The NBA named Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek the Western Conference Coach of the Month for December, and it’s fitting that it comes the day his team takes on the Memphis Grizzlies. The Suns...

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Since the Grizzlies crushed the Suns by 19 with a backup front line, the teams have gone in opposite directions. The Suns have risen into clear playoff contention while the Grizzlies have fallen back in what might be a lost season.

Last time we saw the Memphis Grizzlies, they blasted the Suns by 19 points behind double-doubles from bigs Ed Davis and Kosta Koufos, plus another 23 and 9 from deep backup big man Ed Leuer. Just as starting center Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph missed the game, so did the entire Suns team.

But that may just have been the best game of the season for the Suns because it was served as a wake-up call for the team. Since then, the Suns have won 10 of 12 games and taken over the 5th best record in the Western Conference.

The opponent

Memphis, meanwhile, has fallen on hard times.

The Grizzlies have won only 4 of 13 games since drumming the Suns, a victim of their poor defense and offense despite getting Zach Randolph back for that entire stretch. On the surface, their defense looks okay (and their offense worse) only because they play at the slowest pace in the league. In terms of points per game, their offense is 26th and defense is 6th. But in terms of points per possession, their offense is better (17th) while the defense suffers (24th).

The defense was better in the first month of the season for Memphis, but has fallen off considerably. Once rated 15th in efficiency when they last faced the Suns, Memphis has dropped to 24th now.

All this has happened despite Zach Randolph in the lineup, supposedly making the Grizzlies much more dangerous than starting Ed Davis.

Randolph, though, has long been a Suns-killer routinely putting up 20+ points and 10+ rebounds - and sometimes doubling those numbers - when he faces the Suns.

The Suns

Trying to rebuild the home court advantage is going well (though the arena is still 20+% empty). The Suns have won 11 of 15 home games this season, including 6 of their last 7.

The offense has been cruising. After averaging only 96 points per game last year, the Suns are now putting up 103.7 per game for the season and have scored 100+ points in 16 of their last 21 games.

The defense hasn't been bad either, up to 13th overall in defensive efficiency (points per possession) and 11 spots better than tonight's opponent, the Grizzlies.

The stats

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These teams could not be much different. The Grizzlies play at the slowest pace in the league while the Suns play at one of the fastest. The Suns are better on offense and defense alike.

The lineups

Screen_shot_2014-01-01_at_7

The key matchup

As always, any key matchup in a Suns game is whoever plays against the two point guard tandem of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe.

The last Memphis game, Eric Bledsoe had just returned from that 8-game absence due to a bruised shin. Bledsoe was terrible in that game against Mike Conley, so he will have to be better tonight.

The last two Suns opponents have countered with a two-point guard attack of their own to terrible results. Philadelphia played Tony Wroten alongside Michael Carter-Williams in a 14-point Suns win, while the Clippers tried Darren Collison alongside Chris Paul in a 19-point Suns win. Look for the Grizzlies to try to beat up the Suns guards with Conley and SG Tony Allen, but if that doesn't work well don't be surprised to see Jarryd Bayless out there a lot in Allen's place next to Conley.

In the Suns only two losses in 12 games, to the Spurs and Warriors, Dragic/Bledsoe have been beaten soundly. Once by San Antonio's size and then by Golden State's splash.

The prediction

This could potentially be a tough matchup for the Suns, despite Memphis' poor season to date.

Memphis can play perimeter D with the best of them between Conley and Allen, which can make life difficult for Bledsoe and Dragic. And then down low, Zach Randolph could go off on the Suns like he always has in the past while the other bigs could easily dominate like they did last month.

It's either going to be a Suns blowout or a low-scoring nail-biter.

I predict the Suns will feel extra focused since that 19-point loss earlier this season, and put a pasting on the Grizz.

Time: 7 p.m. MST TV: FSA The Las Vegas odds-makers set the Suns over/under win total at 19.5 for this season. If you bet the over then you are sitting pretty as the Suns enter the 2014 calendar year...

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It was painful for fans, maybe even hopeless considering Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver wasn’t under their good graces during a good chunk of the Steve Nash era. Although the franchise...

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The Phoenix Suns have a lot to leave behind in 2013, some bad and some good, but they have a whole lot more to look forward to in 2014. Mike Lisboa share his hopes for the new Suns in the New Year!

Happy New Year, Bright Siders!  I hope everyone's New Year's celebrations were safe and fun.  And if not, I hope 2014 brings you something better and brighter.  In my circle of friends, we've got a New Year's tradition that I'd like to share with you, and of course, the Phoenix Suns.

