76ers-Grizzlies Preview

The Associated Press

The Philadelphia 76ers are assured of heading into this weekend's All-Star break with the Atlantic Division lead.

It could have been a much larger advantage had they been better in close games.

Philadelphia will try to snap a season-high three-game losing streak Tuesday night when it visits the Memphis Grizzlies, who are looking to bounce back from their first loss in five games.

While 76ers coach Doug Collins is proud of his team's perseverance through a recent rough portion of its schedule, he's still concerned about his players' ability to close out games. Philadelphia (20-12) has lost seven times this season by seven points or fewer including Sunday's 92-91 defeat at Minnesota.

Kevin Love hit two game-winning free throws with 0.1 seconds left following a foul on Philadelphia forward Andre Iguodala.

"It's a shame we haven't been able to get that critical stop," said Collins, whose team holds a 4 1/2-game divisional lead over New York and Boston.

The league's best scoring defense (87.3 points per game) has helped Philadelphia win seven times by at least 20 points, but the team has come out on top just four times in games decided by fewer than 10.

"We've just got to find a way to regroup and find a way to finish these games off," forward Elton Brand said.

The 76ers are now trying to avoid dropping four in a row for the first time since a five-game skid Nov. 10-17, 2010.

The Grizzlies (18-15) were hoping to carry a five-game winning streak into this contest, but they lost 97-93 at Houston on Monday.

Memphis' four consecutive wins were all decided by 10 points or fewer, including consecutive one-point victories Friday and Saturday on tip-ins in the closing seconds.

"We played it right to the end,'' coach Lionel Hollins said.

The Grizzlies, who are playing their final game before the All-Star break, go for their third consecutive victory over Philadelphia as these teams meet for the only time in 2011-12. Memphis completed its first season sweep of the 76ers since 2004-05 with a 102-91 victory at FedExForum on Feb. 15, 2011.

Mike Conley scored all 22 of his points in the second half of that game as the Grizzlies avoided a fourth straight home loss in the series.

On the downside for Memphis in that contest, Rudy Gay was lost for the rest of the season after injuring his left shoulder on a foul by Philadelphia's Evan Turner.

Gay is scoring 21.1 points per game - 2.1 more than his season average - over his last eight games, six of them Grizzlies wins.

Power forward Marreese Speights is averaging 12.5 points and 10.4 rebounds in that stretch, providing a huge lift with Zach Randolph still trying to return from a torn MCL. Speights will face his former Sixers teammates for the first time since being traded to Memphis on Jan. 4 in a three-team swap.

Speights and All-Star center Marc Gasol won't have to contend with 76ers center Spencer Hawes, who will miss his eighth straight game with a strained left Achilles'. Hawes is not expected back until after the All-Star break.

"Our offense is not the same without Spencer," Collins said following Monday's practice. "... What's happened now is the floor has shrunk on us a little bit, and we end up having to shoot a lot of jump shots."

The 76ers are averaging 88.1 points on 41.4 percent shooting over their last seven games.

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