NEW ORLEANS - Everyone knows the NBA season is a marathon, and that relentless grind requires mental as well as physical gymnastics to play at the highest level.
The Memphis Grizzlies leaned on both attributes to defeat the New Orleans Hornets 96-89 Friday night at the New Orleans Arena.
The physical part was no surprise. Leading scorer Rudy Gay matched his season high with 28 points on 10-of-18 shooting, and he pulled down eight rebounds and had five assists as the Grizzlies improved their NBA-best record to 14-3 by winning for the sixth time in seven games.
The mental edge came from backup forward Quincy Pondexter, who torched the team that traded him away last December by tying his season high with 16 points, including 4-of-4 from three-point range.
Although Pondexter said "a win is a win (and) I don't care who it's against," Gay wasn't swallowing his teammate's observation. Pondexter was traded away by the Hornets last December for point guard Greivis Vasquez.
"I don't believe him at all," Gay said of Pondexter, who has scored 16 points in back-to-back games and has begun to regularly nail his perimeter jumper. "He was yapping with them and stuff like that. That's how it is. Sometimes guys find ways to get themselves in rhythm. There's a lot of games, and you've got to find whatever you can to get up."
The Hornets (5-13) trailed by as many as 14 points in the second half but clawed back within 86-85 on Jason Smith's put-back with 3:40 left. But Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph, who had 15 points and seven rebounds, used his wide body to clear out space down low to hit a layup on a strong post move.
Center Marc Gasol followed that up with a conventional three-point play on another solid inside move to extend the Grizzlies' lead to 91-85 with 3:01 left. That was part of a 10-2 run, which Randolph capped by tipping in a Mike Conley miss for a 96-87 lead with 40.6 seconds to go.
"Every time we come down here, it's a tough fight - it's a boxing match," Randolph said. "It was physical inside. We just played hard and won. It was a team win."
Gay was especially effective, scoring eight points in the first quarter, including a pair of drives down the lane for easy buckets in the first 90 seconds.
"I was just being a little more aggressive," Gay said. "I haven't been aggressive the last couple of games. I was just trying to be aggressive and smart and try to make the right play."
Gay's strong drive into the paint on Xavier Henry for a three-point play gave Memphis a 67-54 lead, but the Hornets closed the third quarter on a 12-4 run to narrow the deficit to 71-66. Brian Roberts had five points in the surge, including a deep three-pointer from the top of the key with 1.7 seconds left in the quarter.
Roberts followed that up by scoring the first four points of the fourth quarter, including a floater in the lane, to draw New Orleans within 71-70. But Pondexter had a pair of three-pointers to keep Memphis in front, 82-77.
Hornets coach Monty Williams said his team, playing its 10th consecutive game without rookie forward Anthony Davis, battled to keep the Grizzlies in sight but didn't have enough firepower.
"It's close to the right effort," Williams said. "We competed. We played hard - if only we could add some execution to complement the effort."
The Hornets put five players in double figures: Ryan Anderson, Austin Rivers and Roberts had 15 points each, Smith had 14 and Henry had 12. But they were outrebounded 46-29 and had a 46-36 deficit in points in the paint.
Gay, Randolph and Gasol (13 points) combined for 54 points and 24 rebounds.
NOTES: Williams benched small forward Al-Farouq Aminu and started Henry, apparently for defensive and hustle purposes. "We need guys to play hard, and when you play hard, you care," Williams said. "Anytime you're going through this process, you're always thinking of ways to tweak. When (guys are) working hard in practice and showing improvement, you want to give those guys a chance to play. A lot of guys are hungry sitting on the end of our bench. It's not like we have this stellar record that you want to stand pat on and keep a rotation going." ... Davis, the NBA's No. 1 overall pick, has missed the past 10 games with a stress reaction in his left ankle, but Williams said he's getting close to a return. "He's starting to ramp up his conditioning a little bit," Williams said. "We're not sure exactly when he's going to be back, but his conditioning as far as getting him in game shape or practice shape is getting better."