When: Thursday, January 2nd, 8:00 PM CST
Where: US Airways Center, Phoenix, AZ
So how about these Phoenix Suns? At 19-11, I think it’s fair to say that they have so far surpassed the expectations of even the most optimistic members of basketball circles. Having played 12 games since losing to our Grizzlies back in early December, they have racked up wins in 10 of them. Jeff Hornacek has this team rolling right now, and the Suns have suddenly become a hot item for the first time since the apex of the Steve Nash era. The Grizzlies on the other hand experienced a setback in Chicago, after previously stringing together a promising four game stretch.
Expected Starting Lineups:
Mike Conley vs Goran Dragic
It feels a bit disingenuous to present the guard matchups for this one as independent entities, because in all likelihood they are going to be cross-matched against one another. The first half of the Suns’ two-headed monster in the backcourt is Goran Dragic, a crafty southpaw with a nose for getting into the lane. Dragic finds himself amid what has begun as a career campaign, posting a career high 18.7 points per game and 20.1 PER. Conley, who had himself a monster line against Chicago (26 points 6 rebounds 9 assists 6 steals) will likely find himself guarded by the pesky Eric Bledsoe. The Suns will test Conley to his limits tonight, but with a few more days to rest up that quad under his belt, I’ve got that homer spirit.
Tony Allen vs Eric Bledsoe
The other half of Phoenix’s menacing guard duo is Bledsoe, who has a well storied resume of absolutely giving the Grizzlies fits off of the Clippers’ bench. After spending the first three seasons of his career with the Clips as a glorified spark plug, he got his real chance to show what he can do thanks to a trade to Phoenix, and he has not looked back ever since. A number of his metrics stack up nearly identical to those of his backcourt mate Dragic, as he’s also hovering around 18 points per game, a 20 PER, and a 58.7% true shooting percentage. Tony Allen was able to hold him down for 9 points the last time out, but there are no guarantees that he’ll be able to replicate that tonight.
Tayshaun Prince vs PJ Tucker
Um, do I have to discuss this one? Prince has come out of his shell lately with James Johnson breathing down his neck for playing time, but still tends to disappear more than you would like. After bouncing around, spending a few years overseas, and even spending training camp with the Grizzlies one season, PJ Tucker has found himself a place in this league as a gritty swingman. Thirty games into this season, his 42.7% from beyond the arc suggests that his game has expanded even further, introducing him to the valued “3 and D” discussion.
Zach Randolph vs Channing Frye
Historically speaking, bouts against the Suns have been quite favorable for Zach Randolph. He missed the first meeting this season with a toenail injury, but looking at last year, he averaged 24.5 points over the four games in which these teams met — his highest scoring average against a single team for the year by a long margin (his play against the Jazz was second (21.3). Zbo has been quieting quite a bit of that trade chirping with his recent string of success, but Channing Frye will be a tough match for him defensively. Zach likes to feed off of the guys that are willing to oblige him and muck it up inside, but against Frye, who likes to chill out by the 3 line, contact will be hard to come by.
Kosta Koufos vs Miles Plumlee
Kosta Koufos came out swinging haymakers on the glass when he edged his way into the starting role, as Marc went to the shelf, but has struggled mightily to keep a handle on it. His 6-8 shooting night against Chicago was absolutely a step in the right direction, but the way that he’s been playing, he needs to put a couple of these games together to be a stable presence for the team going forward, or at least until Marc makes his return. Shockingly his matchup tonight, Miles Plumlee has emerged as a very valuable piece for the Suns after being traded over in the offseason from the Pacers. He’s bordering a double-double on average and has blown up for some major performances, most recently having dropped a 17 point and 20 rebound line against the Lakers and a 22 point and 13 rebound line against the Sixers within his last five games.
James Johnson is awesome, and the Grizzlies’ bench has actually been way better of late than it was earlier in the year, though it still ranks near the bottom of the league at 27 points per game as a unit. Ed Davis is looking like the player that many of us were angry to see Darrell Arthur playing over, Jon Leuer is looking at least as competent as the guys we gave up to get him, and Jerryd Bayless and Mike Miller both experience waves of effectiveness. Taking a peek at the other side, the Phoenix bench is very competent in its own right. On any given night one or more of the Morris twins, Gerald Green, or even Archie Goodwin could get hot and light up the scoreboard for the Suns, and their scoring punch looks to outweigh the expected upside from the Grizzlies’ second unit.