Grizzlies 125, Suns 118 -- Curse continues, skid too

Lopez's career-high 19 points on 8-for-10 shooting in his first start of the season was one positive to take out of this game. (AP Photo/ Mark Weber)

Lopez's career-high 19 points on 8-for-10 shooting in his first start of the season was one positive to take out of this game. (AP Photo/ Mark Weber)

After three straight losses, it was starting to seem like some changes were in order. Suns’ coach Alvin Gentry must have thought so, as he shook up the starting lineup Monday against the Grizzlies.

Robin Lopez started in place of Channing Frye and Leandro Barbosa started for Jason Richardson. But even with the changes — and no blown leads — the Suns weren’t able to stop the bleeding as their losing streak grew to four games after a 125-118 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Suns haven’t lost four in a row since March 2009 when they lost six straight. Moreover, the Suns’ troubles on TNT continued as they have now lost 18 straight on the network.

The loss was by no means an embarrassment in the way their Jan. 2 loss to the Grizzlies in Phoenix was. The Suns have recently faced a fate just the opposite of Memphis. Since starting a red-hot 14-3, the Suns are 10-15. The Grizzlies, conversely, have gone 21-10 since starting 1-8. Quite a turnaround for a team once put in a category with the league’s bottom feeders.

It seems strange to say, especially with it being the fourth in a row, but the loss to Memphis was a good loss. The Suns didn’t blow any leads, they played tough and they were never out of the game. They even tied the game in the fourth quarter.

And the biggest positive to take away from it all was the play of Robin Lopez. Lopez notched a career-high 19 points to go with seven rebounds in his first start of the season. Beyond the numbers though, Lopez showed that he can be an effective rebounder, score in the paint and provide solid interior defense. The Suns outscored the Grizzlies in the paint 70-52. Lopez even managed to not foul out until the final 11 seconds while playing 29 minutes of action! Whether or not this improved Lopez will get more starts will be an interesting story line to watch.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it until it’s not true anymore: the Suns live and die by the three. Monday’s game marked the third straight game in which the Suns have shot below the 41 percent three-point shooting percentage they held entering the game (the Suns no longer lead the league, by the way. Cleveland’s 41.2 percent does).

Over the last three, the Suns have averaged 28.2 percent shooting from downtown. They went 10-of-29 Monday, including Barbosa’s 2-of-10. Steve Nash made 3-of-6 from deep, two coming on the run in clutch moments, but it wasn’t enough. Nash finished with a team-leading 22 points and 12 assists.

The tide of the game turned for good in the fourth quarter with 7:18 to go. After the Suns made it a three-point game at 99-96, the Grizzlies went on an 8-0 run that included three Suns turnovers and ended on an O.J. Mayo dunk. The Suns made it close again in the final minute, cutting the lead to 121-118 after a Barbosa three-point score, but Marc Gasol’s clutch free throw shooting and a Nash turnover put an end to the game.

Gasol finished with 19 points, one of four Grizzlies in double figures. Mayo netted 28 points, Rudy Gay led all scorers with 31 points and nine assists, and Zach Randolph doubled up with 27 points and 11 rebounds. The Grizzlies shot much better from deep than their normal 33.3 percent. They went for 47.4 percent Monday (9-for-19) including five deep balls from Mayo and three from Gay.

On top of their below-average three-point shooting, the Suns gave up 18 turnovers. They forced 17, so it was a bit of a wash, but 18 turnovers is above average and cutting them down could be the difference in some of these close games.

When the losing will end is unclear, but the Suns get three games at home against New Jersey, Chicago and Golden State. It would be easy to say that those should be three wins over struggling teams (let’s be real, the Nets aren’t struggling. They are just awful. They’re 3-37 awful. They’re “let’s play for the first pick in the draft” awful. Seriously, if the Suns lose that game, they might consider calling it a season. Sorry, back to the Suns.). A trip home could do some good, but as of late, it’s no longer clear if the Suns do actually have any kind of home-court advantage.

The changes to the starting lineup weren’t a bad idea. I really like Lopez starting. Granted, the Suns miss Frye’s three-point shooting, but the interior presence Lopez brought against Memphis is something the Suns haven’t seen much of all season. Maybe it’s time to give him more minutes, especially since Frye is averaging just 4.6 ppg over his last five games after scoring three in 13 minutes today.

As for Barbosa, it’s unclear if a move to the starting lineup helped. He finished with 14 points in 24 minutes. Richardson, on the other hand, played the other 24 and contributed just eight points on 4-of-11 shooting.

Maybe it hasn’t hit them yet, but the Suns are just one game away from being out of the playoff picture in the Western Conference. If they don’t pick things up soon, they could quietly fall to .500. Although so many things are uncertain about this team right now, one thing is certain: we can quit having that “elite team” conversation for a while.

  • Kyle Fleeger

    Tonight on the Planet Orange post-game show I heard a guy say that we need to trade Amar’e ASAP. Why? I heard that Amar’e isn’t a max contract player who wants out…

    Why? Where are the quotes from Amar’e saying that he is going to get paid, and he doesn’t care where he plays?

    All I hear him say is, “if we are winning, and they can offer me a chance to play for a title and fair pay, anything is possible” Do we blame him for this?

    Have we been great to Amar’e and I just missed it? OR Have we been consistently shopping Amar’e and making him feel like at any moment, the Suns loyalty is going to run out?

    I want Amar’e, make no mistake about that. The HATERS can HATE… but at the end of the day. Since coming off of TWO of the most difficult surgeries for a person to recover from, he gets better at something almost every year. Since december he is 21.3/10.3. This is on 2 fewer FG’s per game than anyone else in the top 10 in scoring. Those shots go to J Rich. Who even tonight, in a bench role, went 4-11 in 24 minutes with ZERO hustle plays and a lot of lazy defense. I don’t want a 14,000,000 bench warmer.

