Preview: Memphis Grizzlies (48-32) at Phoenix Suns (47-33)


Time: 7 p.m. MST

TV: FSA

Grizzlies

Grizzlies

Suns

Suns

A chance.

Six months ago talks of a playoff berth would have seemed foolish, far-fetched and nothing short of whimsical.

But since the night of Oct. 30, the Phoenix Suns — through remarkable team chemistry, a hint of youth and admirable naivety, a budding backcourt and remarkable work by both the front office and coaching staff — have turned nothing into something.

Talks of tanking have transformed into fantasies of a prolonged spring.

And while regret still lingers over leads lost along the way, the Suns have earned a chance to remain relevant heading into the final 72 hours of the regular season.

At its core, that’s what Monday night’s home contest against the Memphis Grizzlies represents.

A quick glance at the standings would suggest that Phoenix is a long shot to creep back into the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.

One loss and it’s over.

One win by Memphis — be it against Phoenix or against a more-than-likely apathetic Dallas Mavericks squad Wednesday — and it’s over.

But look closer and it’s safe to say the Suns have been long shots all season long. They weren’t supposed to be the darling of the league, a band of misfits knocking on the door of the Big Dance minutes before the clock strikes midnight.

But here they are with a chance.

And if they can pull off one more magical victory inside the US Airways Center against the one conference foe who has had their number throughout 2013-14, they’ll have a chance to play meaningful basketball on the final night of the regular season .

How does Eric Bledsoe handle the moment?

In all likelihood, Goran Dragic’s left ankle won’t be close to 100 percent anytime soon. Without proper rest, every time he steps out onto the court he’s essentially risking further injury.

As was the case in Saturday’s 101-98 defeat in Dallas, with Dragic’s mobility clearly limited, the ball will primarily stay in the hands of Eric Bledsoe.

Those hands have produced 59 points and 15 assists over the last two contests, however they also were chiefly responsible for back-to-back seven-turnover performances.

Bledsoe has never been the go-to guy during a stretch run, and at times the bright lights have gotten the best of him.

With the season on the line and a veteran defender in Mike Conley likely to hound him throughout the game, how does the 24-year-old respond?

How much damage do Memphis’ bigs cause on the boards?

The Grizzlies have mastered the art of imposing their will on opposing teams. Conley is a fantastic floor general, but Memphis’ identity is seen through the brute force of its two physical, frontcourt stars — Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.

With that said, the dynamic duo have not been the only ones to hurt Phoenix on the glass during the teams’ first three contests.

Ed Davis and Kosta Koufas each grabbed 12 rebounds in Memphis’ 110-91 rout back on Dec. 3, while Jon Leuer pitched in with nine. Davis and Randolph combined for 26 in a 99-91 victory on Jan. 3, only to outdo themselves with 17 and 13 respectively in a five-point win a week later.

The point is, the Grizzlies have at least five or six quality rebounders who will grind and pound in order to create extra possessions at the offensive end and limit opportunities at the defensive end.

Who steps up for Phoenix and takes ownership of the glass outside of P.J. Tucker and Miles Plumlee?

Can Marcus and Markieff Morris throw their weight around enough to make a difference? Will Channing Frye exert as much energy inside the paint as he usually does beyond the arc?

If the answer is no to both, odds are Phoenix struggles to stay competitive in the second half.

Do the Suns get the fan support they rightfully deserve when it matters most?

The Arizona Cardinals were the last team in the NFC to miss out on the postseason in 2013. The Phoenix Coyotes just suffered the same fate over the weekend and will miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a second consecutive season.

Simply put, the Valley hasn’t experienced postseason play of any kind since 2012, a drought that’s even longer for its oldest tenant.

Yet with the stakes as high as they have been over the last few weeks, the first two home contests in April were sharp contrasts of one another.

Against the Los Angeles Clippers, the US Airways Center crowd appeared to be taking in an early-season affair. The energy was rather limited until the team rolled out to a 17-point lead in the second half.

Four nights later with Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder in town, it was a complete 180.

Monday night is the closest thing to playoff basketball the Purple Place has hosted since the 2009-10 Western Conference Finals.

Will weekday traffic and a baseball game across the street deter the paying customers, or will they galvanize around the slimmer of hope that still exists for their beloved Suns?

