The Memphis Grizzlies are coming to town for a Friday night meeting with the Phoenix Suns. The Grizzlies bring with them one more win in their win column (2-3) than Phoenix (1-3), with one of their victories coming over the highly-touted Dallas Mavericks and the other coming at the expense of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who technically are still considered an NBA team.
The Grizzlies were a dangerous opponent for the Suns last season, with the teams splitting their four-game series. Memphis, you might recall, came into Phoenix in early January and delivered one of the Suns' worst home beat-downs in the form of a 128-103 Suns loss. You can be sure this is on the mind of Suns coach Alvin Gentry.
"We've got respect for them. They kicked the shit out of us here last year. They beat us by 30 at home, so we understand that they're a really good team. I don't think there's going to be any let down; to beat Memphis is not an easy thing. They were in the playoff race all the way up to the last three... or four games of the year," Coach Gentry said about tonight's opponent.
One big question mark for tonight's game is the status of Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph, who is listed as a game-time decision due to a sore tail bone. Randolph gave the Suns fits last season with his rebounding and low post offense and that was with Amare Stoudemire defending him. With the Suns' even smaller power forwards (Hedo Turkoglu and Hakim Warrick), a player like Randolph partnered with center Marc Gasol is a front court that could destroy the Suns on the glass. Randolph reportedly went through a full practice session and is no longer moving gingerly, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
If Randolph doesn't play or only plays limited minutes, the Grizzlies' already short bench gets even smaller. Darrell Arthur has started all five games for the Grizzlies and is averaging a solid 14 points and five rebounds in 30 minutes of action. The only other bench player getting consistent time is 6-6 forward Sam Young, who is averaging 6.4 points per game in 17 minutes this season, but Young had some of his best games last year against the Suns.
The Suns bench will have a definite advantage, but the team in general will have their hands full with wings Rudy Gay and OJ Mayo, who led the Grizzlies in scoring with 26 and 18 points per game, respectively, and point guard Mike Conley, who recently signed a rather large contract extension that most felt was too much for the third-year player who's done little to prove himself. Conley is, however, playing well so far this season with 16 points and nine assists in 38 minutes of play. Acie Law is backing Conley up at point guard, but only playing 9.6 minutes per game.
The key for the Suns will be to use their depth to wear down the Grizzlies starters, who all play big minutes, and pressure the ball defensively to try and force the young Grizzlies into mistakes. Memphis is a team that likes to play fast, especially with Randolph out, so getting back in transition will be important for the Suns guards and wings.
The Grizzlies are in the midst of a four-game West Coast road swing and have already lost to the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors. They travel to Sacramento to face the Kings tomorrow. These two teams will meet again in Memphis next week on Monday.
Memphis head coach and former ASU Sun Devil standout basketball player Lionel Hollins will miss tonight's game, along with assistant coach Johnny Davis. Both will be in Portland attending the funeral of former teammate and former Suns player Maurice Lucas, who died Sunday at age 58 from bladder cancer.