Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns wore down late in Tuesday night’s game against a tough Portland Trail Blazers team. They turned the ball over nine times in the fourth, while giving up 37 points on the other end.
Although Phoenix let that game slip away, there were a ton of encouraging developments for the Suns as they look toward tonight’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies. The Suns seem to be patching up their biggest deficiencies as the season goes along.
You would think a Suns team that ranks dead last in rebounding differential (-5.5) would get killed on the glass by Marcus Camby and LaMarcus Aldridge. But the Suns and Blazers finished in a dead heat on the glass, both ripping down 32 boards.
The Suns also figured to get murdered on the defensive boards, as they give up the third most offensive rebounds in the NBA (13 per game) and Portland corrals the second most offensive rebounds in the league (13.4). But the Suns only gave up two offensive boards.
As seen by their rebounding woes this season, the Suns clearly struggle down low. They’ve been abused in the paint time and time again this season, but held the Trail Blazers to only 30 points in the paint. Phoenix also ranks dead last in defensive field goal percentage (49 percent), but limited the Blazers to 44.6 percent shooting and 33.3 percent from three.
If it weren’t for a 37-point fourth quarter and 32 Portland free-throws this may have been the Suns’ best defensive performance of the season. Defensively, the first three quarters of Tuesday night’s game was a first for the Suns, but they have been doing a better job on the glass over the course of the last four games, winning or tying the battle of the boards three times.
To put how far the Suns have come in perspective, they tied or won the rebounding battle only one time through the first 17 games.
Although they fell to Portland, the Suns will carry those improvements back home to US Airways Center where they’ve won six of their last seven games. They will be playing on a back-to-back — 2-3 on the tail end this season — but Memphis has struggled mightily on the road as its lost six straight games away from home (2-9 on the road overall).
The Grizzlies have been underwhelming as of late, losing four in a row and five of their last six. Memphis still has bad memories of the last time it played in Phoenix, when the Grizzlies imploded down the stretch, allowing Jason Richardson to score on a lob with 1.1 seconds left in regulation to send it to overtime.
Behind J-Rich’s 38 points the Suns won 123-118 in double overtime. The Grizzlies got the best of the Suns two games later, winning at home 109-99 behind 20 Zach Randolph rebounds. Memphis grabbed 16 offensive boards in that game, and that combined with 23 turnovers doomed the Suns.
Although the turnover struggles are still there, this is a much better Phoenix team in terms of defensive rebounding and interior defense — which bodes well against a tough Memphis squad. The Suns are currently eighth in the Western Conference standings and could use a win against a lesser Grizzlies team with Portland, Minnesota, Dallas, Oklahoma City and San Antonio on tap.