Phoenix Suns Preview: Enter the Grind House

February 2, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Memphis Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph (50) shoots the basketball against Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris (11) during the first quarter at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
February 2, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Memphis Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph (50) shoots the basketball against Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris (11) during the first quarter at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

The Grizzlies have been playing pretty well; the Suns have been playing pretty poorly. All things considered, I’m finding it extremely hard to imagine Phoenix walking out of the “Grind House” with a win on Sunday night.

Memphis hasn’t been stellar this year, they’re 11-9, with just three of those 11 wins coming against teams who currently hold a winning record. And one of those teams was OKC without Kevin Durant, so you can choose to not count that one if you so desire.

However, my negative outlook on this game has almost nothing to do with how Memphis is fairing. It doesn’t seem to matter which team the Suns face on this road trip, whether it’s the hapless Brooklyn Nets, or the injury plagued Wizards, Phoenix has found a way to lose.

They did go into Toronto and edge out a dub over the Raptors this time last week, and maybe a win at Memphis could be just the thing the Suns need to turn this boat around. But the way things have gone lately, it could be that the Suns’ ship has already sunk.

Slumping Suns

 Phoenix is coming off of an embarrassing 109-106 loss to the Wizards on Friday, a game they led for nearly the entire night before going into full on Suns-mode, blowing it in the fourth quarter after failing to score on a field goal for seven minutes as Washington chipped away at the lead.

That defeat was the third in a row for the Suns, dropping their record to  8-12, as they continue to lose ground in the West.

There have been calls for Jeff Hornacek’s job, people want Markieff gone, and some just want Devin Booker to play all 48 minutes, and drain a million threes. All demands that are starting to sound reasonable considering how poorly this team has played over it’s last 10 games (They’re 2-8 in that stretch).

Tyson Chandler has been out, and his absence definitely hurts Phoenix’s defense and they miss his leadership on the floor. But I still think it would be tough to argue that his presence throughout this bad run would’ve made much of a difference in the outcomes of the games that Phoenix lost.

The Grizzlies, on the other hand, hold a 7-3 record over their last 10, and after a slow start to their year, they seem to be almost playing like their usual selves. They are, however, coming off of a 103-83 thrashing at the hands of the Spurs. A night that saw them shoot just 12% from behind the arc, and get out rebounded 48-37.

After that beat down, they’ve had two nights off in a row leading up to Sunday’s clash with Phoenix, so they should be well rested.


Guess Who’s Back?

 Jon Leuer will return to the place where he spent the better part of the last three seasons, before being acquired by Phoenix for the draft rights to Andrew Harrison.

In other words, the Grizzlies gave him to the Suns for pretty much nothing this offseason.

Leuer received a little over 13 minutes per game last season in Memphis, and averaged 4.5 points per contest. This season with the Suns he’s gotten more minutes, 17 per game, and is averaging 7.5 points per game.

He’s also performed well in a starting role these past two games in place of Markieff Morris, scoring 16.5 points per game and shooting 70% from the field in those two starts.

In Friday’s matchup with the Wizards, Leuer knocked down six of his seven shots, scoring 13 points in the first half. But with Washington small-balling the heck out of their lineup, Markieff ended up playing more than Leuer in the later parts of the game. Leuer failed to even attempt a shot in the second half, and many questioned the move by Hornacek to basically remove Leuer from the action.

What does this mean for Sunday’s game? Well I imagine Memphis won’t be playing too much small ball with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol firmly slotted in their starting lineup. Hopefully this means Leuer will get a chance to play more and attempt to stretch the floor with his shooting.

Make ‘Em Shoot

 If there’s one thing the Grizzlies can’t do, it’s shoot the three-ball.

Memphis is next to last in three-point shooting percentage as a team at 30.7%. Needless to say, they have a tough time filling it up from deep, which is something they’ve never been particularly good at, as they’ve ranked in the bottom half of the league in team three-point percentage every season since 2006.

Shooting the long ball obviously isn’t something that Memphis will be looking to do, and they’ve proved that they can win without it. But normally the Griz show up to the court with a top-notch defense, and this year it’s been a different story.

Last year they finished with the fourth-best defensive rating in the league at 99.9. So far this season, they’re hovering around 103, putting them just barely ahead of the Suns at 103.8.

The Grizzlies have had success without shooting three’s for many years, but they generally make up for it by dominating on the other side of the ball.

If Phoenix can lock down the paint, something that’ll be tough to do while facing Marc Gasol (especially if Tyson Chandler is held out again.), they should be able to force Memphis to jack up some ill-advised three-point attempts. San Antonio forced them to shoot 16 of them on Thursday, and they only connected on two.

I’m not saying Phoenix is capable of doing the same, but if they can get them to take deep shots consitently, they’ll certainly raise their chances of winning by a solid margin.