Phoenix Suns at Memphis Grizzlies
Time: 6 pm (Phoenix time)
TV: Fox Sports Arizona
Radio: 98.7 FM
The Phoenix Suns (16-36) try to bounce back from a tough loss on Monday as they take on the Memphis Grizzlies (32-22).
The Grizzlies have won five of their last six games after knocking off the San Antonio Spurs 89-74 on Monday.
Defined for years by a play style that involved slowing the game down and grinding their opponents to dust, even the Grizzlies have adapted to the new NBA. All Star Marc Gasol still mans the middle, but he is flanked in the frontcourt by the more mobile and youthful JaMychal Green instead of former fixture Zach Randolph, who still plays an important role on the team but does so as a reserve. Gasol leads the Grizzlies in scoring and is second in assists (4.2) and third in rebounding (6.0), but the biggest surprise is that he ranks second on the team in 3-point shooting at 40.3 percent. He has made 75 3s this season after averaging 1.5 made 3s per season over his first eight seasons. New NBA indeed. Mike Conley leads the Grizzlies in assists and is second in scoring at 19 points per game, which is also his career high for a season. Defensive pest Tony Allen ranks sixth in the NBA for steals per game (1.8). Chandler Parsons continues to search for his former self, appearing in just 24 games and averaging 6.5 points as Memphis’ big free agent signing last summer. For those wondering, Vince Carter is still alive and is averaging 8.1 points off the Memphis bench.
While the Grizzlies have adapted to the new NBA, they haven’t lost their identity completely. They are averaging 7.4 more 3-point attempts this season than last, but Memphis still ranks 28th in the league for pace at 95.16 and still locks opponents down on defense, placing second in the league for opponent field goal percentage (43.5 percent) and third for opponent 3-point percentage (34.2 percent). They are also a top-10 team at forcing turnovers and fourth in the league in scoring defense per 100 possessions (102.9 points). They could stand to improve their own offense, however. The Grizzlies rank 21st in 3-point percentage (35.2 percent) and dead last in field goal percentage (43.2 percent) — possibly due in part to ranking 25th in assists (20.7).
Points: Marc Gasol (20.9)
Rebounds: Zach Randolph (8.3)
Assists: Mike Conley (6.2)
After a brief flirtation with relevance in January, the Suns have been smacked upside the head by reality, dropping seven of their last eight games and surrendering 119 points per game over that span.
Devin Booker’s streak of consecutive games with 20 or more points ended at 16 in Monday’s loss to the New Orleans Pelicans after he shot just 5 of 20 from the field for 14 points. Eric Bledsoe wasn’t effective, either, scoring 14 points on 3-of-9 shooting. Still, they remain on pace to be the first Suns teammates to average over 21 points per game for a season since Shawn Marion and Stephon Marbury in 2002-03. T.J. Warren may be turning a corner, putting together his best 3-game stretch as a starter since returning from that as-of-yet unexplained head injury earlier this year. He has averaged 17 points and 5.7 rebounds over those three games and tied his career high for blocks with three against the Pelicans. Leandro Barbosa had his highest scoring output (14 points) since Dec. 11 in Phoenix’s last game.
The Suns have been bad on defense all season, but it’s become laughably bad in February. Just how bad has it gotten? Well, I’m glad you asked. In February, Phoenix ranks dead last for opponent field goal percentage (51.2 percent) and opponent scoring (118.8 points). Oddly, teams have only shot 34.8 percent (15th overall) from 3-point range against Phoenix on the third-fewest attempts in the month, which leaves a few possible explanations:
- The Suns are tightening their perimeter defense and running opponents off the line.
- Opponents are finding it so easy to score at the basket against the Suns they are abandoning the 3-point line.
- The basketball gods have seen fit to grant mercy upon this woebegone franchise by forbidding other teams from hurting them from EVERYWHERE on the court.
Points: Eric Bledsoe (21.3)
Rebounds: Tyson Chandler (11.8)
Assists: Eric Bledsoe (6.2)
Dragan Bender (Suns): right ankle contusion (QUESTIONABLE)
The Grizzlies took the first of three meetings between these two teams on Jan. 30 in Phoenix 115-96 behind Mike Conley’s career-high 38 points. Memphis has taken 10 of the last 12 meetings between these two teams since 2013-14 despite Phoenix owning a decisive 50-29 advantage in the all-time series.
The Grizzlies might be evolving somewhat in their style, but that doesn’t mean scoring against this team will suddenly come easy for the Suns. They have been held below 100 points in 17 of the 22 meetings between these two teams since 2010-11, and January’s match proved the more things change, the more they say the same. If Phoenix wants to win, it needs to both find easy scoring opportunities for itself and minimize the easy scoring opportunities the Grizzlies get. They are not a super talented offensive team, so making them shoot over an outstretched hand every time down the floor represents the best chance at pulling out the win.
Eric Bledsoe vs. Mike Conley
Mike Conley worked Eric Bledsoe over in their first meeting, scoring 23 points in the 1st half alone as he marched to his eventual career high. Meanwhile, Bledsoe only committed two fouls in a game where his man was lighting him up. He needs to show more pride than that. His offensive game just wasn’t on that night, but you can’t compound it by being the biggest defensive sieve on the team at the same time. Hopefully, Bledsoe bounces back from a tough game against Memphis and a couple down efforts in the last two games. Putting Conley on his heels would significantly boost the chances of a Suns win.
Deadpoolio’s Neat-o Stat of the Game Preview (brought to you by basketball-reference.com)
Jared Dudley and others have grown fond of touting P.J. Tucker for Defensive Player of the Year. That is a long shot, but Tucker may be helping his case for a spot on an All-Defensive team.
Tucker currently ranks T-15th in the NBA for total steals (79), 20th in the NBA for steals per game (1.5), and 18th in the NBA for steal percentage (2.6), with his steals per game and steal percentage both representing career highs. He also swiped a career-high seven steals against the Milwaukee Bucks, becoming the first Sun to accumulate seven or more steals in a game since Shawn Marion had eight on Feb. 6, 2006 against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
All stats courtesy of NBA.com and basketball-reference.com.