Phoenix Suns 98, Memphis Grizzlies 91 — Eyeing the playoffs


Robin Lopez did his best to play keep-away against the Grizzlies Saturday night. (AP Photo/Paul Connors)

The Phoenix Suns kept the Memphis Grizzlies off the boards as well as they possibly could and overcame 16 turnovers to take their fifth straight home game, 98-91.

Phoenix opened the game with a slew of sloppy play, allowing Memphis to get out in transition and score some easy baskets on fast breaks. The Grizzlies did a solid job of mucking up the Suns’ pick and roll as well, particularly in defending the roll man.

Steve Nash took advantage of the extra attention to Marcin Gortat to score two easy baskets at the rim. Nash also had seven assists in the first quarter, which saw Shannon Brown check in earlier than he typically does for some run with the starters, in place of Jared Dudley. Gortat and Grant Hill sparked the Phoenix offense in the first quarter, which ended with Memphis leading 29-26.

The second quarter started off slowly for the Suns, who scored just two points in the first three and a half minutes of the period. The Grizzlies, who had pounded the ball into the post during the first quarter, continued their interior onslaught in the second and opened up an 11-point lead on the strength of Gasol and Marreese Speights’ scoring.

Fortunately, Robin Lopez chose that stretch to decide enough was enough. An offensive rebound and putback with 6:12 to go in the first half brought the Memphis lead down to seven and offered a glimpse of what Lopez would offer in the second half. Dudley caught fire toward the end of the quarter, scoring nine straight points, and the Suns managed to go into halftime with a 53-51 lead.

With the starters back in for the second half, Phoenix widened its margin to six with five minutes to play in the third quarter. Once again, victory or defeat would come down to how well the bench could hold onto a lead. When Hakim Warrick and Shannon Brown checked in for Hill and Frye with 2:32 left before the fourth quarter, the Suns were clinging to a one-point advantage, but Nash drilled a three to extend the lead to six after three.

At that point, Lopez took over where he had started earlier in the game. He continued to pull down rebounds, grabbing seven in all — six offensive — and blocking three shots. The biggest of those swats came with 6:15 left to play in the game; Lopez followed up a monster block on Gasol with a nifty finish on the offensive end to give the Suns their biggest lead of the game at 10. Coach Alvin Gentry rewarded Lopez for his strong play with extended burn with the starters, keeping Gortat on the bench until well into the fourth quarter. Given his ability to harass Gasol and clean up Phoenix’s misses, it was time well-deserved for Lopez.

All five Suns starters scored in double-digits, led once again by Dudley, who had 19 points to go with seven boards. Nash added 15 assists and 11 points on 4-for-6 shooting.

  • Scott

    First off, I was happy to be able to hear Leander and EJ call the game. It’s getting to the point where I can’t stand most TNT / ESPN / ABC telecasts.

    I’ve had League Pass before, for a few years, and without a doubt the Suns have had for years the best broadcast crew in the league. Only a couple of other teams come close, and most are terrible, including the national crews.

    I was very happy to see Lopez have a good game. As usual, it started with someone getting him the ball down low where he’s able to do something. And this time he kept getting the ball, instead of being instantly forgotten, which was great.

    I was also happy to see Warrick get some minutes. I expected him to take over for Morris after just a minute or two in the first half, but Gentry didn’t make the call, instead waiting till the 2nd half to bring Warrick in.

    Gentry also put the game in jeopardy in the first half by running the bench unit for several minutes with no starter in the group … AGAIN. I was relieved when he finally put Frye and Dudley out there, but Frye at PF was the wrong call – it should have been Warrick. (C’mon, the Grizz are a former team of his; chances are good he’ll play well against them.)

    I still would like to see the combo of Gortat and Lopez on the floor. I think that if the Grizz had been able to put Randolph and Gasol out there, the Suns could have met and beat them with RoLo and the Polish Hammer.

