PHOENIX — After their 14-3 start to the season, complacency set in for the Phoenix Suns, who lost nine of their next 14 games.
Now coming off back-to-back wins over the Lakers and Celtics, the Suns say they have regained the edge that made them such a fierce team in the season’s opening month.
We will find out for sure whether that is more than lip service when the Suns take on a Memphis team that’s playing very well but doesn’t exactly get your blood boiling like the Lakers and Celtics do.
“There’s no easy games,” said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry, and that’s especially true with a Grizzlies squad coming to town that has won five of six and gone 14-8 since a 1-8 start. “Every game you’re going to have to battle your butt off. To think that, ‘Boy, that stretch is over, now everything’s OK,’ I wish I could say that, but we have a Memphis team coming in there that’s … playing great basketball.”
Making this gave even more difficult is the fact that Memphis’ biggest strength — rebounding, particularly on the offensive glass — matches up with Phoenix’s biggest weakness.
The Grizzlies lead the NBA in rebounding differential (plus 5.3 per game) and offensive boards (13.7 per contest). The Suns rank last in the league in opponent offensive boards per game (13.5) and are below average in rebounding differential, yielding 1.2 more rebounds per game than they collect.
Phoenix is 7-11 when it loses the battle of the boards and 14-1 when it wins or ties in rebounds, with the lone loss coming Nov. 12 at the Lakers.
In their only meeting this season against Memphis, the Suns beat the Grizzlies 126-111 despite Memphis crushing them on the boards, 49-29, thanks to 22 offensive boards. The Suns overcame that deficit with 61.9 percent shooting and due to the fact that many of the offensive boards (including a few of Zach Randolph’s franchise-record 10) came during the same possession.
It’s doubtful the Suns will shoot that well again, so needless to say they will need to do a better job on the boards, although they should still be able to pull this one out without a win on the glass.
The Suns are feeling good about themselves entering this one after their past two wins vaulted them into the No. 3 spot in the West, and they are always confident at home.
With this contest being the Suns’ only game in a five-day span, Grant Hill and the Suns are itching to get back to the floor and extend a winning streak that took an entire month to start.
“Right now you kind of want to play,” Hill said. “You want to play tomorrow. You want to keep it going. When we were struggling we were playing every other day, and now we’re feeling good we’ve got a few days off, so go figure.”
- The Suns have been playing Goran Dragic instead of Leandro Barbosa during the waning minutes of first quarters to get him acclimated to the game next to Steve Nash, something Gentry said the second-year point guard gets a lot of confidence from being that he’s not solely charged with ball-handling duties. LB has been used mainly in the second and fourth quarters as a catalyst of the second unit. The Suns have also started their past two fourth quarters with Channing Frye and the bench quartet of Dragic-LB-Dudley-Lopez/Lou, and it has sealed wins over the Lakers and Celtics.
- Frye on the last two impact wins: “They’re a big deal to end this month. We settled for mediocrity right there. We just felt like we should win instead of going out there and taking a win. Nobody’s going to give you anything.”
- Randolph is averaging 28.2 and 17.3 in his last six games, including a 32-24 game Dec. 20 against Denver. For the season Z-Bo averages 20.2 and 11.4.
- The Suns’ bench has averaged 45.3 points per game in four contests since the return of LB on Dec. 25, with Wednesday’s 38-point effort being the bench’s first game in that time under 40, a mark only reached in six of the bench’s first 29 contests. The bench is averaging better than 31 ppg, making this the team’s most prolific bench since the return of Nash before the 2004-05 season.
- Part of the bench’s improvement can be attributed to the jump made by Dragic, who only needed 33 games to surpass his scoring output from last season. Along with an increase in playing time, the Dragon is shooting 46.6 percent from the field after connecting on just 39.3 percent of his shots last year.
- The Suns have won 12 of 13 against the Grizzlies, including seven in a row at home.