The surging Memphis Grizzlies know they still have a tough road ahead to secure home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, though taking advantage of a stretch featuring sub-.500 opponents can only help.
Memphis hopes to have Zach Randolph back in the lineup as it seeks a 10th victory in its last 11 tries Wednesday night against the visiting Portland Trail Blazers.
The Grizzlies (39-19), currently in fourth place in the Western Conference, are coming off a 108-82 win at Orlando on Sunday in the first of five straight games against teams below the .500 mark.
After taking on Portland, Memphis will face Cleveland and New Orleans before a rematch on the road with the Trail Blazers on Tuesday. The Grizzlies will face the Los Angeles Clippers, Denver and Utah immediately following that stretch.
"It's definitely important to take care of those games,' said Tayshaun Prince, who scored 14 points to lead seven players in double figures. "When you lose games like that it puts you in a tough situation. You want to take care of those wins.
"We've been playing some great basketball of late, even though we haven't been playing the teams with great records yet."
The Grizzlies had an eight-game winning streak snapped with Friday's loss to Miami, which is one of only three opponents in the last 10 that has a record over .500.
"A lot of times those tough losses steamroll into a few more," forward Quincy Pondexter said. "We came out (Sunday), we were professionals and we executed and got the win. We took care of business.'
They did so without Randolph, who sat out with a sprained left ankle suffered against the Heat. It's uncertain if he'll be ready for Wednesday's contest.
Randolph, who spent his first six seasons with Portland and is averaging 21.3 points in 10 career games against his former team, also missed an 86-84 loss Jan. 4 that marked the Blazers' 14th victory in the last 18 meetings.
LaMarcus Aldridge and J.J. Hickson each had a double-double in that contest for Portland (28-31), which is four games behind Utah for the West's final playoff spot.
Aldridge scored 23 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to help the Blazers beat Charlotte 122-105 to finish 3-1 on their homestand. Rookie Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum each scored 20 points as Portland shot a season-high 59.8 percent before heading on the road for three straight.
``It's gut-check time,' Lillard said. ``If we're going to make this push for the playoffs we've got to win on the road.'
The Blazers have won seven of the last nine meetings in Memphis, and they may need to win another low-scoring contest to end their six-game road losing streak.
They shot only 40.7 percent in the first matchup last month, but also held the Grizzlies to 39.5 from the field. Neither team has scored more than 97 points in any of the last four meetings.
Memphis leads the league in defense allowing 89.5 points per game, including holding its last six opponents to an average of 83.3 points and 43.3 percent shooting.
Portland, though, is coming off setting a season best for points in a regulation contest and is averaging 113.3 points over its last three.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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