    Let’s really plan for the future by trading J Rich for defensive-minded SF who can run and shoot 3′s AND/OR an expiring contract of a defensive stopper.

    All we need is one player in the trade really. Trading J Rich puts Goran and Leandro back on the floor together and even though Leandro is struggling to score right now, at least he is only 7.0M a year and 24. He is a little banged up, but he is used to way more minutes and needs to get into a fast-pace tempo when out there.

    Goran is a good defender. When he is in, teams FG% and penetration go down. We don’t need J Rich’s scoring. We need a guy to get us rebounds and play perimeter defense so that we can get into transition faster and not sacrifice everything on defense.

    These Suns have a weird problem. We need to Run, but we also need to play Defense. The difference between D’Antoni era Suns and these Suns are that D’antoni Suns were at least mediocre at defense. We had athletic, long defenders, to help prevent teams from keeping up with us when we could push the pace. Raja Bell and Boris Diaw. However, J Dud is a bright-spot out of that trade, the fact is, the Suns guards are TINY.

    J Rich, Leandro, Nash, Goran, Dudley are all 6’4. Rudy Gay/OJ Mayo/Brandon Roy/Gerald Wallace/Josh Smith have all just taken advantage of what no basketball I.Q. can replicate, SIZE.

    We desperately need size at the G/SF position. Travis Outlaw, Nicholas Batum, Ronnie Brewer, Cory Brewer, OR Caron Butler.

    How about

    J Rich for Caron Butler


    J Rich and Leandro for Salmons and Hinrich?


    J Rich and Jarron Collins for Carlos Boozer and Ronnie Brewer

    The Jazz desperately need to make a move to get rid of Boozer, or Milsap, either of whom I would take. I would also take AK47 from the Jazz.

    Anyway, I think that moving Amar’e doesn’t make sense as he continues to play strong. I think that if the Suns just could play moderately better perimeter defense and stop forcing our BIGS to get into foul trouble with easy dribble penetration by opposing guards.

    If the Suns can spread the court more (which is not happening at all anymore) and play defense, they will once again be an elite team in the league. They will 30-12 if they just trade J Rich and get some defense and size. PLEASE GET DEFENSE AND SIZE ON THE PERIMETER!

  • Roadster sl

    Gentry and Kerr have to make a move now to stop the bleeding, the next three games could be comfortable wins, even the way the Suns are playing, but after that it’s a tough series of away and home games that can easily push the Suns under the .500 mark. Anyway if Gentry and Kerr do not react – which is most likely because they are risk avoiders – the seazon for the Suns will be over by Allstar break. Hopefully Sarver steps in in bangs his fist on the table….save some bucks by trading JRich and bring back at least a couple of NN that can defend the perimeter. Try bringing in a pure rebounder like Noah to turn the tide on the boards. Gentry showed a glimpse of guts with tonight’s lineup, only his moves come one month late!!! Can’t figure out why he won’t use Clark, who has length, athleticism and good quickness, to defend against some of the perimeter shooters like Mayo. I think one of the consistent weaknesses of the Suns’ coaching staff has been that they have not optimised the use of bench player – they have been downright atrocious in designing defensive stops when the game is on the line. This was confirmed again tonight – with the game close you desperately need to make some defensive stops….instead the Suns “swallow” 37 points in the 4th quarter. Give the Grizzlies their dues, they are a fine team, but an experienced team like the Suns should be able to pull this game out of the fire. Unfortunately defensive breakdowns are continuing and opponents get plenty of good looks at the basket, outside as well as in the paint. 118 points will win you a fair number of games, except when you let the opponent score 125!!! This is more then a mentality problem…there’s a personnel problem. If Gentry and Kerr don’t try to fix it now, they could very well be out of a job after the Allstar brake. Either way I wouldn’t mind because it means change, and that’s exactly what the Suns need.

  • Mike

    I wouldn’t dump JRich unless I got Jamison or Iguodala. As far as lineup changes, I think they are pretty deep and should not make a big deal about changing starters depending on who they play. If they are facing a strong offensive rebounding team, start Lopez.

    I’d try a lineup with Hill coming off the bench and JRich playing the 3 with LB at 2. Despite having such a low PER, Hill continues to start and I love Grant but he’s not having a strong year, especially offensively.

    I’d pull him, put him in the second squad to help lead them, and replace him with LB, Clark or Frye. Imagine Nash, LB, Frye, Stoudemire, Lopez — seems like you’d have no trouble rebounding and you’d have a bench with Grant Hill and JRich to lead the second unit of Dragic, Hill, Jrich, Dudley, Amundsen, Clark, etc.

    I’d also not be against putting in Dudley in place of Grant Hill to irritate strong 2′s or 3′s on the perimeter. Dudley is also a strong rebounder, his boxing out and fundamentals are awesome.

  • King Fahad

    I think it would be difficult, as far as chemistry, to place guys in different rotation. I think simply, just like how that great Sacramento did, have a two unit squad: one being starters to gain on a lead, other being a bench that can sustain a lead. My starting unit would have to compliment the team’s run-n gun concept with: PG-Nash, SG-LB,SF-J-Rich,PF-Amar’e,C-Frye. My defensive bench unit would be: PG-Dragic,SG-Dudley,SF-Hill,PF-Amundsen,C-Fro’pez. I would give this a try.

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  • The Z. Man

    Have been petitioning for a change in the starting line up for a good long time.

    Most of my attention has been going to pairing LB with Nash. They know each other's every move. They are very competitive and will push the pace.

    Hope they trade J-Rich for someone we need and continue to pair Nash with the Brazilian Blur.

    MUST start and also finish with LB. Let's go SUNS!!!!

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