Less than halfway through a five-game road trip, the Suns have experienced almost as many ups and downs as the planes they’ve ridden.
They opened with a 17-hour flight delay and a loss to a depleted Bulls team. They then signed former Suns standout Leandro Barbosa and won in thrilling fashion at Chicago. Today, it was announced starting point guard Eric Bledsoe underwent successful knee surgery.
Positive news is in store, then, and nothing could be more uplifting than beating a Memphis Grizzlies team that has handed Phoenix two losses already this season. We look at the five things that bear the most watching in tonight’s game.
Has Message Sunk In?
Head Coach Jeff Hornacek indicated the recipe for the Suns’ previous two losses to Memphis is clear: they lost the rebounding battle (combined 31 offensive boards given up), Ed Davis went off (37 points, 23 rebounds in two games) and they scored just 91 points in both contests.
Will Phoenix be intent from the outset to change all those two-game trends? Whether they are or aren’t, it will be visible from the opening tip-off.
How Will Guards Embrace Bigger Roles?
Gerald Green, Ish Smith and the other Suns’ guards have stepped up in the past when injuries affected Eric Bledsoe or Goran Dragic.
Tonight marks the start of a potentially much longer stretch without the former. Will Green continue playing as well, if not better, as he has? Can Smith, Leandro Barbosa, Archie Goodwin and Dionte Christmas collectively help soften the blow of Bledsoe’s absence?
It’s one thing to do those things on a one-to-few game(s) basis. Now, they’re being asked to step up in the long-term, starting tonight.
How Much Will Grizzlies Miss Bayless?
Memphis traded former University of Arizona standout Jerryd Bayless to Boston. The Suns are undoubtedly glad for the move, having seen him swing the game in the Grizzlies’ favor with offensive spurts at critical times.
Bayless (13.5 ppg vs. Phoenix this season) was one of the few players that could catch fire from the outside for Memphis, something critical for a team that sees its low-post threats (Zach Randolph, Ed Davis) double-teamed often. Whatever their reasons for preferring Courtney Lee in the long-term, they could miss Bayless for at least tonight.
Will Someone Get Hot Off Bench?
Phoenix has had just one double-digit scorer off the bench in the four games since Bledsoe’s injury, and only one of them was more than 10 points.
A big part of that is Green’s necessary shift to the starting lineup, but the Suns still need either a stand-out individual performance or a collection of significant ones from their reserves.
Markieff Morris, who hasn’t scored in double figures yet on this road trip, could be due for a breakout game tonight.
How Much Will New Faces Play?
Recently back from a sore foot, Alex Len played six minutes at Chicago, then saw double that amount of action the following night at Memphis. In those 18 total minutes, the rookie big man snagged five offensive rebounds, giving the Suns a brief but impactful inside presence.
Leandro Barbosa’s effort at Minnesota was equally encouraging. The former Sixth Man of the Year didn’t waste time applying his speed or shot to the game, uptempo traits Head Coach Jeff Horancek will appreciate.
It’s too early to tell whether either player will play even more significant roles moving forward, but recent games and the continued heavy slate of upcoming contests indicate it’s worth keeping an eye on.