Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 3/11/12
PHOENIX -- From the disturbingly familiar confines of their playoff lifeboat, the Phoenix Suns finally are coming within visual range of the eighth seed's rocky shores. In their continuing effort to make land before the regular season ends, they knocked off the Memphis Suns 98-91 Saturday night at US Airways Center. "That felt good," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said after his team won for the fifth time in six games since the All-Star break. "I think we beat a real good team that's playing as well as any team in the league." For perspective, please note that the Grizzlies had put away nine of their last 10 opponents and arrived here as the Western Conference's fourth seed. The Suns, who skipped into the break seeded 13th, used their latest victory to join the 11th-seeded Utah Jazz (losers to the Chicago Bulls on Saturday) at 19-21. Now 7-2 in an eventual 14-game stretch that includes 12 home dates, the Suns have four more home games next week. Their recent trend has also included the repeated and dubious maneuver of rallying from double-digit deficits to win. What does this inadvertent rope-a-dope tactic reveal about the Suns? "It says that I wish we wouldn't do that," Gentry said. This seemingly unhealthy habit also was examined by Suns point guard Steve Nash. "I feel like we're adjusting as the game goes on," said Nash, who had 11 points and 15 dimes against Memphis. "We're finding ways to get ourselves going." Yeah, they're finding ways to win despite a frequently referenced lack of elite-level talent. By playing stellar team defense (the Grizzlies made just 42 percent of their field-goal attempts) and annihilating Memphis 52-35 on the boards, the Suns are demonstrating that toughness can be a talent. And that toughness doesn't always have to be physical. "We're stronger mentally than we were earlier." That explanatory declaration was provided by backup center Robin Lopez, who -- while playing stunt double for Marcin "The Polish Hammer" Gortat on Polish Heritage Night -- was, in his own way, a fourth-quarter hero. Lopez finished with 11 points and seven rebounds, including five and four, respectively, in the fourth quarter while battling Grizzlies All-Star Marc "The Spanish Anvil" Gasol. RoLo, who typically provides just a quick bit of R&R for Gortat, didn't exit from his fourth-period shift until only 3:01 remained. OK, Lopez wasn't exactly perfect, but his two blocks with under 4 minutes to play were clutch. Lopez also missed a point-blank layup on a feed from Nash, looking very much like a buffalo on roller skates. But his positive contributions weren't lost on Gentry. "He's been really good," Gentry said. "That's why we're trying to give him expanded minutes." And that's really difficult to do with Gortat (15 points and nine rebounds) playing at his current level. But when asked about how gratifying or satisfying it feels to produce when given the opportunity in a big game, RoLo was impressively agile in sidestepping any self-congratulation. "I think everybody's starting to get a lot more comfortable out there," Lopez said when tracked down during an attempt to slip off into the night before reporters could descend upon him. Well, if he's not going to take a brief bow, let's give him a Gortat-style nickname. Perhaps something like "The Fresno Saw" will serve. For the record, the Suns had several big moments Saturday night. Those included a second-quarter salvo by Jared Dudley, who had nine of his team-high 19 points in a span of less than 2 minutes. Grant Hill provided another lockdown defensive effort, escorting Rudy Gay to a 7-for-20 shooting night, and added 14 points. His biggest deuce was a 19-foot rush job that occurred with 7:10 left in the fourth, the Suns up 85-81 and the shot clock bleeding out. "That one right there gave us a little relief," Gentry said. The Suns also received a boost from the Golden Grannies, a veteran dance troupe that wowed the crowd during a timeout at 8:33 of the second quarter. This break in the action was provoked by a 10-2 Memphis run against the Suns' second unit. But with the Golden Grannies' whammy applied to the Grizzlies, the Suns -- who inserted two starters back into the game after the timeout -- went on a 25-12 surge to finish the half. Anyway, the Suns aren't going quietly into the post-lockout night. The glut of home games certainly helps, but the lineup of victims in this run includes both L.A. teams, the defending-champion Dallas Mavericks, the rising Minnesota Timberwolves (still ahead of Phoenix but now working without Ricky Rubio) and the Grizzlies. Next week's dance card begins with the T-wolves at home, then features another homer with Utah, a roadie in L.A. against the Clips, a home game against the recently decent Detroit Pistons and a showdown with the eighth-seeded Houston Rockets. "If we have a bad week, we could be out of it," Nash said. "We gotta stick with it and keep improving." For now, the life boat's rockin' ... but in a good way.
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