January 06, 2015

The last time the Atlanta Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies faced each other, their records were floating around .500 during mediocre starts to the season.

Each has separated a bit from the even-water mark since, though not without plenty of turmoil along the way.

Both continue to jostle for better playoff position Saturday night when the Hawks go for a season sweep of the visiting Grizzlies, who will be forced to play again without their ailing stars.

Already having lost Marc Gasol for the season, the Grizzlies are now left without both of their top two scores after learning that Mike Conley would miss the next three to four weeks with tendinitis in his left foot. The veteran point guard, averaging 15.3 points and 6.1 assists, had missed the past three games with foot soreness.

Memphis fared poorly in the first meeting with Atlanta (36-29) even with Conley and Gasol, losing 116-101 at home Nov. 27.

For the Hawks, that game came in the middle of a 6-10 stretch that tempered expectations for the Eastern Conference's only 60-win team a season ago. They've been streaky all season, with a stiff defensive stretch helping to account for five wins in six games in their recent upswing.

It was Toronto's defensive pressure that ended the Hawks' latest run at three on Thursday night, though. Atlanta shot 42.7 percent and hit only 7 of 23 3s in a 104-96 loss to close a five-game road trip 3-2.

The Hawks held their previous six opponents to 88.5 points per game on 37 percent shooting. They forced a combined 39 turnovers in the final two games of that stretch, but after turning the Raptors over 11 times in the first half, only got four the rest of the way.

''We weren't flying around all over the place like we were earlier, so probably that had something to do with it," Al Horford said. "As far as tightening up on offense, we need to be a little more focused, do things with more purpose in order for us to take the next step as a team.''

Atlanta has taken a step or two back in the Southeast Division over the last month with Miami and Charlotte surging to the top two spots, but still holds the East's No. 6 seed - 1 1/2 games ahead of Indiana.

Memphis (39-26) has a stranglehold on the West's fifth spot, but moving would seem unlikely following a bevy of injuries highlighted by Gasol's broken foot just over a month ago.

The Grizzlies, however, are 18-7 since Jan. 14. Besides missing Conley for the last three games, Zach Randolph has sat them out with a sore knee, but they still managed to win twice. The first was a road victory over East-leading Cleveland on Monday, and the other was Friday's 121-114 overtime win over New Orleans.

Even without its top three scorers, Memphis somehow eclipsed 120 points for the fourth time this season for its fifth win in seven games.

The cast that led it there was unlikely to say the least.

Lance Stephenson poured in a career-high 33 points, Matt Barnes had a triple-double with 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, and JaMychal Green posted a career-high 21 points along with 10 rebounds.

Even rookie point guard Briante Weber chipped in 10 points and seven assists after signing a 10-day contract earlier Friday.

"I was really impressed with the way they hung in there together," coach Dave Joerger said. "They helped each other try to cement things for the long term and build those relationships, and I was really, really impressed with that."

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