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Grizzlies, riding nine-game win streak, host slumping Suns

Jan 14, 2023; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant (12) shoots the ball while Indiana Pacers forward Oshae Brissett (12) defends in the second half at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The short-handed Phoenix Suns will face a formidable challenge when they wrap up a four-game trip against the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday.

Memphis is riding a season-high nine-game winning streak, the longest active streak in the NBA, while Phoenix has lost 11 of its last 13.

Ja Morant is averaging 28.9 points in seven appearances during the Grizzlies’ streak. The star point guard had 23 points, 10 assists and arguably the dunk of the year in Saturday’s 130-112 win over the Indiana Pacers.

Desmond Bane added 25 points for Memphis, which is a season-high 16 games over .500. The Grizzlies certainly made a believer out of Pacers coach Rick Carlisle.

“That very well may be the best team on the planet right now,” Carlisle said. “They’re very hard to play.”

The Suns have struggled without a number of injured players, including Devin Booker (groin), Cameron Payne (foot), Chris Paul (hip), Landry Shamet (hip) and Cam Johnson (knee).

Shamet is expected to return Monday after missing the last three games with a sore right hip. Johnson could join him later this week.

Phoenix dropped a 121-116 decision to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday despite the efforts of Damion Lee, who scored a career-high 31 points. Mikal Bridges added 24 in the loss.

“I told the guys we’ve got to keep our spirit in a good place because when it all starts to come together, it can multiply,” Phoenix coach Monty Williams said. “We’ve just got to keep plugging away.”

Deandre Ayton returned after missing two games with a left ankle sprain and had 11 points and 11 rebounds, but the 7-foot center was 5-of-18 shooting from the field.

“He’s got to continue to play with force and attack people,” Williams said. “When he fades, teams are reading that. He’s got to understand that teams have that on the scouting report. When he goes with force, he gets people off of him.”

Williams was encouraged by the play of third-year guard Saben Lee, who scored 12 points in 13 minutes off the bench and could see more playing time against the Grizzlies.

The Suns will need a complete effort to keep pace with Memphis, which is averaging 124 points during its winning streak.

Grizzlies forward Brandon Clarke returned in Saturday’s win over Indiana and scored 11 points after missing the previous six games due to left hip soreness.

Ziaire Williams made his first start of the season and scored 13 points. Williams was starting in place of Dillon Brooks, who is listed as day-to-day with right ankle soreness.

The Grizzlies are also monitoring the status of forward John Konchar, who missed Saturday’s game with a non-COVID illness.

While Memphis has looked dominant at times during its win streak, coach Taylor Jenkins says the team still has room to grow.

“We’re not playing perfect basketball,” Jenkins said. “I’m just glad our guys are finding different ways to win, whether we’re playing with a lead or playing from behind. Each game has presented a different challenge for us and our guys have stayed the course.”

Memphis and Phoenix have split their first two meetings this season, with each team winning on the road.

–Field Level Media

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