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Phoenix Suns beat Memphis Grizzlies for rare wining streak

By
Phil Stukenborg, The Sports Xchange

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- At 29 games below .500, the Phoenix Suns may not have much to play for as the final two months of the season unfold, but they'll cherish the victories. And the rare winning streaks.

Sunday against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum, Devin Booker scored 27 points and Alex Len added 19 points and 16 rebounds to lead the Suns to a 109-100 victory, their second straight. Coupled with Friday's win at Orlando, the Suns won back-to-back games for the first time since early-December.

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"I think we're coming together as a team," Booker said. "Overall, we are playing better. We just beat Orlando. Everything is starting to click. Memphis, obviously, is a good team. They are going to be a 4 or 5 seed in the (Western Conference) playoffs.

"We're showing that we're not giving up. We're not in the playoffs, but a lot of people think this is a time for us to fold and get ready for the summer. But it's not."

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The victory was only the third for the Suns (17-46) in their past 18 games. Two of the victories during the stretch have come against the Grizzlies, who have suffered a rash of late-season injuries.

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"We're taking steps forward in the right direction," said Suns interim coach Earl Watson. "We understand that. What I think we emphasize more than anything is we don't get discouraged in losses and we don't fall in love with wins. We fall in love with playing the right way."

Memphis (37-25) was led by Mike Conley, who finished with 22 points. Reserve JaMychal Green scored 17 before fouling out with 3:57 to go. Matt Barnes also scored 17 for the Grizzlies, who had their three-game win streak snapped.

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Phoenix shot 52.1 percent, including going 12 of 28 from long range, and outrebounded a depleted Memphis interior, 47-38.

The Grizzlies, already without two injured centers -- leading scorer Marc Gasol (out for the season) and Brandan Wright (out indefinitely), lost center Chris Andersen early in the second quarter with a left shoulder injury. He did not return and his injury will be evaluated Monday. Starting forward Tony Allen missed his eighth straight game with a sore left knee.

"We're hoping to have Tony Allen back (Monday at Cleveland)," said Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger. "That will help."

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A healthy Grizzlies team may have had difficulty containing the 7-foot-1 Len, who remained on a torrid stretch for the Suns. He recorded his eighth straight double-digit scoring game since the All-Star break. Len scored a career-high 31 in Friday's win at Orlando. In the team's back-to-back wins, Len has had 50 points and 31 rebounds.

"I think it's interesting with young players in this league," Watson said. "They have three years to become who they're going to be. This is Alex's third year and we want to make sure he has the confidence to become an amazing player. He's playing great."

Len said the team has put together the two game streak by playing better defensively and showing a more aggressive, physical approach.

"We have been getting on the boards," he said. "I think that has been getting us going on offense."

Len said his recent breakthrough has been the result of several factors, including gaining a better understanding of playing alongside veteran Tyson Chandler.

"We are trying to get a feel for each other," Len said. "He knows where I like the ball and I know where he likes the ball. We are always trying to find the (mismatch)."

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Phoenix opened the third quarter by taking advantage of the Grizzlies' absence of size in the post. The Suns also struck from long range, hitting 4 of 7 3-pointers in the period and building a 13-point lead. The Grizzlies, who led by six at the half, were outscored 32-15 in the quarter.

Memphis, which trailed 85-74 entering the fourth quarter, fell behind by 13 early in the period on several occasions, but fought back to trim the deficit to six (104-98) after a layup by Lance Stephenson with about three minutes to go. The Grizzlies could get no closer in the closing minutes.

"They're tough and they play with a lot of effort and a lot of tenacity," Watson said of the Grizzlies. "Our young guys are just growing quickly in front of our eyes and it's great to watch."

In a back-and-forth first half, there were eight lead changes and nine ties. The Suns' biggest lead was eight points, while the Grizzlies were up by six, which they led by (59-53) at the half.

The Grizzlies trailed by eight early in the second quarter, but gradually regained the advantage behind Conley and Mario Chalmers. Chalmers scored seven points in a one-minute stretch midway through the quarter to tie the game at 36-all. Then, Conley took over. He scored 14 points in the final 6:30 of the quarter, including dropping in a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer.

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The Grizzlies shot 19-of-44 (43.2 percent) in the opening half. The Suns were 20 of 39 (51.3 percent).

NOTES: Suns interim head coach Earl Watson began his NBA playing career with the Grizzlies. "I came here at 22 years old with (former Memphis general manager Jerry West), who I believed in," Watson said. "I was trying to figure out who I was going to become as an NBA player. It's a special place because I became who I am today" ... Grizzlies F Zach Randolph moved past Nate Archibald into 94th place on the NBA's career scoring list with 16,482 points following his 25-point effort Friday against Utah. Randolph ranks seventh among left-handed scorers behind David Robinson, Bob Lanier, Gail Goodrich, Chris Mullin, Lenny Wilkins and Chris Bosh.

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