Preview: Memphis Grizzlies (10-8) at Phoenix Suns (6-12)

Phoenix Suns 86, Memphis Grizzlies 84



Coming off an embarrassing loss to the Portland Trail Blazers that reached lows not seen in a decade, the NBA scheduling folks gave the Phoenix Suns no time to recover.

The Suns took a quick flight back to Phoenix, where they’ll play the Memphis Grizzlies tonight at 7 p.m. The Grizzlies themselves are looking to get back on the right foot, having lost two in a row to follow up a seven-game winning streak.

Memphis could present many of the same problems that the Trail Blazers used to demolish Phoenix on Friday. They’ve got athleticism at every position, even with power forward Zach Randolph out with a knee injury. Forward Rudy Gay leads the team in scoring at 18.7 points per game, and Marc Gasol could battle for All-Star votes with Marcin Gortat at the center position. Gasol has averages of 14.9 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, a mirror of Gortat’s 14.9-point and 9.9-rebound numbers.

Defense will be the name of the game for Memphis, and Lionel Hollins’ squad is in the top 10 in defensive ratings, a place once occupied by Phoenix this season. And, oh, how quickly the Suns have fallen out of that statistical standing. They now rank No. 22 in the NBA by allowing 104.1 points per 100 possessions, and because they’re also No. 23 in offensive rating, the Suns are running out of positive things to cling to.

A quick, obvious fix to give them a chance tonight would be to shoot the ball better. Against the Blazers, Phoenix didn’t get many good looks and when it did, the Suns often failed to put the ball through the net. But it’s an unquestionable problem without an easy solution.

“I thought we would be better offensively,” head coach Alvin Gentry said before heading off to Portland. “I thought we would shoot the ball better, I thought we would come up with easier baskets.”

Until that happens, the Suns might become a punching bag for playoff-able teams like Memphis.

Three keys for Phoenix

1. Gortat’s mean streak. It’s become very clear that the Suns’ center wants to win, and he takes responsibility for patrolling the paint. Against Portland, he did that to the extent of 10 rebounds and eight points, but the Blazers ended up with 52 points in the paint. LaMarcus Aldridge, who could have torched Phoenix with his midrange game, scored most of his points on dunks and layups, all without getting fouled. The Suns must find a toughness, and that can begin with Gortat not letting the Grizzlies get buckets in the paint without making them pay.

2. Production at the wing spots. Between starting Ronnie Price, Jared Dudley, Shannon Brown, Josh Childress and Michael Redd, the Suns got a collective 19 points. It’s one thing to share scoring duties, but when it takes five players to score that amount in 73 minutes, efficiency isn’t a word to use. Perhaps giving Brown a look at the starting spot — and more minutes — is an option Gentry could explore.

3. Pray. When an MVP point guard essentially says there’s not much talent on the roster, you know this team is in trouble. The Grizzlies’ length on defense isn’t something that will help Phoenix get over a 22-turnover game the day prior, and though Gentry could shake up the lineup and rotations, this writer doesn’t see any change that could lead to a drastic uptick. Plus, without practice time to solve their problems, the season could get ugly very quickly. That’s if it hasn’t already.

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