The Phoenix Suns come into Houston reeling from a tough loss to Memphis and a recent penchant for porous defense, while Houston comes in smarting from a loss to Utah two nights after the Suns suffered the same result.

A night after getting pummeled in the second half by a Memphis team missing their best offensive players (plural, that was), the Phoenix Suns try to slow down the league's #1 offense.

The opponent

The Houston Rockets are a two-headed demon, flanked by prolific three-point shooting around the center of the sun called Dwight Howard. Their offense is great in almost every way - top three in ten offensive categories.

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In close, out far and anywhere in between. And as I mentioned last week, the Rockets set the league standard for efficiency on offense.

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The Suns

The Suns defense has been terrible the last few games and the Rockets' offense is the best in the league. Bad combo.

It's not just that the Suns have given up 100+ points in 7 of their last 9 games, or that each of their last four opponents have scored 100+.

It's that three of those games were against two of the league's worst offenses. Utah came in 2-12, scoring only 91 points per game but hung 101 and 112 on the Suns. Memphis came in only scoring 93 a game, but dropped a smooth 110 on the Suns last night without even the services of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.

Ouch, ouch and triple ouch.

Can the Suns pull themselves out of another hole? They started the season 5-2 by playing quality defense, then lost four straight, then went 4-1 before losing these last two games.

The stats

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In the span of a week, the Suns have dropped from 8th in the league on defense to 22nd. Ugh.

The lineups

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The Suns have Eric Bledsoe back, while the Rockets are missing their starting PG in Jeremy Lin. Patrick Beverly plays better defense but doesn't play much offense. It's possible the Suns don't lose the PG matchup in this game. The Suns could also win the PF matchup. Where the Suns will struggle is the other positions: SG, SF and C.

The key matchup

If the Suns are going to win this game, then the matchup between Goran Dragic and James Harden has to be a toss up. Dragic will have to match Harden's prolific game, which will require Dragic to stay out of foul trouble.

Elsewhere, the C matchup will be very tough for the Suns to combat, with the Rockets now boasting the beast Dwight Howard. You could go small, potentially, and play Channing Frye at center for offensive possibilities by drawing Howard out of the lane. But defensively, the Suns would be toast.

The prediction

Sorry guys and gals, but I see the Rockets running away with this one.

The only way I see this game becoming a Suns win is to frustrate Howard into playing aggressively but poorly on offense, and to force the Rockets off the three-point line. Despite the defensive decline, the Suns still have given up the third-fewest three-point attempts and makes in the league. Keep the Rockets off the threes and get Dwight into foul trouble and maybe the Suns can win this thing.

As of late, the Phoenix Suns have been reenacting the story of the 47 Ronin, falling on their own swords after a prolonged survival plan finally ran its course...

...you know you like that metaphor.

In this weeks podcast the KrisDog and the JimDog are back at it bringing the Bright Side back to the Bright Side. We review and discuss the week that was in Phoenix Suns basketball, the not so subtle decline in defensive efficiency, and how good a 9-9 record would look in the Eastern Conference today.

Come get some!

Podcast here: Phoenix Suns Podcast Episode 47

The Phoenix Suns' recent play had hinted at some disturbing trends and all of them were painfully on display in a second half where the Suns were dominated 64-37 by a shorthanded Memphis Grizzlies team.

Recap:

The Suns were back at full speed with Eric Bledsoe rejoining Goran Dragic in the starting backcourt while the Grizzlies were without game time decision Zach Randolph.  Still, the shorthanded Grizzlies jumped out to an early 12-6 lead behind a balanced attack from what was left of their roster.  Dragic had a couple acrobatic moves around the basket to keep Phoenix close as the game mostly grinded along in halfcourt sets.

A blown fast break opportunity by the Suns, that included three point blank misses at the rim, with about a minute left in the quarter led to an uncontested dunk by Jon Leuer on the other end to give Memphis a four point lead to close the quarter.  The Suns were arctic from the field in the first period, shooting 9-27 from the field and 1-8 from three point range.  Ed Davis led the Grizzlies with seven points and six rebounds.

