The Phoenix Suns will head home after their 10-day road trip with little more than a head-scratching 1-5 record to show for themselves. There were nights where they were simply outplayed (against...

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With less than a minute to go, the Suns secured a rebound and called a timeout down a point. Out of the timeout, the Suns run their offense and Luis Scola finishes off a beautiful spin and right hook off the glass to give the Suns the lead with 37 seconds left.

On the next play, Scola hedges hard on a screen and knocks the ball away from Mike Conley. Goran Dragic recovers the ball and is fouled by Marc Gasol (Gasol's sixth foul). With 26 seconds left and holding a one-point lead, Goran Dragic steps to the line with the chance to out his team up three points.

Clank.

Dragic sank the second shot, but the damage was already done as the Grizzlies only needed a 2-pointer to tie the game. And that missed free throw turned out to be the game.

Rudy Gay hit a tough shot over P.J. Tucker and Luis Scola to tie the game with 15.9 seconds. After a timeout, the Suns came out with a chance to win the game, and failed miserably. Whether it was a bad play call by Gentry, poor execution by the players or a bad decision by Dragic, the Suns barely even got a shot off. Dragic dribbled out the clock up top, waited to long to go, for some reason unbeknownst to me picked up the ball, and then found Jermaine O'Neal for a crazy fadeaway 17-footer. Awful.

The overtime period was all Memphis as the Grizzlies outscored the Suns 14-4 behind three tough buckets by Zach Ranolph. Z-Bo was clearly the best player on the court all night, but even more so in OT. He was the difference.

It's a real shame the Suns blew what was otherwise a tremendous effort. Phoenix built a lead as large as 16 in the first half behind excellent defense and lackadaisical play by the Grizzlies. The Suns forced 12 turnovers and held the Grizzlies to 39 percent shooting. However, the Grizz woke up and made a late run to cut the Suns' lead to 52-45 at the break. For the rest of the night the Suns fought to hold onto the lead, but still let it slip away.

Standout Stats

  • 50-32 edge in rebounding for Memphis; time and time again, the Suns played good defense and forced a miss, but couldn't secure the board as either the Grizzlies were able to get a hand on it and tip it around or Zach Randolph just beat everyone to the ball. Speaking of Z-Bo...
  • Randolph torched the Suns for 38 points and 22 rebounds, and single-handedly outscored the Suns 6-4 in OT; Z-Bo was the best player on the floor, worked harder than everyone else and had everything fall for him, not a good recipe for his opponents
  • Goran Dragic played 43 total minutes tonight, 38 in regulation; those who were calling for Dragic to play extended minutes got their wish with Sebastian Telfair missing the game, and Dragic responded with 19 points and seven assists; however, he also missed that free throw
  • Marcin Gortat only took four shots and made three of them; he also shot 5-6 from the free-throw line; why didn't he get more looks?
  • 46-24 edge in bench points for the Suns; however, the starters were outscored 84-52
  • Spotlight on Garrett: Diante Garrett played less than 10 minutes, but he finished with one point, three assists, one rebound, one steal, two turnovers and was +2; that's the kind of player Garrett is - a do-it-all guard and a willing passer
  • Tweet by Suns stat guru Vince Kozar: "@SunsStats #Suns coming home with seven wins, three losses by four points or less, two losses in overtime. #keepthefaith #longseason"

BOXSCORE


Final - 12.4.2012 1 2 3 4 OT 1 Total
Phoenix Suns 25 27 20 22 4 98
Memphis Grizzlies 18 27 23 26 14 108

Complete Coverage >


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If I were to take a poll to see where Bright Siders fall on the Kendall Marshall line [see below], I would guess that many felt his selection with the 13th pick was a waste. I would assume that most of you would point out how he has been used sparingly, has not been able to supplant a journeyman for a backup role, and go through a laundry list of reasons why Marshall is not fit for NBA duty. Among the plethora of traits lacking are athleticism, defense, shooting ability, scoring, and creating offense, while all will concede his otherworldly passing skills.

After being assigned to the D-league affiliate Bakersfield Jam, and playing in his first action as a Jam [?], we can actually point to game minutes to dissect Marshall’s ability, albeit only 31 of those minutes. For some, Marshall "dominated". For others, Kendall "outshined" all.

For me, as much as I want to see Marshall succeed, and as much as a stat line of 21 points and 8 assists might suggest a solid, if not dominating performance, I think Marshall has some work to do.

While I am an advocate for Kendall, I did not think he played particularly well. It might possibly be the fact that the three NBA guys just sent down were haphazardly thrown together and didn't seem to mesh. Or maybe the agenda for NBA players is contrary to the goals of the team or the other individuals that play there on a more permanent basis. Let’s face it, a guy making $30,000 riding buses and staying in cheap motels is now sitting in favor of spoiled millionaires – it has got to be frustrating. Then again, it is also an opportunity for NBDL players to showcase themselves knowing NBA guys are being looked at, which is not always conducive to team ball.

