WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee
WHEN: 3:00 PM CT
HOW TO WATCH: Fox Sports Southeast
HOW TO LISTEN: 92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
PHOENIX: T.J. Warren (Ankle, Out for Season), Eric Bledsoe (Knee, Out for Season), Brandon Knight (Groin, Out Until Mid-March)
MEMPHIS: Marc Gasol (Foot, Out for Season), Jordan Adams (Knee, Out Indefinitely), Brandan Wright (Knee, Out Indefinitely), Tony Allen (Knee, Day-to-Day)
For the Phoenix perspective, check out Bright Side Of The Sun.
For a team like the Memphis Grizzlies, Friday night's victory over the Utah Jazz was a much larger win than perhaps it would have been, say, three weeks ago.
It was a gutty performance, led by likely (Zach Randolph) and unlikely (Mario Chalmers and Lance Stephenson) heroes. It was a game that, in theory, given the injury situation listed above and the fact that the team traded away two key players in Jeff Green and Courtney Lee for "lesser" players and future draft picks, they could have easily lost. Utah is playing for their playoff lives. They are more talented at the moment. Memphis is still figuring out who the hell they are as a team in the wake of the knees and the foot and the transactions with an eye to tomorrow, not worrying about a playoff push today.
And yet, the Memphis Grizzlies endure. Grit and Grind may be ending sooner rather than later, but it will not go quietly in to the night. Not yet.
Before we wax too poetically about the exploits of the motley crew known affectionately as "The Goon Squad", we must keep in mind that the Grizzlies' schedule has been quite easy of late. In the last thirteen games, Memphis has only played three playoff teams and they lost all three of those games to the Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks, and Toronto Raptors. Two of those three losses were in overtime, but they were losses nonetheless.
Memphis is 9-4 in those thirteen games, so they are beating the teams that they are supposed to...except for the Phoenix Suns, who beat them in Arizona just eight days ago. It was one of the Grizzlies' ugliest performances since the trade deadline, and it exposed the Grizzlies' struggles in the front court and on the glass. If Memphis hopes to not have their big home win from Friday spoiled by a tough loss in a Sunday matinee, they must correct these issues.
Three keys to the contest:
Compete on the Glass
Phoenix is better than Memphis right now at the Center position. They just are; it won't surprise anyone to know that Chris Andersen (BIRDMAN/GRIZZILLA) can't do it alone. Tyson Chandler and Alex Len started for the Suns last week in their win over the Grizzlies, and one would imagine they will in this game as well due to the success that they had. Alex Len had 22 points and 16 rebounds, Chandler had 12 boards, and the Suns overall won the rebounding battle 56-34, with 16 offensive rebounds for Phoenix to only 7 for the Grizzlies. That is a staggering gap, built even more by wings like P.J. Tucker (11 boards) and bench bigs like Mirza Teletovic (7 boards). It will be hard to win any game where the rebounding battle is that lop-sided.
Brandan Wright's injury in this game surely played a role in these struggles, but Memphis must be more aggressive on the glass. They don't need to win that battle- even with that difference, the Grizzlies only lost by five points. They just must close the gap some, and there is room for improvement. Zach Randolph only grabbed four rebounds last week against the Suns, and JaMychal Green only gathered two. Couple that with a focus on rebounding by wings like Matt Barnes and Lance Stephenson, and you can catch up some.
Chaos Agents: Activate
One of the things that kept Memphis in the game last week was their ability to create turnovers and extra opportunities for themselves offensively through those turnovers. This has been a tread of late that was especially evident against these Suns (18 turnovers for Phoenix last week) and also in the Grizzlies' win over the Jazz. Mario Chalmers forced five steals and deflected multiple passes, making chaos for his opponents and easy bucket chances for his teammates. Even when turnovers weren't forced, those deflections force opposing offenses to adjust offensive scheme and adapt on the fly to the timing and length of Memphis' wings.
Mike Conley. Mario Chalmers. Matt Barnes. Lance Stephenson. Even P.J. Hairston. Multiple perimeter players who can pressure ball handlers, play passing lanes, and be aggressive on switches and screens. If they are able to execute these things consistently, Memphis' defensive energy can feed in to offensive success and Phoenix will struggle to get in to an offensive rhythm.
Good Mike Conley
It is a concerning trend of inconsistency for Mike Conley. He has consistently been a good passer this season, but aside from that you're never sure which Mike you will get on any given night. In one game, like against the Kings earlier this week, he can look the part of a max player who can carry his team. In another, such as the Friday contest with the Jazz, he can shoot poorly and disappear for stretches.
Zach Randolph is fantastic. But he cannot do it by himself night in and night out. It is going to have to be star contribution by committee for the Grizzlies, and when Mike Conley plays well Memphis plays well. This was true with Marc Gasol in the lineup, and it is even more accurate without him.
This game scares most, at least it should. Phoenix just beat Memphis. The Grizzlies are still figuring out their new identity. The Suns are playing with house money in a lost season and have a bigger front court than Memphis does. However, before their win at home against the Grizzlies they had lost 13 straight games. Before their win on the road in Orlando against the Magic Friday night, Phoenix had lost 17 straight road games. Recent history tells us that this Suns team is not good. At all.
Memphis must start fast and attack the basket. They must continue to get good contributions from Chalmers and Stephenson off the bench. They must get more out of Mike Conley, and they must rebound better if they hope to win this game. The good news? Memphis is 23-9 at home. Phoenix is 11-21 on the road, and 1-17 in their last 18 outside of Arizona. The Grizzlies are 7-3 in their last 10 games, and 9-4 in their last 13. The Suns are 2-8 in their last 10, and 2-11 in their last 13.
One game in Phoenix is reason to be concerned for Memphis. But recent history states that this is a game Memphis should, and will, win.