Happy New Year!
The 2010 portion of the regular season begins tonight with a re-match against the Memphis Grizzlies. When the Grizz were last in Phoenix on the 25th of November Steve Nash picked their defense apart en route to a 126-111 win that wasn't as close as that score might indicate. Nash had 16 assists in only 29 minutes of play.
The Suns did get a glimpse of things to come with Zach Randolph displaying his slimmed down, more athletic and team oriented game. He dropped 24 and 13 on the Suns including a franchise high 10 offensive rebounds. If you follow the NBA at all you will have heard that Zebo has continued that trend and posted 23 and 14 over his past 10 games. People are talking about Randolph as a potential All Star. Who'd a thunk it?
When these two teams last met, the Grizzlies had just come off the Allen Iverson/Brett Farve will he or won't he retire debacle. It is probably not a coincidence that the Grizz have gone on 9-4 in December with the AI mess in the rear view mirror.
The Grizzlies are winning with offensive efficiency and offensive rebounding which kind of go hand in hand when you consider the high percentage put backs that come from crashing the O glass. They are 6th in the NBA in FG% at .478 and 1st in offensive rebounding percentage at .334 (the Suns are 15th at .269). Of course it should be noted that they are only 5-10 overall against teams that are over .500. They have a couple of good wins on their books (Cleveland, Dallas and Portland) but on balance have not shown that they can consistently beat playoff caliber teams like the Suns.
With Gasol playing fantastic in the post and demanding double teams and Randolph getting over half of his buckets at the rim the Suns bigs will have their hands full. Fortunately, the Grizzlies are a horrible outside shooting team so the match-up screams for the zone.
Memphis is 29th in 3PM (3.5 / gm) and 26th in 3P% (.311) so we can expect an approach similar to what the Suns did against Dwight Howard and the Magic. Pack it in. Double team the post. Mix in a lot of zone and dare the Grizz to make their outside shots. If they are shooting well tonight we can expect a long and painful game. If they stay true to their average the Suns should handle this one fairly easily because....
Zebo is only hitting 43% of his shots from between the three-point line and 3ft. He likes to face up in the mid-post and has a ton of great moves and some of the best foot work for a big man you will see. I am fairly sure that if he and Al Jefferson teamed up they would be a lock to win Dancing With the Stars. Amare or whoever else is defending him needs to sag off and dare him to take mid-range jump shots. Do not body up to this guy or you are asking for trouble.
The Grizzlies are second only to the Warriors in opponents field goal percentage allowed (.481). The Suns dropped over 50% on the Celtics and Lakers so you have to think there is no way the Grizzlies are going to slow down Nash and crew. If the Suns were more reliant on interior post scoring I might be more concerned but Gasol and Randolph aren't likely to switch as many pick and rolls and their help defense is poor so that's going to lead to a lot of wide open looks for Phoenix.
The biggest concern is keeping the Grizzlies off the offensive glass and there are two ways to do this. Crash the boards hard with the wings (Hill, Dudley, Richardson) and/or make them pay in transition by pushing every defensive rebound the Suns grab right down their throat for easy fast break buckets. Oh and this time we have our secret fuzzy weapon. Robin Lopez did not play when these teams last met. The Grizzlies will not be prepared for the furry and flurry that will be unleashed by PsychLo.
Gay and Mayo are one of the best young wing pairings in the league but with Gasol and Zebo working inside out and neither guy shooting well from behind the arc their talents seem to be have been somewhat stifled this season. Hill/Dudley and Richardson/Dragic should be able to handle them which leaves Nash to run wild over Mike Conley.
And of course, off the bench the Suns once again will have a huge advantage. Barbosa should be good for 15 points and Lou Amundson vs DeMarre Carrol will give us a rematch of the Hustle Hair Battle of '09.
Be sure to check out Straight Outta Vancouver for the Memphis side of things.