Tags: Eric Bledsoe Goran Dragic Memphis Grizzlies Phoenix Suns Phoenix Suns Preview Zach Randolph

  • sunsn7

    START GOODWIN AND LEN!

    No excuses not to play these guys significant minutes. Far more valuable for them to compete tonight than a couple summer league games.

  • http://www.phoenixsuns.com Gary Boersma

    There is no place to go but up. The suns have done it in the past coming from behind. Lets hope they all have a great night and they all are playing on the same plane. they have to just stay positive and give it their all. Nothing is impossible the way they have started out in the beginning of the season. Time will tell so us fans just have to give them are support. You can do it Phoenix were all routing for you. Go Suns

  • sunsn7

    ..oh and WIN.

  • EBJM

    Grizzlies have fought all season to remain in the hunt until Mark Gasol came back. Suns have no answer for him.

    They have added James Johnson who is the size of Marcus at SF behind Prince.

    They added Courtney Lee who starts at SG and he will give a hobbled Dragic trouble. Tony Allen will stay with Green off the bench.

    Suns couldn’t stop Koufos, Davis and Leuer who now compete for leftover minutes but have proven they can contribute if called upon.

    If the Suns pull off a miracle and beat the Grizzlies this game will go down as the best regular season victory by any Suns team.

    If that happens I like the Mavericks going for a regular season sweep of the Grizzlies if only to stay in their heads in case of a remote possibility of meeting in the WCFs.

    It is for a game like this that Hornacek will regret not playing Alex Len more. He is the only Sun with the height and length to bother Mark Gasol.

  • Foreveris2long

    EBJM, IMO very sound reasoning. I definitely agree Len is the only one with the potential to slow the interior effectiveness of the Grizz.

    The timing of Dragic’s injury could not have come at a worse time. Considering the competition, there was absolutely no margin for error. Let’s see if there is any fight left in the team tonight.

  • DZ

    Horny needs to get creative in his lineups and rotations tonight. The best chance to beat Memphis is to throw something at them that they aren’t expecting and aren’t prepared for. I can think of several things to try including starting the entire 2nd team. I’m not recommending that but, with Dragic hurting, the Suns need to try to disrupt Memphis’ plans from the start of the game.

  • TI
  • David

    Smh at people still wanting to “tank” on the last game of the season by starting the rookies and “developing” them for ONE game… I don’t get it.

    I really believe mavs will try to win that last game, the 6 seed will be on the line for them. Only problem is that it is in Memphis, and I really just can’t imagine them blowing a playoff birth on the last game of the season at home – regardless of what happens tonight.

  • EBJM

    Hey Forever, with the dearth of PFs in this draft it seems McD might have missed out on picking up a cheap prospect in the last couple of days.

    Rockets unexpectedly released Greg Smith who has had a knee issue all season and just had surgery making him unavailable for the playoffs.

    He left Fresno after two years and this would have been his draft class. He is 6′-10″ with shoes on and 250#. He has a 7′-3″ wingspan and is noted for his ability to finish at the basket, rebounding and post defense.

    He was the original choice to match with Howard but the knee injury allowed Terrence Jones to step in and have a break-out year.

    Obviously Thibodeau liked him as they waived SF Tornike Shengelia to make room for him. It looks like Carlos Boozer will be amnestied this summer with Gibson moving into the starting line-up and with Smith backing him but he can also back Noah at center meaning Nazr Mohammed just became expendable also. Nazr is a free agent this summer.

    Smith will be a free-agent but by signing him today the Bulls now own his Bird rights and by submitting a qualifying offer that would change Smith to RFA status.

    Very shrewd move by Bull’s Gar Forman. They essentially trade Boozer’s $16.8 million for a veteran’s minimum or a little more, putting their salary down to around $46.6 million.

    The Bulls own the Kings protected 1st rd pick through 2017. They own the Bobcats 1st rd pick this season, #16. They own Cleveland’s 1st rd pick next season and both of their own picks, #19 this season.

    Next years cap is projected at $62.9 million and the tax threshold at $75.7 million. Does Carmelo opt out of $23.5 million to play for the Bulls?

    I’m sure Carmelo will be watching the Bulls in the playoffs.They get the Nets in the 1st rd. Potentially the Pacers in the 2nd and the Heat in the ECFs.