In any case, the game was ugly. Both teams turned the ball over incessantly, failed miserably on point blank attempts at the rim, took terrible shots and generally showed why they are in the DL. The other two "NBA" players weren't particularly impressive either. Mike Scott went three for eight from the field and had little impact on the game. John Jenkins got hot in the middle part of the second half to get Bakersfield back into the game, but I am not sure who the stat guy was watching when he recorded an 8-13 shooting night for him. I personally saw Jenkins miss at least seven shots, badly. In fact, Jenkins looked like he was doing his best impersonation of Shannon Brown, dribbling around the court only to pull up a 22 foot fade away as the shot clock wound down. Impressed I was not.

So how did Marshall look?

Marshall came out looking to shoot early and it wasn't pretty – he missed his first two jumpers badly. Yet that is why he was there and it was good to see him be aggressive looking to score. As the game developed, Marshall seemed to be able to get where he needed to on the floor and direct the offense. He eventually hit a nice eighteen foot jumper and that opened the door to get down the lane later in the half. He even hit a three.

As would be expected, Marshall had some nice passes early on, finding guys for easy shots. His teammates flubbed a few of those passes or were not able to convert in the lane, otherwise he might have had double digit assists.

Surprisingly, Kendall was able to dribble penetrate without much issue. He continually exploded into the lane beating his man off the dribble, with or without picks. He showed solid command of the pick and roll, but for the most part was penetrating and looking for his shot. Going to his left, Marshall was able to convert a few tough lay ins over bigger defenders.

Going to his right, well that is a work in progress. Several attempts on that side of the floor showed one aspect of Marshall’s game that needs serious work. While he was able to get a step on his man going right, once he met resistance by the helping big man, Marshall forced shots using his left hand attempting to scoop under the defenders arms. Unfortunately, this is the way someone compensates for a weak off-hand and usually results in both a badly missed attempt as well as no possible way to get a foul called. Marshall needs to force himself to use his right hand on those attempts, as well as utilize his body to protect himself and draw fouls. The ability to go either way will play a pivotal role in his effectiveness at the next level.

In terms of drawing fouls, Marshall did a decent job. Although two of his free throw attempts were the result of late game intentional fouling, he did draw four fouls in the lane [despite the fact that the stats show 6-8, he was actually 6-10 – I saw four misses].

Going 7-18 from the field and 1-3 from the three point line, Marshall’s offensive grade was a C+ in my mind. He gets points for being aggressive and taking shots, which is something he usually refrains from doing. He also gets points for generally doing a good job commanding the offense despite the dysfunction on that team. He showed nice passing, although he needs to learn to stay on the floor, as well as keep his dribble alive for longer while getting into the lane. Too often he picks up his dribble with no outlet and is forced to take a tough shot. Learning the ability to continue your dribble through and out of the lane in order to shift the defenders and find open guys is certainly something he can add to his repertoire. I also believe he needs to take 20+ shots a game, with at least half from the outside – how else is he going to get better unless he starts shooting it. We don’t need to see him pass, as we already know he can do that. He needs to score big, and do it efficiently.

On the defensive end, Marshall started out clearly focused on trying to pressure the ball, and deny when off the ball. That lasted about one quarter, when Kendall fell back to his old habits of being relatively lax on that end of the floor. While he looks to position himself for team defense, he tends to stand and stare when shots go up. He also gets bogged in traffic eliminating longer outlet passes and getting out into the open floor. On his man, he did a decent job of staying in front early, but was beaten off the dribble easily as the game wore on. On pick and rolls, Marshall had a difficult time fighting through the picks and staying in the play defensively. This is something he is going to need to work on [as all the Suns do].

Defensively I grade Marshall a solid D+, mostly because the competition at this level shouldn't pose a problem for him, yet he did nothing to separate himself on that end of the floor. Granted, defenders usually are at a disadvantage, even in the DL, but Marshall needed to prove something and certainly did not provide any evidence that he can guard efficiently enough at the next level right now.

Keep in mind this was his first game playing with a bunch of guys thrown together. His game conditioning obviously affected his ability to stick with the defensive intensity that will be required at the next level. This game was a starting point and it had bright spots – showing an ability to beat his man off the dribble, getting into the lane and to the free throw line. I give him an overall grade of C, for doing some nice things, but needing to stay focused on the tasks at hand.

Here is my recipe for Marshall to continue in the DL:

1. Continue to attack the rim when closely guarded.

Focus on using your right hand to finish on that side of the floor, no matter how uncomfortable it is. You also need to keep your dribble in the lane longer to draw out defenders when you have no clear path to the rim – stop gathering the ball prematurely.

2. Shoot the ball from the perimeter.

Despite the call for attacking the rim, you also need to mix in shooting from the perimeter. Use those pick and roll situations and shoot at least ten shots a game. You will never get comfortable doing it unless you take a lot of shots. Even if you miss, you need to work through the jitters of shooting and gain confidence that you can hit those shots in a game.

