Even though we're playing some of our best basketball of the season right now, tonight's game against the Phoenix Suns is sure to be one of, if not the toughest matchup for us in the final weeks of the regular season.
First, it's fair to say that the Suns play us tough. In fact, the numbers here certainly don't lie. We are 0-2 against them on the season, and while we like to tout our most recent accomplishments (We've won 8 of our last 10! Huzzah!), truth is the Suns have actually been a hotter team than we have since the All-Star break. Since then they've gone 16-7 and currently sit just one game out of the final playoff spot in the West. Meaning, this game actually has bigger consequences for the Suns than it does us. Double meaning, this isn't going to be easy.
Sure, we're sitting pretty right now, likely locked and loaded for the playoffs, but there's still one small task at hand: pass the Clippers and get that 4th seed. So in no way do I expect the Grizzlies to take this game lightly. And to rest on this idea that we're playing great basketball, tucked nicely in the playoffs, and ready to make our run would be a huge mistake. We need to keep winning games. Duh. And it starts tonight with the first of a very tough back-to-back set.
What's tough about the Suns is that their bench is playing really well as of late. In fact, they're among one of the highest scoring benches in the league over the past month, averaging 40.7 points per game, which is good for third in the NBA. Guys like Michael Redd, who has been hot of late, Sebastian Telfair, Robin Lopez and rookie Markieff Morris have helped carry this team as a second unit. Meaning, it doesn't get much easier when the starters get their required rest. The team will keep coming at you. That's something we certainly need to be up and ready for tonight. The continual running of the Suns, and the fresh bodies that they can rotate in and out on the floor.
You almost want to discount this team, given the names (Really? Telfair? Redd?), but they are dangerous. In fact, Telfair has been among the best backup point guards in the league since the All-Star break. Our friends over at Bright Side of the Sun actually did a fantastic breakdown of his game, lauding his effort, which has come into question over his "strained" career. It's often times the unknowns, or in this case the unheralded, who give you the most fits. You know how to prepare for Steve Nash, right? But it's when you're asleep on guys like Telfair and Redd (how does that dude still have any knees left?), that's when you get in trouble. So, watch the bench tonight. And don't discount them.
From there it's just a matter of playing our game. We need to stop the Suns from running and get them into half-court sets, where we can really disrupt their flow while on defense. If they can get out, open up the floor and spread us, that's where Steve Nash does a lot of his damage. So getting them set on offense is going to be key.
As for what we need to do offensively, we just need to keep working the paint. That's our strong point. I know a lot has been said/written about our newfound ability to hit threes, but that's not our real identity. Becoming married to the long jumper is a real way to shot ourselves out of the game. We need to work transition offense, get buckets off of turnovers, and work the inside. We're really starting to get good movement cutting to the basket, with Marc Gasol setting up the high-post. So I'd like to see us continue to work that angle.
This is definitely a winnable game and one that I would love for us to snag. It's not going to be easy, especially considering how hot the Suns have been, but if we just stick to our game-plan and go about setting up the Grit 'N Grind early we should be able to take this one.
Note: No word yet on Tony Allen's status. We will keep you updated as we hear.
For more on the Suns, see: Bright Side Of The Sun