Memphis Grizzlies vs. Phoenix Suns: Game Preview

USA TODAY Sports

Entering the Grindhouse tonight will be the overachieving Phoenix Suns, a team playing well under new coach Jeff Hornacek. Will the Grizzlies be able to bring the Suns back down to Earth?

2013/2014 NBA Season
vs
8-8 (3-5 home)
Lost 1
9-8 (4-5 road)
Lost 1
December 3rd, 2013
FedexForum in Memphis, TN
7:00 PM CST
Fox SportsSouth/ 92.9 FM ESPN
Possible Starters
Mike Conley PG Goran Dragic
Tony Allen SG Eric Bledsoe
Tayshaun Prince SF PJ Tucker
Ed Davis PF Channing Frye
Kosta Koufos C Miles Plumlee
2013/14 Advanced Stats
92.7 (30th) Pace 97.2 (13th)
99.5 (20th) OEff 104.4 (8th)
102.2 (18th) DEff 101.6 (13th)
Injury Report-

Phoenix - None

Memphis - Marc Gasol (Out, Knee), Zach Randolph (Questionable, Toe)

The Memphis Grizzlies' November can best be described as inconsistent and disappointing. The Bears of Beale Street looked impressive at times, sweeping a California road trip in impressive fashion and beating the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers. They also struggled mightily in wins against the Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons, two below .500 teams, and lost tough games to not so good teams in New Orleans and Toronto at home.

The Grindhouse struggles continued Saturday night against the Brooklyn Nets, a loss that stings even though the team was without Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. The Grizzlies, save to say, are likely glad that November is behind them and they are still at .500.

The Memphis six-game home stand continues tonight against the Phoenix Suns, a team that if you looked up the term "over-achiever" in the dictionary you may just find a Phoenix Suns logo next to it. Phoenix enters tonight's contest 9-8, playing solid basketball under first year head coach Jeff Hornacek. Phoenix is scoring the basketball at a good clip and getting a lot out of reserves like the Morris brothers in addition to a revitalized Channing Frye. Whether the success is sustainable or not remains to be seen, but so far, these three bigs have helped the Phoenix offense tremendously with spacing, from range in particular.

When healthy, Eric Bledsoe is a certified Griz killer

Their big off-season acquisition, Eric Bledsoe, has played extremely well for the Suns when healthy, averaging about 20 points and 2 steals a game. He is coming off and injury that kept him out several games, however, and how many minutes/how involved he is will bear monitoring. When healthy, he is a certified Grizzly killer who has caused Mike Conley a lot of distress over the years with his aggression and athleticism. If he is back in the starting lineup, as is being reported by Phoenix radio station Arizona Sports 620 AM, he will likely be on Conley and draw the assignment of shutting him down.

Bledsoe is not the only ray of light for these Suns so far this season. Goran Dragic is well on his way to a career year, nearly doubling his career high in points (18 per game) while also posting career numbers in assists. Miles Plumlee, in his first season out of Duke, has done very well for these Suns as well, averaging 10 points and 8 rebounds a game and filling a much needed defensive role in the paint for these Suns.

So, a game that may had been written in as a win before the season started looks more and more like a possible toss-up, especially if Zach Randolph is unable to play with his toe injury. How can the Grizzlies get a much needed home win? Here are three keys to victory.

Return to Dominating the Glass

Aside from Plumlee, these Suns are certainly not rebounding machines. It is a weakness of their squad; they are currently ranked 21st in rebounding according to ESPN. Historically speaking, this would lead to Grizzlies fans salivating, as this has been a Memphis strength in the past. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies have struggled on the boards so far this season as well, ranking 25th in the Association.

This cannot be the norm going forward if this Memphis team is going to have success. Kosta Koufos is a very good rebounder, but Tayshaun Prince, Mike Miller and Ed Davis will need to up their glass eating prowess if the Grizzlies hope to pull this one out, especially if Zach is indeed out for this game. Second chance opportunities on the offensive end and holding the Suns to one shot defensively will be hugely important going forward.

Find Easy Ways to Score

Grizzlies fans will likely find this one ironic, as it seems scoring the basketball to the Grizzlies is like a Calculus 4 test to a college student at times. As Memphis has improved defensively, their ability to score the basketball has regressed some, and the numbers show it. A big chunk of this is being without Marc Gasol, obviously, but in his absence, and with the absence of Zach Randolph possible, "easy buckets" will need to be converted.

Transition opportunities off of steals and blocks, pushing the tempo with Kosta Koufos and Ed Davis in as athletic bigs, converting lay-in and "bunny" opportunities in close will be tremendously important in this contest, especially in the first quarter. Confidence breeds confidence, and if Memphis can score early and often off of fast break and paint chances, this game can be won.

Return of the Q?

A hot button topic on Grizzly Bear Blues in the past couple of weeks has been the struggles and lack of playing time for Quincy Pondexter. Rightfully so; Quincy is arguably one of the biggest disappointments of the young season. This is a player who received a contract extension before the season got started, who was looked to by many, including myself, to possibly be a starter on this team.

However, he came out of the gates extremely slow, not scoring double digit points since the San Antonio game to open the season against the Spurs until this past Saturday against the Brooklyn Nets. His defense was also suspect, and Dave Joerger thought the team was better off playing Mike Miller and Jerryd Bayless instead.

Pondexter's fire is much needed, but it needs to be directed at the opposition, not his head coach.

If it was to serve as a motivational ploy, it darn sure worked, at least for one night. Q went off against the Nets, almost bringing the Grizzlies back by himself. While Q's emotions appear to have gotten the better of him (singling out a coach and bad mouthing him, especially in public, is unacceptable), it is good to see some fire from Quincy, and perhaps if he can find a way to channel that passion and frustration into his play, he can be that player so many Grizzlies fans hope he is.

In wins this season, Quincy Pondexter gets about 20 minutes. In losses, he gets about 14, and the Grizzlies are 2-4 when Quincy gets less than 10 minutes. A smaller sample size that the Tony Allen 25 minutes rule, but a good Quincy means a good Grizzlies bench, and that can help Memphis get back on track. Quincy will be needed both tonight and in the future for sustained Grizzlies success.

The Prediction

Memphis will start slow, as Mike Conley will struggle early with Eric Bledsoe's stifling defense and Goran Dragic will be explosive offensively. Jerryd Bayless and Quincy Pondexter will push the pace and attack the rim, while Ed Davis will be effective off of the pick and roll. The Grizzlies will come out firing in the second half and will pull away in the fourth quarter behind a Kosta Koufos double-double and big performances from Tayshaun Prince, Jerryd Bayless and Quincy. A strong bench night will mean a Memphis victory.

Memphis 98, Phoenix 91

For a full preview of all of tonight's NBA action, including the Grizzlies in the first segment, listen to Joe Mullinax on the Phil Naessens Show by clicking on the link below. The show was recorded Sunday, before injury updates on Eric Bledsoe and Zach Randolph:

Grizzly Bear Blues' Joe Mullinax on the Phil Naessens Show- December 3rd, 2013

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