PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns have played just one game in the previous 10 days — and a stinker against Portland at that — so they better have rested up with a schedule that features six games in the next nine days coming up on the horizon right after the All-Star break.
Making that stretch more brutal is the fact that four of their next five games are against good teams, including tonight’s tilt in Memphis against the Grizzlies.
“We have an extremely difficult schedule after the break,” said Suns guard Steve Nash. “That’s what we’ve got, we’ve got to go out there and be prepared and play hard and have that energy and spark about us that we have when we play well.”
The Grizz are not exactly the kind of team the Suns likely look forward to facing, not after they demolished the Suns by 25 in early January in Phoenix and then beat the Suns by seven on MLK Day in Memphis, where they are 18-8.
These are not your big brother’s Grizzlies, and it’s a nightmare matchup for the Suns because Memphis’ biggest strength (offensive rebounds) matches up with a Phoenix weakness. The Grizz rank second in the NBA in offensive boards, corralling 13.2 per contest, whereas the Suns rank dead last by yielding 13.4 a game.
Zach Randolph leads the NBA with 4.3 offensive boards per game, including the then-franchise-record 10 he grabbed Nov. 25 in Phoenix that he later broke a few weeks later, and no teammates have controlled the offensive glass better than Randolph and Marc Gasol.
In the last meeting between these teams, the Suns wanted to make the Grizzlies beat them by shooting jump shots. The strategy made sense with Memphis ranking at the bottom of the NBA in three-point makes and three-point percentage much of the year (currently at 33.0 percent), but O.J. Mayo and crew knocked down a Suns-like 9-of-19 long balls to win the shootout, with Mayo hitting 5-of-11. I expect the Suns to utilize a similar game plan while paying closer attention to Mayo.
This could be the final game in a Suns uniform for Amare Stoudemire, or he could be dealt before the game, or this could be just one of 82 in a full season for Amare in Phoenix. All that we don’t know, but I do wonder how all the rumors will affect the Suns in general and Stoudemire in specific.
The trade rumors surrounding him have never been more intense. Will we get the lackadaisical Amare who went for 16.3 and 4.0 in the four days after the trade rumors started to heat up or the fiery Amare who went for 28 and 12 on the last trip?
This is also a huge game in the standings if the Suns decide to keep their team remotely together or acquire an adequate replacement for STAT. A win would put Phoenix five games ahead of Memphis in the West and make the tiebreaker go to conference records; a loss would make it three with the tiebreaker going to the Grizz.
“We’ve got to come back ready because we’ve got two games off the bat that are going to be tough for us,” Suns guard Jason Richardson said of this game and Wednesday’s tilt in Dallas. “If we lose those two, we could be out of the playoffs, so we’ve got to come back ready.”