Game Preview: Phoenix Suns @ Memphis Grizzlies

Slower than UPS - USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns head to Memphis for the first leg of a back-to-back road swing against the ailing Grizzlies hoping to recover from a home loss to the last place Utah Jazz and stay on the good side of .500.

When: Tuesday December 3, 2013, 6:00 PM local time (8:00 EST)

Where: FedEx Forum Memphis, TN

Watch/Listen: TV: Fox Sports AZ Radio: 620 KTAR

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Last Meeting:

The Suns and Grizzlies last squared off in Memphis on February 5th earlier this year.  After trailing 77-72 with 7:30 to go Phoenix staged an impressive 24-13 rally to end the game, including outscoring Memphis 8-2 in the final two minutes, en route to a 96-90 victory. The inimitable Goran Dragic scored 15 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter as the Suns outscored the Grizzlies 31-19 overall in the period.  Marcin Gortat led the Suns with 20 points, while Jerryd Bayless scored a game high 29 points.

The teams split the season series 2-2, as the 25 win Suns gave the 56 win Grizzlies fits.

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Team Bios:

Memphis Grizzlies: 8-8

Points per game: 93.6 (24) Points allowed: 95.9 (6)

ORtg: 102.8 (20) DRtg: 105.4 (15)

Full team statistics.

Memphis is still trying to play the same type of bruising, grinding style that took them to the Western Conference Finals last season, but are having dissimilar results.  Last season the Grizzlies ranked first in points allowed at 89.3 per game and second in DRtg at 100.3.  16 games into this campaign those rankings have dropped precipitously.  Their points allowed are still near the top of the league, but that is the product of a league low pace (89.4) since their defensive efficiency is middle of the pack.

Not helping matters is an injury to Marc Gasol, who is sidelined with an MCL sprain. Gasol was second team All-NBA and All-Defensive last season and anchored the Grizzlies' parsimonious defense.  With Gasol on the court last season the Grizzlies yielded a scant 95.4 points per 100 possessions.  Without Gasol that number ballooned to 102.2. The injury thrusts Kosta Koufous into a starting role, and he has averaged 8.3 points and 12.3 rebounds in the three games since the injury.  But Gasol's absence, coupled with Randolph missing time with an ingrown toenail, has left the Memphis frontcourt cheesecloth thin and Koufous has logged 35+ minutes a night as a starter.

The Grizzlies are also still getting acclimated to new head coach David Joerger, after Lionel Hollins was unceremoniously dumped despite a deep playoff run. Joerger's reign is off to an inauspicious start as the team, which kept the core of a 56 win squad intact, has struggled to an 8-8 start. Mike Conley leads the team in scoring (18.3) and assists (6.1) while 2013 All-Star forward Zach Randolph leads the team in rebounding (9.1) while chipping in 16 points per game.

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Phoenix Suns: 9-8

Points per game: 101.7 (13) Points allowed: 99.7 (15)

ORtg: 107.5 (8) DRtg: 105.4 (16)

Full team statistics.

The Suns have had a few days off to lick their wounds after a bad loss at home to the last place Utah Jazz and plenty of good and bad has been covered on the site during the down time.  Here are the high (and low) lights...

Sean Sullivan detailed the exploits of the parching Goran Dragic who has averaged 22 points and 10 assists over the last five games.

Dave King illustrated a trend that has seen the Suns offense exploding (in a good way) while the defense has been imploding (in a bad way). While the Suns have averaged 107 points per game over the last four contests they have also yielded 100+ points in four straight games for an average of 106.5 points against. After only allowing their opponent to score over 100 twice in the first eight games they have yielded three digits in seven of the last nine.  After stifling their competition to .437 shooting from the field in their first 13 games the Suns have yielded .485 over the last four games, including their first game over .500 (.512) against the offensively challenged Jazz.

Kris Habbas discussed shot selection and the Suns penchant for the three point shot. Will the Suns continue to attack the basket (against a team without their defensive anchor in the middle) and chuck up threes (against a middle of the pack team defending the line) with almost exclusive prejudice?

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What To Watch For:

Pace: The Suns have trudged to a mark of about 89 possessions per game over the last four contests, well below their season average of 94.  Memphis loves to play a methodical halfcourt style and is posting the lowest number of possessions per game this season (89.8) after a league low of 88.4 last season. Will the Suns revert to a more spirited style or will the Grizzlies dictate pace and lure the Suns into an ugly, languid game.

DragonBlade: With Eric Bledsoe back to (hopefully) 100% after a shin bruise we will likely get to see him starting in the backcourt with Dragic again.  The process of the two best players on the team learning to coexist will continue in earnest tonight.

Zach Randolph: Last season all-star Randolph had his way with the Suns to the tune of 24.5 points and 13.3 rebounds per game, including a jaw dropping 38 point, 22 rebound performance in the team's first matchup.  Equally impressive was the fact that he managed to shoot 66.7% from the field (42-63) while pouring in all those points.  Although the Suns proved to be a difficult foe for the Grizzlies, this was a huge positional victory for Memphis.  Will the inconsistent Markieff Morris and his teammates be able to manacle the menacing, big-bodied power forward?

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The Final Word(s):

A win tonight would be huge considering tomorrow night's game is the second in two nights against a team (Houston) that has been playing at a high level so far this season. The Grizzlies are just 3-5 at home this season (and 0-5 against their division... too bad we're not in their division) so this could be a good opportunity to steal a game from a team still trying to find its footing in the early season.  The Suns went 4-11 last December, effectively ending their season, and need to avoid a repeat performance as their schedule ratchets up with a heavy dose of games against teams in the Western Conference with winning records.

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