No team has averaged more points than the Phoenix Suns since the 2002-03 season, a fact that former Suns assistant Marc Iavaroni is well aware of.
Since Iavaroni took over the Memphis Grizzlies last season, he's had a different - and decidedly unpleasant - view of the run-and-gun Phoenix offense.
The Suns averaged more points against Memphis than they did against any other Western Conference team last season, a trend they'll try to continue Monday as they look for their ninth straight win over the visiting Grizzlies.
Phoenix scored 103.7 points per game from 2002-03 to 2006-07, when Iavaroni built his reputation as one of the NBA's top offensive assistants under head coach Mike D'Antoni. Iavaroni left for Memphis prior to the 2007-08 season, but the Suns remained in great shape. They scored 110.1 ppg, the fifth-best average in the league in the past 13 years.
But Phoenix (5-2) took it to a different level against the Grizzlies in Iavaroni's first year on the bench. The Suns put up 128.7 ppg in three wins over Memphis, their highest average against any conference opponent, and shot 58.0 percent in the three games, their best percentage against anyone in the NBA.
"This is one of the best offenses in the league," said Iavaroni after a 127-113 Phoenix win on April 8, the Suns' eighth straight over Memphis. "They have so many weapons ... on both ends of the floor."
D'Antoni is now in New York, replaced by first-year coach Terry Porter, and so far, Phoenix hasn't been quite the scoring machine it's been in recent years. The Suns are scoring just 102.7 ppg, but they're giving up only 98.1 ppg, nearly seven per game fewer than a year ago.
Amare Stoudemire's production hasn't dropped whatsoever - he's averaged 25.6 points while shooting 64.4 percent through seven games. Perhaps the best news for Phoenix, though, was the latest performance from Shaquille O'Neal.
With a tough stretch of four road games in five nights, Porter sat O'Neal Friday in Chicago, a 100-83 loss. The next night in Milwaukee, O'Neal made his presence felt all game. He had 29 points - his most since being traded to Phoenix in February - and grabbed 11 rebounds in a 104-96 win.
"At this rate, he's getting a day off on back-to-backs," Porter said. "He can have as many days off on back-to-backs as he wants if he plays like this."
While Porter has the Suns playing better defense in his first season in Phoenix, Iavaroni has the Grizzlies doing the same in his second year in Memphis. The Grizzlies (3-4) gave up 106.9 ppg last season - third-worst in the league - but they're allowing only 92.1 per game in 2008-09.
Yet after giving up 85.3 ppg in their first four games, they've yielded 101.3 per game in losing two of their last three, including a 100-90 loss in Denver on Sunday.
Despite two losses thus far in its four-game road trip, Memphis has seen some encouraging offensive signs from rookie O.J. Mayo. Since turning 21 on Wednesday, Mayo is averaging 26.3 points in his last three games while shooting 57.9 percent (11-for-19) from 3-point range.
Mayo had 20 in the first quarter on Sunday, but scored only 11 the rest of the way, foiled by a second-half defense geared toward stopping him.
"I don't think they took his shooting seriously in the first half," Iavaroni said. "They gave him some wide-open looks."
Despite the three losses last season, Memphis forward Rudy Gay averaged 30.7 points against Phoenix. Gay, leading the Grizzlies with 20.0 ppg, is shooting just 39.5 percent through seven games.
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