Grizzlies 23, Suns 19

Markieff Morris hit two quick buckets to give the Suns the lead (24-23) before Leuer came back with another powerful dunk, which is about two too many dunks to give up to him in a game.  Marcus Morris finally hit a three for the Suns, making them 2-12 on the game, to give them a 29-25 lead.  Another long distance bomb by Channing Frye stretched the lead to seven as the Suns gained a little bit of separation from their adversary.  The Grizzlies weren't going away, though, as Mike Conley scored seven straight points for Memphis and cut the lead to one (41-40) with a three pointer.  Marcus Morris answered Conley's last bucket with a three of his own to give him 13 points in the quarter.

In the midst of this back and forth Tony Allen left the game after taking a shot to his right hip, scraping a little more meat off of what was left of the Grizzlies' carcass.  A pair of and-ones in the waning moments of the half by P.J. Tucker and Bledsoe ballooned the Suns lead to 10 before Jamaal Franklin hit a jumper at the buzzer to bring Memphis back to within single digits.

Suns 54, Grizzlies 46

Tony Allen returned in the second half, as did a refocused Memphis squad that quickly eradicated the Suns eight point cushion.  Allen hit an 18 foot jumper from the corner to knot the game up at 59 about four minutes into the period.  They didn't stop there, either, as a dunk by Ed Davis stretched the Memphis lead to six (69-63), capping a 21-5 run.

While the Grizzlies were busy lighting up the scoreboard the Suns reverted back to the errant shooting from the first period, missing their first four attempts from three point range and falling to 4-19 on the game.  Dragic and Gerald Green were a combined 0-8 from deep at that point.  The offensively challenged Grizzlies pushed the lead to 76-69 as they connected on 10 straight (10-10) field goal attempts in the quarter.  Green finally connected on a late three, the Suns first make of the quarter, but a put back dunk by Davis gave Memphis an eight point lead headed into the final quarter.

Grizzlies 82, Suns 74

The beginning of the fourth quarter saw a new foe join in the pyrotechnics as Jerryd Bayless had back to back buckets to push Memphis's lead to 11.  The Morrii were back on the court fighting back for Phoenix, but there was a palpable difference between the energy of the two teams as Memphis was outhustling the Suns and engaging their crowd.  Leuer (that guy again) hit a jumper from the corner to push the lead to 92-79 and the Suns were stunned and dizzied.  Dragic tried to fight back and hit a three, then things got chippy as he and Bayless bumped into each other on the other end after a foul.  Despite seemingly mutual contact Goran was whistled for the tech.

That's just the way things were going...  And they quickly deteriorated even further.  The Suns were thoroughly flogged and there wasn't much else to write about a 19 point loss except that they flat out got their asses kicked.

Final score: Grizzlies 110, Suns 91

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Player of the Game:

Jon Leuer had career highs of 23 points (previously 19) and three blocks while tying his career high for rebounds with nine.  He knocked down 10 of 13 shots in the process.  Seriously, coming into this game he had a season high of six points.  He has career averages of 3.6 points and 2.1 rebounds in 81 games.  The Grizzlies basically had four players with a better stat line than any Phoenix Sun, but I have to give this to Leuer based on the fact that I had absolutely no idea this type of performance was even remotely possible for him going into tonight's game and it never even occurred to me that I might ever have the chance to give it to him.

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Comments of the Game:

Give the people what they want

Slava vs Kosta

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There is ALWAYS that one player

that just so happens to have a break out game against the Suns...  Tonight it looks as if it will be Ed Davis or Jon Leuer.

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Maybe we'd be better off with Zach than with Ed Davis, lol

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Archie got Leuered into that turnover.  He shouldn't be playing.

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We now return you to our regularly scheduled sucky team.

Already in progress.

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OK, Slava is in.

Time to go Ukrainian on their asses.

