Preview: Suns (24-17) at Grizzlies (21-18)

Grizzlies 125, Suns 118

Suns

Grizzlies

After the Suns dropped their 17th straight game on TNT back on Dec. 17, I concluded a piece in the Daily Dime with these words:

The Suns’ next game on the network comes Jan. 18 in Memphis. If they can’t beat the Grizzlies, it will be time to start wondering if Charles Barkley has put some sort of voodoo hex on his former team.

Fast forward a month and a curse that may or may not be real and may just be a wildly random coincidence is the last reason why the Grizzlies must be favored to win this Martin Luther King Day matinee on TNT.

The last time these teams met back on Jan. 2 in Phoenix, the Turner cameras were nowhere to be found yet Memphis still found a way to demolish the Suns, 128-103.

The Grizzlies ran up a big lead in the second quarter and the Suns never fought back, scoring what at the time looked to be a major upset. Now the only way an upset would go down is if the Suns beat a Grizz squad that has won eight home games in a row and 11 of 14 overall. They are 20-10 after a 1-8 start and trail the Suns by just two games for the sixth spot.

So not only do they have the TNT jinx and a hot Memphis squad working against them, but the Grizzlies’ biggest strength matches up with the Suns’ biggest weakness. Memphis lead the NBA in offensive rebounds (13.6 per game) and Phoenix yields more offensive boards than any NBA team (13.8 a game) after giving up 20 crucial offensive caroms Friday in Atlanta.

Memphis corralled 22 offensive boards and out-rebounded the Suns 49-29 on Nov. 25 in Phoenix, but the Suns came away with a 126-111 win because they shot 61.9 percent from the floor and thus didn’t have many misses to rebound. Plus, a handful of Memphis’ offensive boards, including many of Zach Randolph’s franchise-record 10, came on the same possession. In the Grizzlies’ 25-point win a couple weeks ago, they secured 16 on the offensive glass and won the battle of the boards, 49-38.

Randolph leads the NBA in offensive boards (4.5 per game) and Marc Gasol ranks 11th (3.0), making them the league’s best duo on the offensive glass. After Amare Stoudemire (21st, 2.5 per game), the Suns’ next best offensive rebounder is Lou Amundson (60th, 1.7), which says something about the rest of the team since Lou only plays 14.6 minutes per game.

Robin Lopez, who has logged more minutes in each of his last two games than he has in any other game this season, likely will get more time along with Lou in this one to keep Memphis’ bigs off the boards. According to The Arizona Republic, he may even start for the first time all year.

Memphis’ interior presence really starts with Randolph, who has been everything the Grizz could have hoped for him to be in their wildest dreams. He hasn’t done anything stupid and instead has just gone out and played All-Star-caliber basketball. Maybe the Suns can send Lou on him, as Z-Bo landed a punch on Amundson last year to get himself an early shower.

While the Grizzlies are riding high after beating the Spurs on Saturday to cap off their hot stretch, the Suns are going in the opposite direction.

Phoenix is 10-14 since its 14-3 start, after which the Suns were 8.5 games better than Memphis. They have either blown a double-digit lead or gotten destroyed in every game of 2010, as they appear to be regressing instead of improving as the season goes along.

The low point of all that came Saturday in Charlotte, when the Bobcats set a points-in-a-quarter franchise record (43 in the first) and tied another one for scoring in a half (74 in the first half).

The defeat highlighted Phoenix’s first three-game losing streak since late March and its first streak of three straight wins or losses since November. The defeat also dropped the Suns to 1-10 in their past 11 road games and puts them at 24-17 at the halfway point of the season.

On one hand, I’m not surprised. In fact, before the season started I predicted Phoenix would finish the year 48-34 and in the sixth spot of the West. That’s EXACTLY the record and seed the Suns are on pace for right now, but I never would have come close to prognosticating a 14-3 start followed by a 10-14 collapse with so many blown leads. I’ll feel good about that prediction right now nonetheless.

At this point, however, the Suns just need a win to salvage what has thus far been a gut-punch road trip in which they have blown a 24-point lead to a bad team, lost on a buzzer-beating three and gotten waxed by a .500 team.

With a cushy home schedule coming up, beating a team right on their heels this afternoon is very, very important to the Phoenix Suns.

But if they fall again, at least we know we can’t blame this one on the TNT jinx.

Vote 4 Steve

This might seem a little ridiculous considering the Suns’ slide of late, but today is the final day to vote online for Steve Nash for the All-Star team.

You can certainly make a case for Chris Paul over Nash (Paul does have slightly better numbers), but it’s asinine for Tracy McGrady to be in the lead for the West’s second spot next to Kobe Bryant. Nash’s career-best 18.7 ppg average to go with his 11.0 apg make him a worthy candidate over T-Mac, who led Two Time by a couple thousand votes as of the latest update.

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