Tonight, with only nine games left to play in the irregular season, the Phoenix Suns take their road party to Memphis to face the Grizzlies for the final time. The first two matches were in Phoenix and closely contested - but in the end it was Phoenix that pulled out the victories.
Here is the scenario - the Memphis Grizzlies currently sit in 5th place in the Western Conference Playoff scheme and are looking to chase down the Los Angeles Clippers who they trail by only a 0.5 game for a coveted home-court advantage. They should be playing with a lot of determination tonight for that reason alone - but add to it the fact that they are 0-2 against the Suns and would make a bet that the Grizzlies will come out with some serious intensity tonight.
The Suns on the other hand - in theory - should be playing with more urgency given their current place in the playoff hunt, just one game out a spot altogether. Also of note is the reality that these are two of the hottest teams in the league right now since the All-Atar break and both are peaking at just the right time for a strong end-of-season/playoff push. This will be a difficult road game to win. This is the final countdown - nine games left on the schedule and the remaining games are no walk in the park (@Houston, @Spurs, Portland, OKC, LA. Clippers, Denver, @Utah and again against San Antonio to end the season). I believe the Suns can extend their current winning streak to three and they are going to have to win this game if they want to continue to fight for a playoff spot ... but there are a few things that concern me - more after the jump.
HOT TUB EUTY-MACHINE
To get things started let's all chug some illegal Russian energy drinks and take a look into the past before we peer into the future. What happened in those first two meetings at U.S. Airways Center?
Memphis Grizzlies 84 - Phoenix Suns 86
And now a look at my own game recap -
Nash, Dudley, Hill, Frye and Gortat got the starting nod as Alvin Gentry went back to the original starting 5 that began the season. All but one of these starters came out with fire in their eyes and we'll talk about Channing Frye in a second. But it was another double-double for Marcin Gortat (though he shot poorly from the field going 6-17, 35%), a season high 20 points for Jared Dudley, a 21 and 6 night for Steve Nash and Grant Hill was the BAMF we have yearning to see with his legs back and kept Rudy Gay in check as he only poured in 18 (7-15) which is well short of his usual 25 points he lights up against the Suns on average. With the scoring of Zach Randolph missing that was just enough to give the Suns a victory.
Two elements in this game we won't see tonight? 1) Grant Hill in, 2) Z-Bo out. We will get back to that later. It's crazy to remember all the lineup shifting Gentry did at the start of the season - also for kicks and giggles check the comments section and remember what you felt like when the suns were just 7-12.
Next game = another Suns victory. Check it.
Memphis Grizzlies 91 - Phoenix Suns 98
And a look at the rage-post thrown up the next day at Straight Outta Vancouver ... Tee hee hee.
We almost saw this coming. For some time now, it only seemed like a matter of time before we would fall in what we like to call a "let-down" game. And last night against the Suns, in a 98-91 loss, we saw our 5-game win streak snapped at the hands of a Suns team who is starting to make a nice surge of their own. Don't get me wrong, we're still a better team than the Suns, but last night we ran into a hot-hand in Jared Dudley and failed miserably off the glass. There's no reason to be giving up 17 offensive rebounds. None.
I won't deny that the Grizzlies are a better team ... or will I? My brain tells me that Memphis has a better roster with better talent and sport a better record - but my brain is also telling me not to count the Suns out because we have seen what kind of run a Steve Nash / Grant Hill-lead team can make in the playoffs when they are counted out ... so I just listen to my heart and eat pizza.
But once again in that win there were two elements of note. 1) Grant Hill in, and 2) Z-Bo out. Again we'll mention that later because it might be important tonight.
Let's take a look at tonight's match-ups.
Key Memphis Subs: OJ Mayo, Zach Randolph, Gilbert Arenas, and Dante Cunningham (remember that one Time Amare facialized ... ah the memories) - Tony Allen is questionable for the game.
So this is what scares me - no Grant Hill in the line-up to check Rudy Gay, and Zach Randolph coming off the bench for the Grizz. That is where I question - can Jared Dudley stay in front of Gay? Is Robin Lopez playing at a high-enough level that he can hold his own against the mulit-threats of Z-Bo?
These questions are what make me a little anxious for this game tonight. Here are my keys otherwis:
Limit Turnovers - we did great against the Lakers (only 3 turnovers all game) ... and then turned it over 9 times in the first quarter against the T-Wolves. Memphis is very good defensively and thievery is a definite strong-point for these guys. MUST. PROTECT. THE. BALL.
I like my BEASTS Down LOW, down low, down low ... - Our 4s and 5s are going to need to be on point. Like I mentioned already, Z-Bo off the bench? Marc Gasol is a load, very skilled and strong, Speights is a workhorse and they might even bring Haddadi in to bang a bit. It is going to be on Channing, Marcin, Robin and Markieff to stop these guys and play sound defense in the paint. No more of this stupid quick-foul-trouble habit Gortat has developed.
* Note: I also expect Hakim Warrick to play a few minutes, maybe 8-14 given the track-record of Gentry to always let Hak get some burn against his former team. Players morph into mutant players when they play their old teams and A.G. knows that.
Continued Bench Mob - Our bench has been great, and they are the reason we have been playing so well as of late, so logic would only suggest that we need the bench to continue to ball-out if we want to extend this winning streak and better our chances at a PO spot. Paul Coro wrote a nice little piece about the bench last night, have a look for yourself.
'Organized chaos' paces Phoenix Suns' bench crew
When the all-reserve crew of Sebastian Telfair, Michael Redd, Josh Childress, Markieff Morris and Robin Lopez have played together, the Suns have outscored teams by 26 in those 96 minutes. It does not match the rate that the original starting five has outscored teams, but these subs play at a faster pace by 4.6 possessions per 48 minutes.
That is it for me - I'll see you in the game thread, ROLL CALL in full effect so bring your A-game.
Peep the comp - good preview over at the Grizzly-den.
Suns vs Grizzlies coverage