PHOENIX — After stringing together three porous offensive quarters Friday against Utah, the going gets no easier for the Phoenix Suns Sunday evening when they host the best defensive team in the West, the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies yield just 96.5 points per 100 possessions, second to only Indiana in the NBA, and they have held the Suns to about that season average at 96.0 per 100 in their first two meetings. Only five teams have defended the Suns better, according to the NBA’s advanced stats tool.
However, the Suns have also defended the Grizzlies relatively well this season for their standards at least by holding them to a clean 100.0 points per 100 possessions. They have only done better against five other squads.
Memphis will be out for revenge after the Suns squeaked out an 82-80 victory back on Dec. 12 in US Airways Center when Goran Dragic put a move on Marc Gasol and scooped in the game-winning shot in the final second. The first meeting in Tennessee was close as well with the Suns falling in overtime after leading most of the game and having a chance to win at the regulation buzzer also.
The Suns enter as losers of seven of eight, and before that they lost seven in a row with an odd four-game winning streak sandwiched in between. They are the second-worst team in the West, yet head coach Alvin Gentry has not given up hope, at least publicly.
“We’ve got a big challenge coming in the next game,” Gentry said. “We’re playing one of the best teams in the league, and we’re just in a position where we have to treat all of these games almost like they’re playoff games. We’ve got to dig ourselves out and get back into the race, and the only way we can do that is we’ve got to win games. To lose another home game is not a good thing. Some kind of way we’ve got to put this behind us because we play a really good team coming in here on Sunday.”
The frustrating part about the Suns is that they have put together a number of good stretches in just about every game, which is why they have played so many close games, yet they have rarely been good enough to win them, save for that last Memphis game and a few other select examples. It’s why the Suns have routinely gotten down by double digits before fighting back to make it a game and ultimately succumbing.
Friday’s game was another example with the beautiful offensive basketball played in the first quarter and then the isolation-heavy ball ball they played thereafter. The Suns lost their rhythm and they never regained it.
“For us it’s watching that film and saying, ‘Hey, when we play this way this is the type of team we are, and when we don’t it’s tough,’” Dudley said, referring to how well the Suns play when they move the ball. “It’s kind of hard. … We’re trying to put everyone in their right positions to become a full team, and we’re struggling with that.”
Added Marcin Gortat, “It starts happening every game right now. We’re just not playing the game we’re supposed to play. … All of a sudden, everybody’s trying to be a hero and that’s not the way you can win a basketball game. We’ve got to do what Coach tells us to do.”
On Friday it started happening when the bench unit entered to begin the second quarter, which prompted Gentry to play Dragic, Dudley and Gortat for almost the entire second half. It will be interesting to see what Gentry does with his rotations tonight, as he could decide to stagger rest for the starters instead of utilizing the shift method of substitution.
Whatever he does, it won’t matter if the Suns play as sloppy as they did during the last three quarters on Friday night.