Nope, just couldn't avoid that headline. The Grizzlies embark on a weekend back-to-back, beginning tonight in Phoenix. The Suns are fresh off a comeback victory over the world champion Mavericks at home on Thursday night and have won four out of five since the All-Star break. In the Western Conference, it's another night, another tester against a solid foe.
Jump it, and we'll look at six things that could impact the Grizzlies' attempt at six straight wins.
1. Without much hullabaloo, the Grizzlies have climbed to third in the Western Conference standings. The usual logjam is, of course, directly behind them should they slip at all, but Memphis has climbed out of the will-they-or-won't-they postseason chatter for the time being. Phoenix, on the other hand, once basically disregarded as a threat to steal the eight seed, needs to be put on watch at the least after coming into the second half of the season playing solid basketball. As of Friday morning, they're 2.5 games behind the Timberwolves; the downside for the Suns, however, is that there are three other teams (Portland, Utah and Houston) separating them from Minnesota.
2. Nevertheless, a Suns team led by Steve Nash (could this really be a Suns preview without mentioning him?) is a team that will play with spirit most nights, especially now that they can faintly sniff a playoff spot. Nash is obviously, undoubtedly, seemingly forever the heart and engine of this team. His direction, simply being on the floor, keeps them going. Also, it keeps people coming to games, which is why the organization won't be trading him anytime soon. But that's another story. For the Grizzlies, it isn't so much about stopping Nash himself as it is putting the clamps on his creativity with intense on-ball defense and quick rotation to shooters.
3. One of the biggest beneficiaries of playing with Nash has been Marcin Gortat, who is enjoying a fantastic All-Star fringe-worthy season, averaging 16 points and 10 boards in about 34 minutes a night. Gortat only averages around two fouls a game, and that's where Marc Gasol and the other Grizzlies bigs (not to mention penetrators) need to attack. Gortat is a disruptor in the paint, but if Memphis can get him in foul trouble, the Suns lose a lot of their interior and the bruising Grizzlies can go to work.
4. In their first meeting this season, the Grizzlies lost in Phoenix back in late January, 86-84. This was, if you remember, when the Grizzlies were mired in a four-game losing streak and really struggling to score the basketball (I feel like that sounded like a Hubie Brown-ism). Things have been different lately; the Grizz have scored over 100 points their last three games (against lesser opponents, to be fair) and have scored 100+ in six of their last ten games overall. For a team where, basically, this was one of the biggest question marks -- where would the scoring come from? -- this is a good thing.
5. Especially without the services of Zach Randolph yet. This wouldn't be a major point, though, if that weren't changing soon. If next Tuesday is indeed the day of his return, the Grizzlies will embark on a mini-rebuilding project to get him slowly but surely back into the fold. It's hard to say what kind of impact this will initially have, and a little awkwardness should probably be expected. Which is why it's important to snatch up these wins beforehand and have the situation Z-Bo returns to humming along as smoothly as possible. Those are the kind of machines that can survive a few hiccups.
6. The Grizzlies and Suns have been playing so well of late because of balance. Wednesday night against the Warriors, Memphis had six guys in double figures scoring-wise, and that was with Mike Conley only scoring two on five shot attempts. Conley had 12 assists though, which speaks to everyone really clicking together for the Grizz offensively; and of course, lots of offense is being generated by the top ten defense, certainly not hurting the overall numbers either. Phoenix also sports a lot of weapons -- from Grant Hill to Jared Dudley or Channing Frye -- and relies on strong numbers from most of them if they're going to be successful.
Welp, that's it. This should be a pretty fun contest between two teams playing really, really solid right now. So it is in the Western Conference: Every night demands full attention. The Grizzlies, as the winning streak suggests, have been giving nothing less.
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