WHO: Memphis Grizzlies (7-16, 4-6 away) @ Phoenix Suns (11-12, 6-7 home)
WHERE: Talking Stick Resort Arena Phoenix, Arizona
WHEN: 8:00 PM CT
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Kyle Anderson (Probable, heel), Brandon Clarke (Probable, Oblique), Grayson Allen (Out, Ankle)
Phoenix: Deandre Ayton (Suspension)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS-
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Jae Crowder, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas
Phoenix: Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre, Ricky Rubio, Dario Saric, Frank Kaminsky
As the Grizzlies head into Phoenix for a mid-week clash against the Suns on Wednesday, they do so with restored confidence knowing that health is finally on their side after a tough two week stretch. With Ja Morant returning and leading the team to victory on Monday at Golden State, both Brandon Clarke and Kyle Anderson should be returning soon. With Jonas Valanciunas back as well, the Grizzlies are slowly but surely getting back to full strength.
Obviously, every night that Morant is playing has the chance to be special. That is an incredible statement to say so early in his career. With Mike Conley departing for Utah in December, many were likely to compare Morant’s impact on the Grizzlies to how Conley impacted them for so many years. However, Conley is not the only former Grizzlies point guard that Morant should be compared to. In fact, Mike Bibby may be the more favorable comparison for how Morant is making an impact this year.
Like Morant, Mike Bibby was taken with the second overall pick of the 1998 draft by the Grizzlies in the hope he could become a franchise icon a point guard. Bibby stepped right in and became the Grizzlies go to ball handler, as his efforts resulted in a first-team All Rookie selection. However, while his numbers were quite good for a rookie, they come up a bit short when compared to Morant’s.
Yesterday was Ja Morant's 4th game with 25+ points and 5+ assists.— Basketball Reference (@bball_ref) December 10, 2019
He's the 12th player since 1983 to have 4+ games like that in his first 25 in the NBA pic.twitter.com/YsoknSouje
For the season, Morant has been arguably the best rookie in Grizzlies’ franchise history. And that is not just due to season numbers, but also to his growing list of incredible individual performances. As can be seen in the tweet, Morant is in rare company with his ability to get 25+ points and 5+ assists. Of the 11 other players on the list with Morant, 9 would go on to become rookie of the year.
In terms of the franchise, Morant’s ability to score and pass on any given night becomes even more impressive. Morant has scored 20+ points and produced 5+ assists nine times this season after Monday night. This is the most times a Grizzlies rookie has achieved that statistical feat. Morant passed Bibby, who completed the feat eight times his rookie year. The amazing thing is that it has taken only 18 games for Morant to surpass Bibby. It took Bibby 50 games to reach the mark eight times during the 1998-1999 season.
One of those performances came against the Suns earlier this year in Memphis. While the Grizzlies are only 4-5 when Morant reaches this stat threshold, it does make it easier for the Grizzlies to maintain enough offense to be competitive. They will need a similar performance from Morant tonight. The Suns currently stand at 11-12, but admirably remain one of the best offensive teams in the league. For the Grizzlies to have a chance, they must get stops and be smart with the basketball. Otherwise, Phoenix is fully capable to extend a lead early.
Coming off a needed win in a revenge game against the Warriors, Memphis hopes to do the same in the desert. Here a few ways they could make that happen:
The Key is efficiency- The potential returns of Kyle Anderson and Brandon Clarke could not come at a better time. The reason being is that the Suns have become one of the more efficient teams in the league. They are 11th in FG% percentage in the NBA and first in assists. The Grizzlies are not far behind with their passing, and their shooting has improved. The offense must find high percentage shos that they can convert consistently to have a good chance of winning.
Limit turnovers- The Suns currently rank ninth in fewest turnovers commited and second in turnovers forced in the league. The Grizzlies rank 25th in turnovers committed and 15th in turnovers forced in the league. A big advantage that has led to the Suns surprising start is their ability to win the turnover battle. The Grizzlies have struggled in that area to start the season, they they have improved in recent weeks. Overall, the Grizzlies have to make smart passes and decisions the entire game. They must match the Suns discipline to earn the win.
Make the boards a benefit- One area where the Grizzlies could have an advantage is through rebounding, as Deandre Ayton is still serving his 25 game suspension. Both the Suns and Grizzlies do well on the defensive board while struggling on the offensive glass. With Valanciunas and the return of Clarke, the Grizzlies should have a good rebounding presence on the court at all times. If Memphis can score more second chance points than the Suns, it should increase their odds of pulling the upset.
Though the Suns have played better than almost anyone expected, the Grizzlies can play with them. If Memphis can limit the production of anyone not named Devin Booker, they have a decent chance of finding a way to win. While they have lost more close games than they have won, it seems they at full strength, their ability to win a close one is significantly better now than it was before Thanksgiving.
Suns 123 Grizzlies 120