    With luck, the Suns can stay hot to close out the season. :)

  • Al

    This was a good game and I hope they reach .500 by the trade deadline. I actually heard some bizarre trade rumors in one of the forums that Gasol may be gone from Laland and back to Memphis by the end of the weekend for Zack Randolph and that Frye and 12 round pick was being traded to ATL for Josh Smith. Also, the suns were going to make everyone other than Nash, Hill, and Dudley available and try to acquire Dwight to pair with Smith in the front court. This would be great if it became reality by Thursday. Smith and Tracy Mcgrady for Frye, Brown, and 1st round pick would be great addition to the team:

    http://games.espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=7tzjwzn

    Sadly, trading for Dwight and Anderson is too long of a shot for Phoenix…But who knows.

  • PennyAnd1

    @AI

    Sick news you got there, where the hell did you hear that from? I wouldn’t mind trading Frye, as of late his body language has been disappointing although I admire him for trying. I wouldn’t even mind if Frye swapped placed with Boris Diaw.

    Damn! Nash, Hill & Dudley are all incredible to watch right now…they’re awesome, of course we all know about the polish hammer. And it’s really great to see RoLo do some damage. Sometimes winning can inspire a player to play harder. I wouldn’t mind keeping Lopez right now if it means one more shot at the playoffs.

    And if the second bench keeps it up, I wouldn’t mind if the Suns don’t trade anyone. For the first time the chemistry is clicking, although putting all the bench together obviously will not work. So It’s great to see the bench mixed in there with some starters.

    And to all the losers out there who says Suns won’t make the playoffs..__Losers. Especially those Suns fans who wanted to trade Nash.

  • Scott

    As I’ve said right along, I think Frye needs to play with the 2nd unit, preferably at C, in order to shine on both offense and defense. I don’t mean he should be locked into that role; just that with his own personal development and what he offers to the team, this spot would give the best fit.

    When he’s a starter he’s challenged to play better at both offense and defense, and he’s just not ready for it. He can do one or the other. But on the 2nd unit, he should be so much better than his opponent that he can score and defend with ease. That will help his confidence, round out his game, and significantly help the team.

    Yes, Frye has been in the league for a few years now, but he was older when he was drafted and he’s been gently used. He hasn’t had the court time and proper series of court experiences to develop and produce a balanced game. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to cast him as 2nd unit center.

    Lopez is 23 (he’ll be 24 in less than a month). He’s not the shooter Frye is, and he’s less versatile, but he’s bigger and defensively sound. Fans seem to expect him to play like Joakim Noah, who was drafted the year before Lopez, but keep in mind Noah is 27 (3 years older) and he had the experience of anchoring back to back championships in college.

    Lopez needs to spend more time with the starting unit to develop. He just doesn’t get the offensive touches with the 2nd unit that he needs, at this point, to get going.

    Sure, Lopez should be more mentally strong and mature. But he’s 23. Instead of putting his future with the team on the line if he can’t mature fast enough, give him some experiences with the starters so he can develop better play habits and better expectations of himself.

    I’m fine with Gortat being the crunch time center. He’s the same age as Frye and was drafted in the same year, but he’s more consistent on defense and more comfortable with scoring around the basket than Frye is. But Lopez should be getting minutes with the starters too, and Frye should not be playing so much at PF.

  • Elviro (Italy)

    we are coming to the area playoffs!
    Who would have thought ………………

  • GoSuns

    @Scott, I just don’t think that lineup will work, Frye is great where hes at (he would be better in the 2nd unit C pos) but thats lopez spot and hes one of the anchor’s of the 2nd unit, Frye helps out starting unit rebounding wise and spacing wise and Lopez would destroy that spacing if he was in there with the starters especially with gortat who should get big minutes at C cause hes been so effective all season long, this is not time to start experiments with our lineup

  • Scott

    @GoSuns -

    I disagree. Robin used to play with Amare, as did Shaq. They did not crowd Amare, who was not only able to shoot jumpers but also make a large number of dunks. In fact, in the history of the league it is more common for a center to be paired with a classic near-the-basket PF than a 3 pt shooting PF.

