Game Preview: Phoenix Suns seek retribution against Memphis Grizzlies

Nice try Mike. - Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

The Grizzlies have had the Suns number this season. Now it's time for the Suns to get their number (103). Can the Suns force Memphis into a fast and frenetic tempo, or is Phoenix headed for another grisly fate?

When: Friday January 10, 2014, 6:00 PM local time (8:00 EST)

Where: FedExForum, Memphis, Tennessee

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

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Last Meeting:

The Suns lost at home 99-91 to Memphis just eight days ago (January 2nd) in a bruising game where the Grizzlies controlled the style and pace. The Suns were actually ahead going into the fourth quarter (73-69) by virtue of outscoring the Grizz 32-16 in the third (including an 18-0 run), but quickly surrendered the lead and went down by six. Goran Dragic hit a three to cut the lead to three (84-81), but Jerryd Bayless, who scored 11 in the fourth, incited a 10-3 run with a jumper and concluded it with a three pointer. The Suns never closed to less than seven in the final four minutes.

Zach Randolph (20 points, 15 rebounds) and Ed Davis (16 points, 11 rebounds) combined to torment the Suns in the interior game. Dragic had a career high 33 points to go with seven assists, but his valorous effort was squandered in the defeat. Check out the full recap here if you're a masochist.

Memphis leads the season series 2-0. The Grizzlies won the first game between the teams this season 110-91 at the FedExForum. Phoenix leads the all-time head-to-head series 48-21.

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Team Bios:

Memphis Grizzlies: 15-19

Points per game: 96.1 (22)     Points allowed: 97.4 (6)

ORtg: 105.8 (14)     DRtg: 107.2 (20)

Full team statistics.

Well, the Suns won't have to worry about getting razed by Jerryd Bayless in tonight's game. He has taken his repugnance skills to Boston. Coming back to Memphis in the exchange is Courtney Lee, who is shooting 44% from three point range on the season. Lee scored 12 points in his first game as a Grizzly, but the team fell to the San Antonio Spurs in an excruciating overtime loss by a score of 110-108. Memphis had appeared to be in for a drubbing, but made a vehement charge to come back from a 91-75 deficit with 4:58 left to force the extra session. Ultimately, though, a Manu Ginobili layup with 1.8 seconds in overtime was the death knell. Mike Conley scored 30 points in the loss.

Memphis is trying to weather a protracted and tempestuous stretch without All-NBA center Marc Gasol, who has been out since November 22nd with a knee sprain. Gasol is back to light court work, with a return to game action in the near future likely. Mike Conley (17.6 points, 6.3 assists) and Zach Randolph (17.1 points, 10.3 rebounds) have done their best to hold down the fort. Overall, the Grizz are 8-13 without Gasol in the lineup (8-14 including the game he was injured).

Memphis is still playing the same grinding, methodical pace they did last season, but their defensive rating has plummeted from second in the league last season all the way to 20th this season. Kind of an easy way to illustrate Gasol's impact. Memphis is still rebounding well this campaign, as they stand third overall in total team rebounding %.

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Phoenix Suns: 21-13

Points per game: 103.2 (9)     Points allowed: 100.3 (14)

ORtg: 107.7 (10)     DRtg: 104.7 (12)

Full team statistics.

The luster of an exciting game winner by Gerald (trampoline) Green was sullied by reports less than 24 hours later that Eric Bledsoe would require surgery on his right knee due to a meniscus tear. Bledsoe had successful surgery on the knee today and there is hope he might return at some point in the second half of the season. As high as Green got off the ground on that jumper this terrible news would be better represented by an entity of a more chthonic variety. Some people have embraced a defeatist and disconsolate attitude, claiming that the Suns will miss the playoffs or maybe just squeak in... or worse, end up 13th or 14th in the no man's land of the lottery. Expectations have been tempered and doubt has escalated... Remember how that worked out at the beginning of the season?

Goran is still beasting, averaging 23.8 points and six assists in the four games since Bledsoe's injury, as he continues to build a solid All-Star resumé. Channing Frye has also been exceptional over this span and has hit 16 of 32 three pointers. Green appears (to me) more engaged in a starting role and has averaged 15.5 points per game during this stretch. Unfortunately, the Morrii have only put up an average of 15.3 points combined over this same period.

While Phoenix's 104-103 win over Minnesota didn't seem well played as a whole there were still some standout performances. Goran Dragic had game highs in points (26) and assists (9) while also puling down six rebounds. Maybe most impressive was Frye, though, who scored 22 points (hitting five threes) while his rebarbative defense confounded Kevin Love into shooting just 4-20 from the field. Not a lot of us were expecting Channing to win that one-on-one matchup. Meanwhile, Green resurrected a fairly pedestrian game with that dagger from the corner. Leandro Barbosa also made his (return) debut and had three points, three assists and three rebounds in 13 minutes. The team is surely hoping he can become acclimated and contribute to a weakened backcourt.

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What To Watch For:

Tempo - The Suns have been deluded into playing Memphis style basketball in the previous two games. They've been discomfited by a Grizzlies defense that hasn't been all that stalwart overall. In each of the two games the Suns managed just 91 points, over 12 points below their season average. Gonna have to do better than that.

Interior Presence - In the last game the teams played the trio of Randolph, Ed Davis and Kosta Koufos combined for 46 points and 35 rebounds.  Miles Plumlee and the Morrii managed just a measly 20 points and 18 rebounds. These disparate performances helped contribute to Memphis outrebounding Phoenix 59-40, including +6 on offensive rebounds. Gonna have to do better than that.

From Way Downtown - After a calamitous 7-29 performance from three point range back on December 3rd in Memphis the Suns went 8-30 from deep in their curtain call last Thursday. Gonna have to do better than that.

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For What it's Worth:

Remember 103?  When I broached this subject before the season Hornacek was optimistic that the team could hit, or surpass, that scoring mark in the upcoming campaign. Some scoffed at this notion. Right now they're at 103.2 per game.  The significance of 103 lately... The Suns have won 11 straight games when they've scored at least 103 points.

The Suns are 5-5 when playing with Dragic and without Bledsoe. The Suns are 2-1 when playing with Bledsoe and without Dragic. Three games isn't a very big sample size. If Dragic had missed one more game and they lost it would have been 2-2. .500 ball. If the Suns win tonight they will be one game over .500 without Bledsoe... just like they are without Dragic. I'm just not ready to concede that the team is better sans Dragic than it is without Bledsoe. Remember, when Dragic was out for three games Markieff Morris was downright filthy in garnering Player of the Week honors. In the two losses to the Kings he combined for five points and three rebounds... Just something to ruminate over.

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The Final Word(s):

A win tonight would be Brobdingnagian to help the team build confidence in the wake of Bledsoe's injury update and the indefinite timeline for his return. Memphis has given the Suns fits, but the Detroit Pistons (tomorrow's opponent) have lost eight of their last nine and will also be on a back-to-back since they play at Philadelphia tonight. How good would a three game road win streak feel going into that Knicks, who have won four of five and dispatched the Heat last night, game on Monday?

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