Originally Published: April 6, 2014

1. In West Chase, Grizzlies Slip From 'In' Crowd

By Andrew McNeill | TrueHoop Network

SAN ANTONIO -- Memphis Grizzlies center Kosta Koufos emerged from the showers wrapped in some combination of towels and ice, and plopped down in front of his temporary locker at the AT&T Center. Immediately, his attention turned to the Grizzlies' neighbors at the bottom of the Western Conference playoff race, asking nearby reporters for updates on Sunday evening's Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns games.

Such is the life for a team trying desperately to control its playoff destiny.

Kawhi Leonard torched the Grizzlies for 26 points on 13 shots on Sunday night, tying his career-high, as the Memphis Grizzlies couldn't keep pace with the San Antonio Spurs in a 112-92 loss. The defeat drops Memphis out of playoff position and into the ninth seed in the Western Conference, 1½ games behind Dallas and a game behind the Suns.

Zach Randolph
Soobum Im/USA TODAY SportsZach Randolph and Memphis are battling the Suns and Mavs for the last two West berths.

There's still time for Memphis to solidify its place in the postseason, but Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger is worried about fatigue getting the best of his team.

"We've been in playoff mode -- 'gotta get this next game' -- since Christmas, since we were 10-15," Joerger said before the game.

Since center Marc Gasol returned to the Grizzlies lineup on Jan. 14 following a knee injury suffered against these same Spurs, Memphis has won 31 of 40 games and put itself in the playoff conversation. Joerger, though, is seeing the effects of the uphill battle taking its toll on the Grizzlies.

"We're missing shots that we normally would make, we're missing free throws with guys who are 78 to 85 percent shooters. We've been struggling from the foul line," Joerger said. "Some of those things are rearing their head right now, fatigue-wise. And you say, 'Well geez, how can you do that?' Well, because every single game has been a real push for us since kind of putting ourselves behind in the [standings] in the Western Conference."

Playing a Spurs team that suffered a loss that ended franchise-record 19-game winning streak on Thursday night, the Grizzlies could ill-afford to get behind early and play catch-up on Sunday, but that's exactly what happened. San Antonio jumped out to a 12-4 lead early and was ahead by 16 at halftime, even with Spurs point guard Tony Parker leaving the game with back spasms in the first quarter.

"It's always tough playing against a team that's playing so well, especially the Spurs," Memphis point guard Mike Conley said after the game. "They have guys who will play five minutes one night and the next they'll play 25, 30. They got so much balance that it's tough to keep up with."

The Grizzlies cut the lead to 12 points late in the third quarter, adding some intrigue to what had been a reasonably dominant performance from the Spurs thus far. Leading by 13 points with 7:27 remaining in the game, the Spurs got five straight points from Leonard, capped off by a 3-pointer in the right corner, to get the lead back to 18 and prompt Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to empty his bench. True to recent form, Memphis hit just 11 of 17 free throw attempts (65 percent) against San Antonio.

With the Dallas Mavericks beating the Sacramento Kings, the Phoenix Suns taking down the Oklahoma City Thunder and a Wednesday matchup with the defending champion Miami Heat looming on Wednesday night, the pressure is on the Grizzlies to keep pace in the race for the final Western Conference playoff seeds. Assuming they can hang around, Memphis closes the season against Suns and Mavericks in a series of games that should decide the end of the West playoff roster.

"We've had to work really hard to get back to where we're at right now, to even be in position to be in the playoffs," Conley said. "At the end of the year everybody's legs are tired, you know, you're gonna hit that wall here and there.

"We just got to fight through it like every other team and be more focused mentally and not make excuses, go out there and play to win."

The Grizzlies have every opportunity from now until the end of the season to make the playoffs. They just have to hope there's enough fuel left in the tank.

Andrew McNeill's work appears regularly on 48 Minutes Of Hell, part of the TrueHoop Network

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