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"Leuer is in the zone"

Said Grizzlies commentator.  How many times has anyone ever said that?

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The Good:

The Suns recovered from a sluggish start with a 35 point second quarter incited by 13 points from Marcus Morris.  The Suns shot 14-22 in the period (.636) and closed on an 8-2 run.  The Morrii coming off the bench and producing for the second unit with more regularity has been a huge boost for the team this season.

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The Bad:

After not allowing a team to shoot over 50% from the field in their first 16 games, the Suns have yielded .512 and .548 in the last two...  And neither of those two opponents are offensive dynamos.  A game after allowing Utah to score a season high 112 points the Suns gave up a regulation season high 110 to Memphis.  The putrid defense is becoming a pattern.

When the Suns can't run or hit threes their offense is completely stagnant.  A 35 point outburst was accompanied by three quarters of 20 points or less.  The Suns were 7-29 from three point range tonight, which spelled their doom.  The team doesn't appear to have much recourse when those shots don't fall... and by much I mean any at all.

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The Ugly:

A 64-37 second half.  The Suns completely lost their equanimity in the third quarter as Memphis seized control of the game.  Then it got even worse as Phoenix rolled over and played dead in the fourth.  Goran's little love tap with Bayless was about the only evidence that the team even had a pulse going down the stretch.  Conley is a pretty solid basketball player.  Even Kosta can toss the rock around a little.  But the Suns literally gave up season highs of 23 and 21 to two guys (Leuer and Davis) whose previous season highs were six and 11 respectively.  In the end, it was Memphis's frontcourt that dominated the Phoenix Suns... a frontcourt missing two all-NBA caliber players.

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Final Thoughts:

After playing a bunch of tightly contested games to start the season things are getting a little loose on the Suns.  Phoenix has been punched in the mouth on a couple of previous occasions and they responded with haymakers of their own... but not tonight.  This was the first true blowout loss of the season, but it has shades of recent underwhelming performances that portend ominously going into a tougher stretch of games this month.  Hopefully the Suns can reverse course against Houston tomorrow night.  At least they won't have much time to let this loss fester in their minds.  But tonight the Grizzlies stole the Suns' picnic basket.

The Memphis Grizzlies came into tonight’s game struggling badly offensively, having only scored over 88 points once in the last five games. They were also missing their two All-Stars, Marc...

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The Phoenix Suns head to Memphis for the first leg of a back-to-back road swing against the ailing Grizzlies hoping to recover from a home loss to the last place Utah Jazz and stay on the good side of .500.

When: Tuesday December 3, 2013, 6:00 PM local time (8:00 EST)

Where: FedEx Forum Memphis, TN

Watch/Listen: TV: Fox Sports AZ Radio: 620 KTAR

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Last Meeting:

The Suns and Grizzlies last squared off in Memphis on February 5th earlier this year.  After trailing 77-72 with 7:30 to go Phoenix staged an impressive 24-13 rally to end the game, including outscoring Memphis 8-2 in the final two minutes, en route to a 96-90 victory. The inimitable Goran Dragic scored 15 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter as the Suns outscored the Grizzlies 31-19 overall in the period.  Marcin Gortat led the Suns with 20 points, while Jerryd Bayless scored a game high 29 points.

The teams split the season series 2-2, as the 25 win Suns gave the 56 win Grizzlies fits.

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Team Bios:

Memphis Grizzlies: 8-8

Points per game: 93.6 (24) Points allowed: 95.9 (6)

ORtg: 102.8 (20) DRtg: 105.4 (15)

Full team statistics.

Memphis is still trying to play the same type of bruising, grinding style that took them to the Western Conference Finals last season, but are having dissimilar results.  Last season the Grizzlies ranked first in points allowed at 89.3 per game and second in DRtg at 100.3.  16 games into this campaign those rankings have dropped precipitously.  Their points allowed are still near the top of the league, but that is the product of a league low pace (89.4) since their defensive efficiency is middle of the pack.

