By Phil Stukenborg, The Sports Xchange
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In his 10th NBA season, guard Mike Conley recalls his first few years with the Memphis Grizzlies when the postseason was not an expectation.
Times, and expectations, have changed.
Behind 28 points from Conley, 22 from Zach Randolph and 21 from Troy Daniels, the Memphis Grizzlies clinched their seventh straight playoff berth Friday night with a 99-90 victory over the Dallas Mavericks at FedExForum.
The Grizzlies (42-34) secured the playoff trip with a combination of their victory and Denver’s 122-114 loss at Charlotte.
“It seems so long ago that this time of year didn’t mean anything,” Conley said. “It’s a heck of an accomplishment to have gone seven years in a row. I’m excited for how we’re playing going into the playoffs.”
Memphis relied on 11 3-pointers, 47 bench points and a 47-38 rebounding advantage to win its second straight without starting center Marc Gasol and starting forward JaMychal Green, both out with injuries.
Grizzlies first-year coach David Fizdale said he was relieved to clinch the playoff berth with six games remaining.
“I was glad to get that monkey off my back,” Fizdale said. “I didn’t want to be the first coach to not make the playoff in six years.
“That part is really great. I just feel good for them. They worked really hard for this.”
Fizdale was particularly pleased the Grizzlies fought through the normal adversity to advance to the playoffs. The Grizzlies own the third-longest active streak in the league for consecutive playoff appearances.
“This team has really held tight and battled through some really tough games,” Fizdale said. “There were moments during the season when there was a lot of doubt.”
Dallas (31-44) dropped its fourth straight but not without nearly erasing a 15-point, fourth-quarter deficit.
Dirk Nowitzki finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Mavericks but went 3 of 17 from the field, including 1 of 6 from beyond the arc.
Daniels came off the Memphis bench to connect on seven 3-pointers for his 21 points. Randolph added 12 rebounds for a double-double.
Randolph, a leading candidate for the league’s sixth man of the year award, has come off the bench the past two contests after a brief, two-game, insertion into the starting lineup in Gasol’s absence. Randolph had eight points in the fourth quarter, including several key baskets when the Mavericks trimmed the deficit to single digits.
“He was not going to let us lose this game,” Fizdale said. “His second effort, his commitment to defending, challenging shots and, obviously, the scoring speaks for itself.”
Memphis led 83-68 early in the fourth quarter, but Dallas chipped away behind a late barrage of back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers by Nowitzki, J.J. Barea and Wesley Matthews to trim the Grizzlies’ lead to 94-90 with 1:08 to go.
“It shows we have fight, but we have to show more fight at the beginning of games,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s just a matter of force.”
Conley made five free throws in the final 30 seconds to preserve the victory. He also scored the last 10 points of the game for the Grizzlies, beginning the run with a 3-pointer.
“It’s definitely great to have (a playoff berth) in our pocket,” Grizzlies swingman Vince Carter said. “We just don’t want to get comfortable and complacent right now. When you’re getting into the playoffs, you want to play your best basketball and have everybody on the same page.”
Cold first-half shooting by the Mavericks created too big a deficit to overcome.
The Mavericks made only 2 of 18 shots from the field in the second quarter (two driving dunks by Harrison Barnes) to fall behind by 21 (55-34) at the break.
At the end of the first quarter, Memphis led 21-19 but quickly pulled away. The Grizzlies scored the first 11 points of the second quarter, a run capped by a Wade Baldwin layup.
Memphis stretched its lead to 21 points late in the quarter when Daniels dropped in the last of his four first-half 3-pointers for a 46-25 advantage.
Dallas shot only 22.2 percent from the field in the opening half and was outrebounded 28-18. Nowitzki led the Mavs with eight first-half points but was only 2-of-9 shooting.
“We obviously showed them in the second half that we can do it and that we can get some stops,” Nowitzki said. “We just have to put a consistent game together.”