  • DZ

    There are two games left, David. Regardless of the outcome of tonight’s game the Suns still have another game against Sacramento on the 16th.

    And the 6th seed will only be on the line for the Mavs if Golden State looses to Minnesota tonight. I’ve already checked and GS owns the tiebreaker between them and the Mavs so the only way the Mavs could move up to the 6th seed is for GS to loose against Minnesota tonight AND Denver on the 16th AND Dallas beats Memphis on the 16th. If Golden state wins tonight, Dallas has no motivation other than pride to try to beat Memphis in their final game.

  • Ellensburgbballfan

    It doesnt really matter if the Suns win tonight if Dallas goes out on the last day on the season and sits all their starters.

    The Suns lose, they are done, if they win, Memphis will be doing whatever it can to beat Dallas

    i am expecting a close Suns loss and i expect Hornacek to play the young kids alot Wendsday in Sacramento

    it was a great season, everyone, including the casual fans, should be proud of this team

  • Luka

    I’m not at all mad at this season personally. Suns have needed some low post help for years now. Frye and Kieff only show up once every other game if that. It’s asking too much for Bledsoe and Dragic to drive to the rim every time. Suns need better defenders on the wing and in the paint. They need a half court set they can run when the game slows down. This team isn’t far off. The big question is what to do with Bledsoe. Do the Suns think he’s worthy of the max? Or could they sign and trade him and fill some major needs on the roster.

  • CarlyJoni

    Well seasons almost over. Suns have overachieved with a group of guys of no names, almost All Stars but no big names to get them over this hump. If it wasn’t for Bledsoes mid season injury or Dragic’s latest injury Suns would have made the post season. But a great freshman outing for Horny and a very bright future lies ahead. Enjoy these last 2 games, and have fun!

  • DZ

    Luka, Bledsoe hasn’t proven that he’s worth a max contract to me but as a RFA he could get one as an offer which would force the Suns to match it or let him go to another team. But there are also several very good PGs in this year’s draft that have a lot of potential and none of Bledsoe’s injury history that I think that the few teams in need of a PG would look at first before going after Beldsoe.

    And if some other team does make Bledsoe a max offer, I think that the Suns could cover their bets buy using one of their draft pick this year on a PG. If Beldsoe stays, they could release Ish Smith and the draftee would become the Suns’ new 3rd PG. If Bledsoe leaves, then Ish Smith stays and the draftee still becomes the Suns’ new 3rd PG. The Suns could easily use the Indiana pick to take either Shabazz Napier or Elfrid Payton at that point in the draft. Both of them probably have more upside than Ish so either of them would be a safe pick at 27/28.

    I would love to keep Bledsoe but I have doubts at to whether offering (or matching) a max contract to him is in the best interest of the Suns in the future.

  • sunsn7

    “Smh at people still wanting to “tank” on the last game of the season by starting the rookies and “developing” them for ONE game… I don’t get it.”

    And I don’t understand your disdain for people wanting to see our rookies in the final TWO games. What? You holding on to the playoff dream?..I don’t get it.

    Suns had an unbelievable season but they have weaknesses that need to be addressed. Im looking forward to an interesting offseason..and of course, the NBA playoffs, of which the Suns aren’t quite ready for yet.

  • sunsn7

    Whoa! Commenting via cellphone so didn’t read entire article. Didn’t realize Suns just need to win tonight and hope Dallas competes against Memphis.

    My fault, I admit I haven’t watched any ball or Suns news since the heartbreaking back to back.

    Glad they will be playing playoff basketball tonight!!

  • Al

    This game is obviously the most important game of the season. If Phoenix loses, the are out of the playoffs. So, the rookies Len and Goodwin could play a lot of minutes in the last game against Sacramento. If Phoenix wins then it all comes down the the last day of the season. Dallas-Memphis game begins at 5 p.m PST. Phoenix doesn’t play Sac until 7:30 p.m PST. It all depends on whether Memphis wins today or on Wednesday. The good thing is that DeMarcus Cousins will be sitting the last game due to being suspended for getting his 16th tech. That’s a sliver of hope.

    Otherwise, I am looking forward to the draft. I’d really like Phoneix to get Adreian Payne and Kyle Anderson with their first two picks. They could use the Indi pick to draft Napier or one of the Harrison twins. After all, Phoenix is the place for players with siblings/twins…

  • sunsn7

    If nothing else, the Suns absolutely shouldn’t let Memphis clinch on our home floor, the team that they’re competing with for the final spot.

