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Grizzlies-Nuggets Preview

AP - Sports

The Memphis Grizzlies couldn't sustain a strong start in their last game. They haven't allowed one to slip away against their next opponent this season.

In a matchup of teams playing well since the All-Star break, the Grizzlies look to sweep the season series from the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night.

Memphis and Denver are battling for playoff position in the Western Conference. The fifth-place Grizzlies (23-16) are one game up on the Nuggets (23-18), aided by two close wins against them this season.

On Jan. 31, Memphis prevailed 100-97 in overtime after rallying from a 12-point deficit with 9 minutes left in regulation. The Grizzlies then held on for a 103-102 victory over Denver on Feb. 17 after the Nuggets came back from a 23-point deficit.

Both games were in Memphis, however, and Denver is eager for a measure of revenge at home. The Nuggets have won five of six overall since the All-Star break.

"We need to pay Memphis because they stole (games) twice," forward Nene told the Nuggets' official website. "We need to come in here with a lot of hustle, energy and play hard. We hope the fans support us with a lot of energy and enthusiasm to help us win the next game."

The Grizzlies have been playing well, though. They suffered their first post-All-Star break loss after falling 98-91 at Phoenix on Saturday. Memphis had won five straight, including the first four games out of the break.

The Grizzlies' previous two wins were by a combined 35 points and they led for most of the first half against the Suns, but went into the break down 53-51.

Memphis pulled within seven late, but went scoreless in the final two minutes. Marc Gasol had 21 points - just two in the fourth quarter - and Rudy Gay scored 19 on 7-for-20 shooting. It was the Grizzlies' fewest points in five games.

"I think we played at their pace a little too much in that second quarter and going on to the second half," Mike Conley said. "They were able to control the tempo and beat us down the court."

Gasol led the Grizzlies in their two wins over Denver, averaging 18.0 points and 13.5 rebounds. He also had six blocks.

Denver is three games into a season-high, nine-game homestand and looking to continue a hot stretch of its own.

Arron Afflalo scored 28 points and Al Harrington added 20 and 10 rebounds in a 110-97 win over New Orleans on Friday. The Nuggets shot 56.2 percent, but couldn't pull away until the third quarter.

The first three opponents on Denver's homestand - Sacramento, Cleveland and New Orleans - weren't terribly intimidating, but the stretch gets more difficult beginning Sunday. The Nuggets' next five opponents are all in playoff contention.

"We've got to continue to play better," coach George Karl said. "All the teams coming in here now are playoff teams. There's going to be some great games. Hopefully we can take the energy of (the New Orleans game) and move it into a better place on Sunday."

Denver struggled to control the paint in both losses to Memphis and will try to do a better job Sunday. A key to that could be Danilo Gallinari, who missed the last meeting after scoring eight points on 1-of-10 shooting in the first.

Gallinari, though, appears to still be feeling the effects of a severely sprained ankle that kept him out for a month, averaging 6.0 points on 5-of-20 shooting in three games since returning.

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