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Preview: Suns head to Memphis on the second night of a back-to-back

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Phoenix got hot in the second half last night, but they can’t let their foot off the gas.

Phoenix Suns v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

What: Phoenix Suns (18-10) at Memphis Grizzlies (13-12)

When: 6:00 p.m. MST

Where: Smoothie King Center

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona, League Pass

Listen: 98.7 FM

Betting lines: The Suns are getting 4 points on the road; the ML is Suns -172


The Suns saved themselves in the fourth quarter in New Orleans, entering the period down double digits before outscoring the Pelicans by 29 in the closing frame. The team shot 56 percent from deep and piled up 38 assists, really coming alive on offense for one of the only times all season.

But the first three quarters matter too, and if the Suns cannot defend in transition and contain the three-point line (especially against hot shooters), they will suffer the same fate against Memphis that they did against the Pelicans, and they might not get so lucky in the fourth this time.


Injury report

Phoenix Suns: So far, so good. Ty-Shon Alexander and Jalen Smith are both in the G League Bubble, but other than that, everyone is good to go.

Memphis Grizzlies: Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks, Justise Winslow and Killian Tillie are all still OUT


Projected starting lineups

Phoenix Suns: Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Frank Kaminsky, Deandre Ayton

Memphis Grizzlies: Ja Morant, Grayson Allen, Kyle Anderson, Brandon Clarke, Jonas Valanciunas

(My guess is with Clarke in there as a bigger 4, the Suns stick with Kaminsky)


Phoenix Suns

18-10; No. 4 in the Western Conference

115.0 ORtg (8th) - 110.7 DRtg (6th) = plus-4.4 netRtg (6th)

We have to take a moment here to give props to Chris Paul. It feels so routine now, in year 17 for him, that he could put up 19 assists, a season high (and two shy of his career-high). But that’s a crazy thing to do in a basketball game. And maybe it’s just me, but after watching Steve Nash for many years growing up, the way Paul orchestrates an offense feels even more nonchalant and poised than Nash.

With Nash, viewers really felt the presence of Nash on every possession. Sure, he could get the ball to a teammate in prime position to score with ease, but every time the offense came down the floor, it very much felt like we were watching a sergeant leading folks into battle. On this Suns team, Paul feels like the conductor of a Broadway band, hidden beneath the stage but controlling the entire show. It’s remarkable.

All that said, Paul is likely to pass Oscar Roberston for sixth all-time in assists tonight so long as he tallies at least three assists. Don’t take that for granted. What a special player.

Memphis Grizzlies

13-12; No. 9 in the Western Conference

111.2 ORtg (19th) - 111.7 DRtg (14th) = minus-0.5 netRtg (16th)

Fortunately for the Suns, Memphis will also be coming off a back-to-back tonight after a beatdown of the Pistons on Friday night at home. Less fortunately, Morant found a ridiculous gear in the game, scoring 29 points on just 23 field goal attempts, including a 10-18 performance from two-point range. Morant of course eviscerated the Suns’ defense on MLK Day last month, and has the ability to do that on any given night.

While Morant’s explosiveness is probably the top bullet point on the gameplan, a few things will be different this time around that could also benefit Memphis. The first is that Valanciunas is healthy, and his size and physicality has always posed a challenge for Ayton. Another defensive weapon, De’Anthony Melton, is also back, and could give the Grizzlies an option to check Booker.

Their record doesn’t show it because of all the injuries and COVID absences they’ve dealt with, but the Grizzlies are a handful. They can beat any team in the NBA. They are deep, well-coached, clearly understand that Morant is their alpha dog, and play defense.

Last night, New Orleans beat themselves. Memphis won’t do that. Beware.


Prediction

There aren’t a lot of people who like watching or respect this Grizzlies team more than me, so I worry this could be a really tough one for Phoenix. Remember this is one of the only teams that’s beaten a healthy Suns squad since they came back from the game cancelations in early January. The Suns just don’t have a good answer defensively for players like Morant, so they will have to hope Ayton brings his A-game as a rim protector once Morant gets downhill, and that their three-point defense improves over last night.

The Suns should win, but it will be close.

Suns 110, Grizzlies 106