    NOT IN OUR HOUSE

  • http://none Go Phx

    Start watching the games, DZ. If you don’t do that, at least look at the box score.

  • Andrew

    I hope the Suns win tonight to try to save face a bit and avoid getting swept by the Grizz in the season series.

  • sunsn7

    It’d be nice if the Suns get to enjoy playing in front of a raucous home crowd.

    Just don’t know about the “raucous” part.

  • EBJM

    Game time!

  • EBJM

    Biggest game of the year, where is everybody?

  • DBreezy

    Trying to keep the arena as quiet as possible

  • sunsn7

    Suns players have the pulse of the fans’..or is it the other way around?

  • sunsn7

    Tony Allen is one tough s.o.b. I dont even think the NBA’s big men ever mess with him. Suns backcourt is feeling his presence

  • sunsn7

    If anyone tells me that either of the Morris boys take pride in defense, I’ll say you must think Tim Tebow is an NFL quarterback

  • Dan S

    Don’t blame the fans for not being ‘raucous’ 27 points and it’s almost half…this is painful to watch. For ppl with short memory this happened 2 years ago with the Nash G-hill team that was in exact same position and played Utah, Denver the final 2 games of the season and lost them both!

  • sunsn7

    Dan S…that team was on its last legs..literally, and this Suns team is just beginning to take shape.

    Dont look now though…

  • EBJM

    2-11 from downtown and Z-Bo scores whenever he wants pretty much sums it up.

  • Dan S

    Sunsn7 Good point…I agree with you there. This team just needs 1 big man, who can rebound, block shots and score inside..for those easier, high percentage shots in the paint. Maybe we’ll draft Randle, or land Monroe, Bosh in free agency. Although I’d prefer we get a center because we already have Markieff. But on the other hand CB4 has developed his three point shot that would fit nicely here!

  • EBJM

    Suns making their move, tie it up!

  • Andrew

    Suns looking good right now

  • EBJM

    Frye clanks another three!

  • Andrew

    Frye… UGH

  • Andrew

    How many chances have the Suns had over the last 3 games!?

  • EBJM

    Nice clutch shot by Bledsoe. (sarcasm)

  • EBJM

    How fitting that Frye misses the last shot, another three.

  • Dan S

    @EBJM Nice try to slight Bledsoe, but the game was already over…as it always is when a three team shoots 5/24

  • Dan S

    Why doesn’t anyone mention the threes Dragic misses, to be a big time team your big time players have to hit big time shots, not air ball wide open ones

  • Ellensburgbballfan

    Looking forward to the draft, the lottery, and what is sure to be an excellent summer league team

  • Raffi AKA Anonymous

    Great season.

  • ynneK

    We just hit the wall. Nothing to blame.
    We’ll be stronger in 2015.

  • David

    While this team is flawed, the same can be said for Memphis and Dallas – it just may not seem as much because we haven’t watched 81 games of their team as we have for the suns. There is a reason these teams are fighting for the bottom of the playoffs. We got their best game and they did not get ours. It just really feels like if Dragic was 100% these last 3 L’s they are all wins.

    Anyways, it’s probably best they didn’t make it anyways to salvage any hope of a draft this offseason, as seemingly everyone here has been saying worst case scenario is ending up at the end of the lottery and still missing playoffs. To be fair, I think everyone can agree a full season of Dragic and Bledsoe probably would have gone much better though, so I’m not necessarily upset about the whole end of the lottery deal cause I think they’d be better next season even if we brought the same 12 guys back.

  • EBJM

    Seriously Dan? Suns were just up by three before the Grizzlies took the lead back.

    Bledsoe’s shot was about 22″ closer and he was playing for a max contract of about $15 million per.

    Dragic was playing on a severely sprained ankle. Being the great leader that he is he played anyway. It was reminiscence of Willis Reed coming out to play in game 7 of the ’70s Finals with a torn thigh muscle.

    Uh David, Grizzles were fighting for that last spot for two reasons:

    1) They fired coach Hollins and the team was struggling under new coach Joerger.

    2) Mark Gasol, one of THE best centers playing the game today missed about thirty games.