3. Forget passing.

We already know you can do that. You need to change your mentality for the brief period you are down at the DL. I am not suggesting a permanent change, just a dramatic shift from pass-first to score first mentality. By over-compensating, you can gain confidence in your scoring ability enough to affect your production.

4. PJ Tuckerize the opponent.

You should be picking up full court and basically harassing the ball handler every second you are on defense. While you are not attempting steals, you are forcing yourself to stay with and keep ball handlers in front of you at all times. That is the intensity that will improve your on-ball defense. Fight through every pick like it pisses you off. Stay in every defensive play. When your man gives the ball up, don’t let him get it back. AND DEFINITELY DO NOT SAVE YOUR SELF FOR OFFENSE. Give everything you have on the defensive end and your conditioning will take care of itself.

Poll
What are your feelings regrading the Suns drafting Kendall Marshall?

  109 votes | Results

According to Keith Schlosser from Ridiculous Update (who's business is covering the D-league), Kendall Marshall was the best NBA player in the minors on Monday.

Here's part of his report:

Kendall Marshall Outshines Fellow NBA Assignees In D-League Debut - Ridiculous Upside


And that's when Marshall pounced and helped carry his team to victory. Early on, the young gun could be seen dishing and swishing as he found a nice steady rhythm while setting up Jenkins for easy shots. The Suns' rookie did finish with 8 assists for the Jam, but it was his aggressive nature on offense that eventually secured the win. Marshall asserted himself inside, attacking the basket, as he scored 6 late quarter points during a run that otherwise sunk the Warriors.

Read the rest at Ridiculous Upside.

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The Grizzlies are 12-3, first in the West and tied with Miami (who they beat head-to-head) for the best record in the NBA. The Suns, on the other hand, are just 7-11 and 13th in the West, ahead of only Sacramento and New Orleans. The Grizzlies are 8-1 at home, while the Suns are just 2-8 on the road. The Grizzlies have four players averaging over 15 points per game, while the Suns have only one.

On paper, this is a huge mismatch.

The Suns dropped two games they shouldn't have against Detroit and Toronto. That means in order to remain afloat and attempt to stay competitive, they need to make those games up against teams like the Grizzlies. That is a tall task, but the Suns put themselves in this position. Time to man up.

Ferocious Frontline

The Grizzlies have one of if not the best frontline in the entire NBA. Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol combine to average 51.1 points and 25.7 rebounds per game. Z-Bo had a down year last year after missing a lot of time and coming back from an injury, but this season he's back to his typical double-double machine form. Rudy Gay is leading the Grizz in scoring at 18.9 points per game. And the Suns are going to rely on Markieff Morris, Luis Scola and Michael Beasley to defend these guys. Scary. P.J. Tucker is going to have to make his presence known tonight.

We can't forget about Gasol either. He's the guy that makes that team go. He operates out of both the low and high posts and is incredibly effective form both areas. He can score in the post, hit the 17-footer and pass the ball very well. He also has a lot of weight on Gortat, and we know the Polish Whatever struggles against bigger guys. We're going to need him to get out of this defensive funk to have any shot in this game.

Point Guard Match-Up

We can't forget about their fourth 15-plus point per game scorer either. Mike Conley Jr. has turned himself into a very good point guard, and is off to a great start this season. Conley is averaging 15.3 points per game on nearly 50 percent shooting, and is also dropping 6.7 assists per game. In fact, his numbers are nearly identical to Goran Dragic's (and are actually a bit better across the board). Dragic is coming off of his first single-digit-scoring game of the season, and he is going to need to bounce back and win this match-up.

Injuries

Both teams could possibly be without key defensive players in this game. Memphis' starting shooting guard and lockdown defender Tony Allen is questionable with a groin injury and could miss this game. The Suns don't exactly have any star wing players that Allen would need to shut down, but you never want to be without a starter.

On the other side, Jermaine O'Neal missed Sunday's loss against the Knicks with a strained right quadriceps, and could sit this one out as well. That would be a big hit against the Suns and their defensive game plan against Randolph and Gasol.

The game tips off at 5 p.m. PST, 6 p.m. AZ time, 7 p.m. CST and 8 p.m. EST (sorry my international friends, but it's too much work to figure out tip time where you guys are). Make sure to join us in the game thread, even if you don't feel like watching the game.

**Update: Bassy Out**

According to Paul Coro's Orange Slices, back-up point guard Sebastian Telfair has left Memphis to deal with a family matter. Bassy will rejoin the team before Thursday's game against Dallas, but that doesn't do the Suns any good tonight.

With Kendall Marshall currently assigned to the Iowa Energy (and tearing it up), rookie Diante Garrett will get the call to back up Dragic. Garrett made the team after participating in Summer League, training camp and the preseason, and now he will get his first non-garbage time minutes in the NBA. Garrett, a 6-foot-5 guard out of Iowa State, is a do-it-all type of guard who can do a little of everything but isn't great at any one area.

Who's ready for Garrett Time?

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