Victims of Brutal West Meet in Memphis

Barry Gossage/NBAE

The Suns can empathize with the Grizzlies, a team whose place in the Western Conference standings (12th) is much harsher than its record (8-8).

That makes tonight’s game fairly important for so early in the season, as tiebreakers for playoff spots could play a huge role if the West stays this competitive for the rest of the season.

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Memphis was expected to be a cut above the scramble in the middle this season, bringing back essentially the same team from last year’s Western Conference Finals squad. Their offense, however, has been oddly inefficient despite the team’s continuity. The Grizzlies are rank in the bottom ten in scoring (93.6 ppg) and three-point percentage (32.4 percent).

Meanwhile their defense has taken a significant step back. Last season Memphis ranked second in the league in defensive rating, which calculates the number of points allowed per 100 possessions. They have fallen to 18th in that category this season.

The loss of All-Star center Marc Gasol (16.0 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 4.2 apg) to a sprained MCL hasn’t helped matters. The Spanish big man is reportedly eager to get back on the court, but the nature of the injury could have him out for at least another month.

Key Matchup

Channing Frye’s veteran presence extends to multiple areas of the game, but perhaps none have been as important as his discipline on low post defense. The veteran big man stays grounded while keeping his arms straight up.

Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph, however, boasts an elite level and arsenal of low post moves. Add to that his strength and wide body, and the All-Star forward is a load for any defender in the paint.

Frye will undoubtedly get help from teammates when necessary, but his initial work at denying Randolph quality post position will go a long way to further crippling Memphis’ already stagnant offense.

Opponent X-Factor

Memphis is one of the worst outside shooting teams in the league, but so were the Jazz before they came into US Airways Center and shot their way to surprising win on Saturday.

Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek, as well as forward P.J. Tucker, expressed the importance of not giving up easy shots early in the game, which creates momentum that’s hard to untrack.

If Memphis defies the odds early with some above-average shooting, Phoenix will need to respond sooner than later.

Final Thought

Phoenix has seen its offense climb improve over the last two weeks, seeing its scoring average rise to 101.7 points per game on 46.6 percent shooting, which is the sixth-best clip in the league.

The defense, however, has taken a step back. After ranking in the top five of the league in most defensive categories through the first two weeks, the Suns have fallen back into the middle of the pack in points allowed (15th) and defensive rating (16th). They are still top-five in opponent three-point shooting percentage (33.2 percent, fourth).