memphis because of weather-related flight delays.
He has averaged 21.5 points in two games against the Nuggets this season, but Denver won both - including a 97-92 victory in Memphis on Nov. 19 to snap the Grizzlies' eight-game winning streak.
Andre Iguodala scored a team-high 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting in Denver's 99-94 home win over Memphis on Dec. 14.
The Associated Press News Service
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