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Game Preview: Only the Grizzlies stand in the way of the first Phoenix Suns winless month in 50 years

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Will the Suns go 0-11 for the month of February?

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns @ Memphis Grizzlies

When: 6:00 pm (Phoenix time)

TV: Fox Sports Arizona

Radio: 98.7 FM


The big question on many Suns fans’ minds is probably the possibility that for the first time in Suns’ history they could go winless for an entire month. For once, fans should actually hope that history repeats itself for the Suns’ tonight. Many may not remember it but during the 2015-16 season the Suns were also in a losing streak (13 games) that would have extended through the entire month of February if they had not won their final game of the month... against the Memphis Grizzlies.

They won that game 111-106.

I’m not saying that history will repeat itself but the Suns probably have a better chance of winning this game tonight than the 2015-16 Suns had in the game they won 2 years ago.

But they still have to play the game and - as we’ve all seen before - you never know just how much effort and energy the Suns will bring to the court on any given night. The Suns are 2-1 against Memphis this season with both of the wins coming in Phoenix. The single loss to the Griz came in Memphis but also in the only game of the three that Devin Booker missed due to injury.

Oddly, the Grizzlies find themselves in the same boat as the Suns. They are also on a 10 game losing streak and haven’t won a single game in the month of February. No matter what the outcome, one of these teams will leave the FedExForum tonight having lost all of their games this month.

The Grizzlies

Probable Starting Lineup: Andrew Harrison, Dillon Brooks, Jarell Martin, JaMychal Green and Marc Gasol.

You may notice that Tyreke Evans - who leads the Griz in both points (19.4) and assists (5.1) - isn’t listed in Memphis’ probable starting lineup. That’s because he’s been sidelined with some cartilage damage to his rib cage that occurred last week in the Grizzlies’ game with Cleveland. He is listed as “day-to-day” and it might be a game-time decision as to whether he plays tonight or not. According to SBNation’s Grizzlie Bear Blues, “Memphis is 0-8 in games where Tyreke Evans does not play.” I hope Tyreke has a full recovery and is healthy and ready to play again... on March 1.

Marc Gasol is Memphis’ second leading scorer (17.7), leading rebounder (8.4) and a veteran crafty enough to take notice of how all of Phoenix’s bigs fouled out of the New Orleans game on Monday night. If Tyson Chandler is still out for this game, expect to see Gasol work to not only put up points but also try to get Len, Chriss and Bender in foul trouble as he’s doing it. JaMychal Green is the only other healthy Grizzlie player averaging double figures with 10.4 points per game.

As has been the norm for the Grizzlies for a while now, they play at the slowest pace in the NBA. Since the Suns play at the 4th fastest pace, the key as to who wins might come down to who dictates the tempo of the game. Memphis was only slightly better than Phoenix offensively (27th vs 28th in OFFRTG) before Evans was sidelined. Although the Suns’ defense has been bad (30th), Memphis’ defense hasn’t hasn’t exactly been good this season either (20th).

Both teams are in the NBA’s bottom 5 in field goal and three point percentage so no clear advantage to either team in those areas.

Team Leaders

Points: Tyreke Evans (19.4)

Rebounds: Marc Gasol (8.4)

Assists: Tyreke Evans (5.1)

The Suns

Probable Starting Lineup: Elfrid Payton, Devin Booker, T.J. Warren, Dragan Bender and Alex Len.

The Suns have actually played well in their last two games against quality teams (Portland and New Orleans) that are presently tied for 5th in the Western Conference standings. But they played very poorly against the Clippers who are 9th in the WC. They will need the same level of effort and energy tonight that they brought to the last two games if they want to leave Memphis with a win.

Alex Len, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender will also need to play smarter and avoid cheap fouls in this game. But if they try to do that by being less aggressive and more tentative then they could wind up being just as ineffective on the court as they were on the bench after fouling out of Monday’s game. Since Tyson Chandler (neck) is without a timetable for a return, this is even more important for these three.

The Suns will also need Booker, Elf, T.J. and Josh Jackson to play at or near their averages (in games played together) to get a win. Together these four have averaged a total of 79.3 points, 25.1 rebounds and 15.1 assists per game in the four games they have all played together.

And it would be nice if Troy Daniels decides he still needs a little more revenge against the team that traded him away and rains a few threes down on his old team tonight.

Team Leaders

Points: Devin Booker (24.7)

Rebounds: Tyson Chandler (9.5)

Assists: Elfrid Payton (8.0)

Summary

This is a winable game for the Suns. Whether Tyreke Evans is available to play or not is a wild card at the moment but the real wild card is in the hand that the Suns hold. Will they come out breathing fire or just blowing smoke at the beginning of the game?

If it’s the former then I predict a bit of deja vu and the Suns win 111-106 to avoid a full month of losses.

Just as they did once before on February 27, 2016.