Balanced Grizzlies try to cool off Booker, Suns

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The Memphis Grizzlies host the Phoenix Suns on Sunday seeking to win the season series and continue a strong January.

With wins in eight of its 11 games since the beginning of the month, Memphis has played its way into the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference. The Grizzlies ran off seven straight victories from Jan. 4-17 before losing two last week, but rebounded on Friday with a 125-112 defeat of Detroit.

Five different Grizzlies scored in double-figures in the road win, a statistic Dillon Brooks told reporters afterward was indicative of Memphis’ identity.

“We come in different waves,” Brooks said. “Jaren (Jackson Jr.) had his role, and I played well. Ja (Morant) came in and finished it. He had (16) points with (12) assists; we need him to do that every game, set up guys.”

Jackson scored 29 points and Brooks had 27. Both knocked down four 3-pointers. Brandon Clarke added 15 points and 11 rebounds, and fellow reserve De’Anthony Melton chipped in 14 points.

On the season, six Memphis players average between Jae Crowder’s 9.8 points per game and Jackson’s team-leading 18.0 clip. Morant, a front-runner for 2019-20 Rookie of the Year, is right behind Jackson at 17.4 points per game to go along with 7.1 assists.

The Memphis scoring distribution deviates significantly from that of Phoenix. Devin Booker ranks eighth in the league with 26.7 points per game.

Booker hit at least 29 points in five of the Suns’ past six outings, and at least 35 in three of the past four. His 35 points and 10 assists before fouling out helped Phoenix to a 103-99 defeat of San Antonio on Friday.

“I never have in my mind a point (total) I’m trying to get to,” Booker told reporters following the win. “Just be aggressive and make plays for my teammates and score the ball when I have to.”

The win was Phoenix’s first in San Antonio since February 2013, and keeps the Suns within striking distance of the final playoff spot Memphis currently occupies. Phoenix is 10th in the Western Conference, and its 19 victories on the season already match the team’s 2018-19 win total.

Phoenix is playing above .500 at 8-6 since it snapped an eight-game losing skid on Dec. 29.

The losing streak began Dec. 11 with a 115-108 loss to Memphis. The Grizzlies beat the Suns again on Jan. 5, 121-114. Both Memphis wins came in Phoenix; the Suns won the lone matchup thus far at FedExForum, a 114-105 decision on Nov. 2.

Second-year center DeAndre Ayton has settled back into the Phoenix lineup. He served a 25-game suspension from Oct. 25 to Dec. 17 after testing positive for a league-banned substance, then missed another five games with an ankle sprain. He has posted double-doubles in eight of 12 games since Jan. 1, including a 10-point, 11-rebound effort at San Antonio.

Phoenix will need a consistent defensive performance from its interior presence Sunday at Memphis. The Grizzlies come in with the NBA’s seventh-best 2-point field-goal average at 53.3 percent.

–Field Level Media

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