By The Associated Press
MEMPHIS — The Memphis Grizzlies are finding different ways to win at home.
The Grizzlies built an 11-point lead with 2:22 left, took a few scoring runs from Phoenix, but held on to extend their franchise-best home winning streak to nine games on Monday with a 125-118 victory over the Suns.
“We’re playing to be respected,” said forward Rudy Gay, who led Memphis with 31 points and nine rebounds. “We just want to be respected out there. We didn’t change anything we do. We just went out there and played hard.
“We’ve got to protect our house. Every team in the league does it.”
But Memphis is doing it at a surprising rate so far this season. The nine-game home winning streak has helped the Grizzlies establish a 15-5 home record, including going undefeated on the four-game homestand that ended Monday. The Grizzlies had never swept a homestand of four games or more in the team’s 15-year history.
“It was a good chance for the whole world to see us, how we’ve improved, and how much we’ve been playing better,” forward Zach Randolph said of the nationally televised game on TNT.
Randolph added 27 points and 11 rebounds for Memphis. O.J. Mayo had 28 points and Marc Gasol 19 points.
Six Suns were in double figures led by Steve Nash with 22 points and 12 assists. Robin Lopez had a career-high 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the field, and Grant Hill scored 16. Leandro Barbosa finished with 14, and Amare Stoudemire added 12 points and nine rebounds. Louis Amundson had 10 points for the Suns, who dropped their fourth straight.
While Memphis is playing well at home, the Suns are struggling on the road. The loss was the fourth straight, all on the road for Phoenix, which has lost 11 of its last 12 away from home.
“I’ve never been on a bad road team, so it’s strange for me. I don’t know what it is,” Nash said.
“Rough is the right word,” Lopez said of the road stretch. “When you look at it, I think we played very well, and that’s a positive. We just need to correct a few mistakes.”
Memphis almost squandered its 11-point lead as the Grizzlies struggled from the line down the stretch, allowing the Suns to pull within 119-115 on Barbosa’s steal and layup with 47 seconds left. His 3-pointer with 21.9 seconds remaining cut the lead to 121-118.
But Memphis hung on when Gasol and Randolph both hit a pair of free throws in the final 20 seconds for the victory.
“It was too much (to overcome) at that time of the game,” Nash said of the 11-point deficit.
Suns coach Alvin Gentry said his team’s 18 turnovers were a key advantage for Memphis. Nash had six of the miscues.
“Look at the turnovers,” Gentry said. “You can’t give up 23 points on your turnovers. You can’t defend the turnover. That got us in trouble again, and then we have to be able to come up with stops.”
Both teams had significant rallies, with the lead changing in the first half before Memphis had a 58-56 advantage at the break.
Phoenix took an early lead, but Memphis erased the margin and pulled away with an 18-2 run in the opening period for its first double-digit advantage. Phoenix connected on only two of its final 11 shots in the first quarter as Memphis built the lead.
The Suns used their defense to key a 20-5 run in the second quarter.
Mayo had five points in the final minute of the second quarter to give the Grizzlies the lead at the break.
“Even though we jumped out on them, they figured a way to play against us, and that was playing the zone,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. “It neutralized us in the first half. We came back in the second half, and we attacked the zone differently.”
The game remained close through much of the third quarter. Memphis was able to get the lead back to 10, but the Suns kept chipping away at the advantage as Nash guided the Suns offense.
Memphis was still able to hold onto the lead — 88-86 — entering the fourth, with Gay scoring a dozen points in the third.
Then, the Grizzlies held onto the lead throughout the bulk of the fourth quarter, again showing they can play with the best in the West. The victory left Memphis only a half game out of a Western Conference playoff spot.
“Before the season, everyone had something negative to say about our team,” Mayo said. “We didn’t have enough basketballs to go around. We wouldn’t be able to gel. There’s no chemistry. We put that all behind us.
“Coach Hollins thought this was the perfect team to win ballgames and take strides for our organization.”
NOTES: The Suns have an 18-game losing streak on games broadcast by TNT, which had Monday’s game. … Nash, who started the day leading the league in free-throw shooting at 94.9 percent, missed the first of two free throws midway through the third period, snapping a string of 31 straight. His previous miss was Jan. 2. … The Grizzlies recognized former NBA players Oscar Robertson and Alonzo Mourning on Monday with the National Civil Rights Museum Sports Legacy Award for their contributions to civil and human rights. The award is presented annually in conjunction with the team’s Martin Luther King Day festivities. … In an effort to shake up his lineup after losing three straight, Gentry started Lopez at center and Barbosa at guard in place of Channing Frye and Jason Richardson. The Grizzlies are 4-4 in MLK Day games.