The Suns begin their final homestand of the season Monday night when they meet the Grizzlies in a matchup of teams headed to the draft lottery.
It’s not a surprise that Memphis (23-57), which starts three rookies, won’t be headed to the playoffs. But not many in the NBA expected the same for Phoenix (44-36).
The Suns will miss the postseason for the first time since 2003-04 after this difficult season concludes. This campaign saw Phoenix continue to reshape its roster by trading popular players Raja Bell and Boris Diaw, star forward Amare Stoudemire suffer a season-ending eye injury and general manager Steve Kerr fire coach Terry Porter on Feb. 16.
Phoenix is still trying to figure out where things unraveled.
“It’s difficult to swallow, knowing how talented this team is and how many great players we have on this team,” guard Jason Richardson said. “Hopefully we can gather the same group of guys back next year and try to make a run when we’re healthy, but it’s very frustrating to know that we’re going home in a couple days.”
With nothing to play for, coach Alvin Gentry has opted to rest his veterans and give his younger players some more action—a plan he intends to follow for the final two games. The Suns used rookies Goran Dragic and Robin Lopez extensively in a 110-97 win at Minnesota on Saturday.
Dragic had eight points on 3-of-11 shooting and eight assists in 26 minutes. Lopez also logged 26 minutes and finished with six points and 11 rebounds.
“I’m happy with Goran,” Gentry said. “He didn’t shoot the ball well tonight, but he had eight assists. I thought Robin did a good job controlling the paint and protecting the basket for us. It’s just unfortunate for him that he doesn’t have a lot of minutes this year.”
Memphis will play its final road game as it nears the end of its third straight season out of the playoffs. The Grizzlies have used young players all season, and the most impressive has been high-scoring guard O.J. Mayo.
Mayo, the third overall selection in last year’s draft, leads all rookies with an 18.4 scoring average. He and Rudy Gay each scored 20 points last Friday in a 106-89 win over the Suns, who had won the first two meetings with Memphis this season.
Memphis finished with its third-lowest point total of the season in a 92-75 loss at the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. Mayo scored a team-high 20.
The Grizzlies have lost five straight at Phoenix.