By Brett Martel/The Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS — If Mike Conley can string together more performances like the one he had against Darren Collison and the New Orleans Hornets, the Memphis Grizzlies might have a playoff push left in them after all.
Conley scored a season-high 26 points and the Grizzlies won their franchise-record fifth-straight road game, 104-100 over New Orleans on Wednesday night.
“I wanted to make Collison work on the defensive end because he’s going to do a lot of the work on the offensive end, so we just wanted to make him guard a lot,” Conley said. “I knew some nights we have players that are off and tonight might be my night to help pick up the team in scoring, and I realized that, so I just tried to be aggressive and keep trying to score.”
Conley scored nine in the final quarter as the Grizzlies overcame a nine-point deficit. He missed two free throws with 10.7 seconds left that gave the Hornets a chance to tie or win it, but Rudy Gay intercepted James Posey’s pass intended for Marcus Thornton and dunked as time expired.
“I got the rebound — no timeouts — so I was pushing the ball up,” Posey explained. “When I got there I thought I was going to have a throw-back to Marcus and Rudy intercepted it. You wish you could have got a shot. We didn’t. In that case we still had a chance to win the game and I turned the ball over. … We weren’t able to pull this one out and that hurts.”
It certainly hurt the Hornets’ playoff hopes. They entered the night four games behind Portland for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Now they’ve lost three straight and five of six, falling a half-game behind the Grizzlies.
Zach Randolph had 23 points and 11 rebounds for Memphis, hitting a 29-foot 3-point bank shot as the shot clock expired to give the Grizzlies a 96-95 lead with 1:20 left. Conley added a running floater with 26.4 seconds left and Randolph four key free throws after that.
“Mike Conley had a huge game, he kept attacking the basket, and Zach played outstanding as well,” Memphis head coach Lionel Hollins said.
Rudy Gay scored 15 and O.J. Mayo 13 for the Grizzlies, while Marc Gasol added 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Thornton led New Orleans with 24 points and Collison added 17 points and 14 assists.
Memphis led for most of the first three quarters and might not have trailed at all had they not missed 14 free throws.
New Orleans took its first lead when Peja Stojakovic’s layup made it 70-69 with 3:08 remaining in the third quarter.
Thornton’s driving layup and 3 from the corner fueled a 10-1 New Orleans run that gave the Hornets their largest lead at 88-79 midway through the fourth quarter.
Thornton’s third 3-pointer was his 81st of the season, tying a Hornets rookie record set by J.R. Smith in 2004-05.
Stojakovic scored 18 for the Hornets to go with nine rebounds, while David West had 15 points and tied a career high with five blocks. Emeka Okafor scored 10 points but grabbed only one rebound and played only 15 minutes, in part because of foul trouble and in part because reserve Aaron Gray earned 20 minutes of action season-highs of seven points and eight rebounds.
“As a team, I don’t think we have a good rhythm. We’re not playing fluid basketball,” West said. “Basketball is a rhythm game and everybody has to be on the same page as far as feeling good and confident about what we are going out there to do.”
Memphis never trailed in the first half and led by nine when Sam Young’s layup made it 39-30 in the second quarter.
As has been the case lately, the Hornets relied on their two rookies to stay in the game as Collison and Thornton combined for 27 of New Orleans’ 51 first-half points. Thornton accounted for 11 straight Hornets points during a second-quarter surge that pulled New Orleans as close as 43-41 on his 3-pointer.
Randolph scored 12 in the first half, including a fast-break layup that put Memphis up 54-48 before Collison responded with a driving floater as he was fouled to make it 54-51 at halftime.
NOTES: Hornets F Darius Songaila returned to action in the second quarter after missing seven games with a right ankle sprain. He had four points in 16 minutes. … Gay missed a soaring windmill dunk and fell to the court when he appeared to be hacked on the arm by Okafor, but no foul was called, much to Gay’s chagrin. Later, Gay was called for a technical when he was stripped on a drive and no foul was called. … Randolph was assessed a technical foul for arguing with officials who’d whistled him for a blocking foul on Thornton’s drive.