It's called "The Burning of the Man."  To start off the New Year as something indeed fresh and new, we gather at a fire pit on the beach here in Los Angeles.  Someone donates some old clothes and then we stuff those clothes with newspaper.  Then everyone, to themselves, writes down on a piece of paper what they'd like to let go of from the previous 12 months and stuffs it in the man who then gets lit on fire and turned to ashes.  Then, everyone draws a name from a hat and we go around and say to the person whose name we've drawn, "The old man of the previous year bequeaths to you... (a wish, hope, etc. for the new year)."  So it's literally raising our hopes and dreams for the new year from the ashes of the old one.  That's got a nice Phoenician ring to it, doesn't it?

So, in kicking off the new year here at BSOTS, I thought I'd go down the roster and let the team know what I think should go up in ashes and what I bequeath them in 2014.  Do you have your own man to burn for the Suns this year?  Burn and bequeath in the comments below!

Robert Sarver

Ashes: Reputation as a cheapskate and bad owner.

To Mr. Sarver, the old man of 2013 bequeaths to you a clean slate and a fresh start with a revamped roster, a re-tooled front office, a re-emptied salary cap and coming soon... a re-energized fanbase!

Lon Babby

Ashes: That whole Lance Blanks thing.

To Mr. Babby, the old man of 2013 bequeaths to you the wisdom of errors past and the success that comes with learning from them!  Congratulations on your new hire!

Ryan McDonough and Jeff Hornacek

Ashes: The high bar of early success.

To Messrs. McDonough and Hornacek, the old man of 2013 bequeaths to you the fearlessness to continue to make bold moves - or stand pat -  in the name of building a champion in the Valley of the Sun!  It's your ship right now, gentlemen.  Sail it where it needs to go, not just away from where it's been.

Eric Bledsoe

Ashes: Back-up minutes and conditioning

To Eric Bledsoe, the old man of 2013 bequeaths the preparation and determination to seize a role as premier guard in the NBA.  Get those starter legs underneath you and you'll be blazing up and down the court all 30+ minutes of the game like the Dragon in no time.

Dionte Christmas

Ashes: His passport.

To Dionte Christmas, the old man of 2013 bequeaths a career here at home in the NBA after 3 years of bouncing around overseas!

Goran Dragi?

Ashes - Any lingering doubts about his place in the sun

To Goran Dragi?, the old man of 2013 bequeaths the knowledge that, just as sure as the earth is beneath his feet and the sun above his head, he is a bona fide NBA star and that as he goes, so go the Suns.

Channing Frye

Ashes - Poor health and poor shooting

To Channing Frye, the old man of 2013 bequeaths better health and faith in his shots - both inside and out!

Archie Goodwin

Ashes - Rookie mistakes and opening season jitters

To Archie Goodwin, the old man of 2013 bequeaths veteran savvy and the maturity to know when to let the game come to him... and when he needs to go after the game!

Gerald Green

Ashes - That last shot he missed.  And defense.

To Gerald Green, the old man of 2013 bequeaths a complete lack of memory of any missed shots and a commitment to improve the D part of his role as a "3 and D" guy.

Viacheslav Kravtsov

Ashes - The end of the bench blues

To Viacheslav Kravtsov, the old man of 2013 bequeaths the readiness to contribute on a moment's notice in games, and the swagger to play like a starter in practice.

Alex Len

Ashes - The burden of expectation and bum ankles

To Alex Len, the old man of 2013 bequeaths the freedom to play hard and be who he is on the court without the weight of being a franchise savior.

Markieff Morris

Ashes - Long twos and long bouts of disengagement

To Markieff Morris, the old man of 2013 bequeaths the grit and focus to play hard for every minute he's on the floor and the efficiency that comes with scrapping in the paint.

Marcus Morris

Ashes - Identity crisis

To Marcus Morris, the old man of 2013 bequeaths the faith in himself that he has all the tools necessary to be an excellent small forward for years to come.

Emeka Okafor

Ashes - A pain in the neck

To Emeka Okafor, the old man of 2013 bequeaths a whole body and a happy return to the NBA stage as something other than a large expiring contract.

Miles Plumlee

Ashes - His spot on the bench.

To Miles Plumlee, the old man of 2013 bequeaths a career as a starting center and the resolution to undertake the work of improving his whole game to become one of the best.

Ish Smith

Ashes - His frequent flier miles

To Ish Smith, the old man of 2013 bequeaths more than one season on the same team after holding down roster spots on 7 teams since 2010.

P.J. Tucker

Ashes - Earning the respect of the league every single night

To P.J. Tucker, the old man of 2013 bequeaths the recognition that without him on the floor, these Suns wouldn't be nearly as fun or successful because of his leadership in both words and actions.

Bright Side of the Sun

Ashes - Ashes

To Bright Side of the Sun, the old man of 2013 bequeaths the ability to let go of the past, whether it's the shame of last season or the dreams dashed in previous years, and the ability to embrace this latest incarnation of the Phoenix Suns fully and presently and to follow their adventures to a brighter and better basketball future.

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