Time: 6:00 pm MDT
The roller coaster road trip continues for the Phoenix Suns. After not showing up in Chicago and losing a very winnable game, the Suns pulled out a 104-103 win in Minnesota thanks to Gerald Green’s game-winning baseline jumper and Kevin Martin’s subsequent miss from two feet as time expired. The joy of that win was all over the Suns’ faces afterwards, but after that great high came the immeasurable low of the word “indefinite” being added to Eric Bledsoe’s injury absence. The first year Sun will require surgery to repair the damage to his knee. And while Phoenix has become somewhat accustomed to playing without their star, this news makes what was already a difficult five game road trip even tougher.
Tonight the Suns will take on a Memphis Grizzlies team that is also struggling with injury. The Grizz have been without center Marc Gasol since late November. His absence has been one of the main reasonsMemphis has stumbled out of the gate to a below .500 record. Tonight the Grizzlies will also be without defensive stopper Tony Allen who injured his hand last week.
Memphis’ early struggles not withstanding, they’ve had the Suns’ number thus far this year. Memphis has already beaten Phoenix twice this season – once with Bledsoe and once without. In the first meeting, Grizzlies blew the Suns away in the second half and had seven players in double figures. In their second meeting, Goran Dragic’s 33 points weren’t enough to bring the Bledsoe-less Suns a victory as Memphis trounced Phoenix in the fourth quarter. This will be the Suns third game in four nights, with another coming tomorrow. Energy will obviously be a huge factor. The Suns have faded in the second half twice against the Grizzlies. They cannot afford to do that again. For more analysis, let’s ask three big questions.
Can the Suns win the points in the paint battle?
The Grizzlies have scored 56 points in the paint in both games against Phoenix this year. They did all that damage without Marc Gasol. Phoenix’s interior defense has to step up and do a better job inside against Zach Randolph and Ed Davis, both of whom have had big games against the Suns. In both meetings this year, the margin of difference in points in the paint was also the difference in the final score, meaning the Suns played Memphis to a draw everywhere else, but lost because of their shortcomings inside. With Alex Len back healthy, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Suns go with a bigger lineup inside instead of going small for stretches as they have done all year. The paint is their biggest liability in this game and something Coach Hornacek will have to address with his game plan.
Which bench unit will shine brighter?
The star of Memphis’ second win over the Suns was former Arizona Wildcat Jerryd Bayless. As of today, Bayless is a Celtic. In his place, the Grizzlies acquired Courtney Lee, possibly as insurance for Tony Allen should his hand injury turn out to be serious. It’s unclear if Lee will start in Allen’s place. What is clear is that the Suns will need bench scoring to hang with Memphis. Phoenix’s best chance for a win is to make this game a high-scoring affair. They can’t do that if the Morris twins and other reserves are not hitting shots. Markieff and Marcus have to be aggressive offensively both beyond the arc and inside the paint. Defensively, Phoenix’s second unit will have their hands full with players like John Leuer and Ed Davis, but the battle of the benches is one the Suns can win if they come to play.
Can Dragic carry the team once again?
The Suns wasted Goran’s incredible performance last time out against the Grizz. Does he have another big game in him? His current run of play suggests he does. Dragic is averaging just under 24 points and six assists per game over the last six. He’s been playing like an All-Star. With Bledsoe out indefinitely, the pressure put on him will only increase. Goran has never been one to let pressure get to him, but this road trip and the extra load he’s been carrying will definitely take their toll. As will the man he’ll be guarding tonight, another crafty lefty point guard in Mike Conley. Their matchup on the perimeter will certainly be one to watch.