    On offense Robin has the ability to draw a basket defender with him when he moves because he can hit the short jumper. If Gortat misses the shot, Lopez can box out and be in place for the rebound. Furthermore, if the opposing front court decides to double team Gortat, then he can get the ball to Lopez for an easy jam. All they have to do is make sure their movements are coordinated, and that’s not new to Robin who used to play with his brother Brook.

    As for changing the lineup at this point in the season … lineups change throughout the season, including in the post-season. It’s nothing to be afraid of if it brings improvement. The Suns should try out the Gortat/Lopez pairing in practice, and if it seems to work okay, then try it at points in games.

    I am by no means saying this should be the only lineup the Suns should play, or that they shouldn’t try it out in practice first, or anything similarly crazy. I’m just saying that if you want the two best basket defenders on the court at the same time, and if you want scoring inside, then to me the logical pairing is Gortat and Lopez. Frye would be much more effective at 2nd unit C if starting PF is adequately covered and if the 2nd unit C position is open.

    One way you could run the substitutions, for example, would be to start Gortat and Frye as normal, then bring out Frye after a few minutes and plug in Robin, moving Gortat to the 4. Then Frye gets some rest before coming back in later as 2nd unit C. If either Gortat or Lopez gets into foul trouble, Frye can come back in for that as well.

  • Scott

    BTW, even though the Suns appear to be playing better now, they are still 4 wins away from the playoffs.

    In that sense, things have not changed in the past few weeks.

  • PennyAnd1

    @Scott

    Having Lopez & Gortat play together does sound good. How about having all three 7-footers in there all at once? The 3 Towers.lol

  • PennyAnd1

    @Scott

    What are you talkin’ about? Things have changed. The chemistry is clicking, everyone seems to be finding their roles, everything is flowing nicely in offense & defense, and 19-21 is much better than 14-20. So I disagree, things have changed especially beating good quality teams and losing to Warriors by 2 points and making Thunder sweat it out in the final quarter.

  • Watty

    So was this talk of Frye for JSmith just pipe dream or actually trade chatter….Suns make that trade in a heartbeat. Has to be some other salaries involved as Frye and Smith don’t work straight up. I don’t think it’s happening though. Suns only move is gonna be signing Brooks because what they have now at back up PG will in no way work for a playoff push. Diaw would also be a great pickup for the bench, but now that Cho is working in Charlotte there is no way to sucker the Bobcats into a trade for Diaw….you know like a Childress, Lopez for Diaw move. The Teams looking better, but there’s no changing that their ceiling is a first round exit.

  • Watty

    Also if I was calling the Magic about a trade, it would be to blow things up there’s no way Suns are getting Howard….Babby, “hey Otis, we hear you’d like Nash, tell you what, give us Nelson and every first rounder you possibly can.”

  • And1

    @Watty

    I wouldn’t want to trade Nash for anything, even if it meant 3 first-rounders. I’d ride Nash bandwagon until he sails into the sunset. I mean you can have another CP3s, Blake Griffins, or etc… But to me, you can never have the run n gun phoenix suns.

    As long as Nash is in the game, you’ll always have the run n gun = most exciting thing in the NBA. You think any other player can pull that off consistently as Nash, never letting their emotions get the best out of them?

  • Suns Critic

    JSmith and Howard have made it known they only want to play for championship contenders… sorry they aren’t coming to PHX or resigning.

  • Jz

    Howard is going to the Seattle Supersonics…oh wait.

  • steve

    Wherever Howard is, they will be a contender. He’s on that level with LeBron. It won’t be long before one or both of them has rings.

  • And1

    Derrick Rose doesn’t need a proud superman in Dwight. Rose is a winner like Nash and will win it his way, by playing hard each and every game.

    Why does everyone think you need a superstar to get to the finals? If Howard goes to Chicago don’t be surprise if the team stops clicking. Chemistry is very important. Before Carmelo came into Knicks picture, Knicks were doing good. Goes to show you that having superstars will not work as everyone thought. You need role-players to get there too. You can include CP3 going to Clippers, they’re not clicking as well. Too much ego = lack of team chemistry. If teams decide to go superstardom, you’ll need Nash to even distribute plays and get everyone involve. But just who is humble enough like Nash, to let superstars do their own thing?