Not helping matters is an injury to Marc Gasol, who is sidelined with an MCL sprain. Gasol was second team All-NBA and All-Defensive last season and anchored the Grizzlies' parsimonious defense.  With Gasol on the court last season the Grizzlies yielded a scant 95.4 points per 100 possessions.  Without Gasol that number ballooned to 102.2. The injury thrusts Kosta Koufous into a starting role, and he has averaged 8.3 points and 12.3 rebounds in the three games since the injury.  But Gasol's absence, coupled with Randolph missing time with an ingrown toenail, has left the Memphis frontcourt cheesecloth thin and Koufous has logged 35+ minutes a night as a starter.

The Grizzlies are also still getting acclimated to new head coach David Joerger, after Lionel Hollins was unceremoniously dumped despite a deep playoff run. Joerger's reign is off to an inauspicious start as the team, which kept the core of a 56 win squad intact, has struggled to an 8-8 start. Mike Conley leads the team in scoring (18.3) and assists (6.1) while 2013 All-Star forward Zach Randolph leads the team in rebounding (9.1) while chipping in 16 points per game.

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Phoenix Suns: 9-8

Points per game: 101.7 (13) Points allowed: 99.7 (15)

ORtg: 107.5 (8) DRtg: 105.4 (16)

Full team statistics.

The Suns have had a few days off to lick their wounds after a bad loss at home to the last place Utah Jazz and plenty of good and bad has been covered on the site during the down time.  Here are the high (and low) lights...

Sean Sullivan detailed the exploits of the parching Goran Dragic who has averaged 22 points and 10 assists over the last five games.

Dave King illustrated a trend that has seen the Suns offense exploding (in a good way) while the defense has been imploding (in a bad way). While the Suns have averaged 107 points per game over the last four contests they have also yielded 100+ points in four straight games for an average of 106.5 points against. After only allowing their opponent to score over 100 twice in the first eight games they have yielded three digits in seven of the last nine.  After stifling their competition to .437 shooting from the field in their first 13 games the Suns have yielded .485 over the last four games, including their first game over .500 (.512) against the offensively challenged Jazz.

Kris Habbas discussed shot selection and the Suns penchant for the three point shot. Will the Suns continue to attack the basket (against a team without their defensive anchor in the middle) and chuck up threes (against a middle of the pack team defending the line) with almost exclusive prejudice?

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What To Watch For:

Pace: The Suns have trudged to a mark of about 89 possessions per game over the last four contests, well below their season average of 94.  Memphis loves to play a methodical halfcourt style and is posting the lowest number of possessions per game this season (89.8) after a league low of 88.4 last season. Will the Suns revert to a more spirited style or will the Grizzlies dictate pace and lure the Suns into an ugly, languid game.

DragonBlade: With Eric Bledsoe back to (hopefully) 100% after a shin bruise we will likely get to see him starting in the backcourt with Dragic again.  The process of the two best players on the team learning to coexist will continue in earnest tonight.

Zach Randolph: Last season all-star Randolph had his way with the Suns to the tune of 24.5 points and 13.3 rebounds per game, including a jaw dropping 38 point, 22 rebound performance in the team's first matchup.  Equally impressive was the fact that he managed to shoot 66.7% from the field (42-63) while pouring in all those points.  Although the Suns proved to be a difficult foe for the Grizzlies, this was a huge positional victory for Memphis.  Will the inconsistent Markieff Morris and his teammates be able to manacle the menacing, big-bodied power forward?

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The Final Word(s):

A win tonight would be huge considering tomorrow night's game is the second in two nights against a team (Houston) that has been playing at a high level so far this season. The Grizzlies are just 3-5 at home this season (and 0-5 against their division... too bad we're not in their division) so this could be a good opportunity to steal a game from a team still trying to find its footing in the early season.  The Suns went 4-11 last December, effectively ending their season, and need to avoid a repeat performance as their schedule ratchets up with a heavy dose of games against teams in the Western Conference with winning records.

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