Time: 6 p.m. MST
TV: FSAFor different and very obvious reasons, neither the Phoenix Suns nor the Memphis Grizzlies expected to be a middle-of-the-road team in 2013-14.
The two squads will jostle Tuesday in Memphis for the right to come out of the battle with a winning record, and it’s the Suns who could be an unofficial favorite. Memphis, already struggling to find an identity under first-year coach Dave Joerger, took a big hit when center Marc Gasol sprained his MCL two weeks ago. Adding to the frontcourt woes was an ingrown toenail hampering power forward Zach Randolph. He is questionable heading into Tuesday, and the Grizzlies missed him dearly in a 97-88 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday.
The Suns and head coach Jeff Hornacek will need to decide if guard Eric Bledsoe rejoins the starting unit after coming off the bench the last two games following his return from a shin bruise.
And overall, everyone sans Goran Dragic and perhaps P.J. Tucker will need to look at themselves in the mirror and fight after coming off a home loss to a troubled Utah Jazz team.
Does the tempo go in Phoenix’s favor?
The bad news for Phoenix is that tempo issues have been a thing despite recent opponents running out especially large lineups. And the Grizzlies, the kings of going at a steamroller’s pace, get a little faster if Kosta Koufos and Ed Davis are starting up front rather than Randolph and Gasol.
Davis the most interesting player on the Grizzlies, if only because he’s now got a shot to earn quality minutes. The former North Carolina Tar Heel was rumored to be a candidate for a contract extension to his rookie deal this summer like Bledsoe, and for what it’s worth, seems to have a tremendous upside. How the Suns handle him in transition is key. Also in terms of keeping Memphis out of fastbreak opportunities going the other way, Phoenix had best rebound the ball.
Where do Memphis’ points come from?
If Randolph returns, this might not be an issue. Memphis will have no trouble dumping it down to the grinding power forward, and he’s done everything in the past against the Suns to warrant a good deal of concern from Hornacek.
After that, however, it’s a wonder how well the Grizzlies can score. Mike Conley is not a volume shooter, even if he’s asked to be more aggressive. Nor is Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince or Koufos. Off the bench, Quincy Pondexter and Jerryd Bayless are arguably the team’s best pure scorers. Pondexter led the Grizzlies with 22 points in their last outing, but scoring 25 percent of the load didn’t cut it against Brooklyn. If the Suns can stop the bench gunners from getting hot, they’ll be in good shape.
Yet, getting stops hasn’t been Phoenix’s forte of late.
Can the Suns start fast?
Hornacek’s biggest concern from the Saturday night loss to the Utah Jazz all went back to the start of the game. The Suns coach didn’t sugarcoat anything about it — his team started slowly and that helped their opponent’s confidence grow as the game wore on.
So was that a fluke or a oncoming sign of Phoenix’s youth? If we know anything, it’s that it didn’t help the Suns in their last game.