Grizzlies host Suns with ping-pong balls at stake

The Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies hook up in Memphis on Wednesday night in a game that could have major implications in the NBA’s jostling for front-row position at this spring’s draft lottery.

The Suns (18-44) and Grizzlies (18-41) were two of five teams who began play Tuesday tied for the fewest wins in the league. Orlando (18-42), Atlanta (18-43) and Sacramento (18-42) were the others.

The Suns have the second-hardest remaining schedule among the five, with their 20 remaining opponents having a cumulative .534 winning percentage. Only the Hawks (.547) have a tougher remaining slate.

Among Phoenix’s final 20 opponents, however, are all four other members of the 18-win club. The Suns will play another — Atlanta — on the road Sunday.

Not surprisingly, the Suns and Grizzlies have played three competitive games this season, with the contests having been decided by a total of 15 points. The home team has won all three, with Phoenix holding a 2-1 season-series edge.

Season series is not a tiebreaker in determining lottery position. Teams split the designated ping pong balls in the case of a tie, with a coin flip used to determine the fate of the one extra ball if necessary.

Both teams will take 10-game losing streaks into Wednesday’s head-to-head, which is a rematch of the Grizzlies’ 120-109 home victory Jan. 29.

That happens to be the last time Memphis won a game.

The Suns started two recent high draft picks (Dragan Bender and Devin Booker) and played one (Josh Jackson) prominently off the bench in their 125-116 loss at New Orleans on Monday night. They combined for 69 of the 116 points.

Another highly regarded prospect, guard Tyler Ulis, has fallen out of favor, having scored a total of two points in his last seven games while fighting a back issue.

Suns coach Jay Triano insists the club remains committed to the 22-year-old who has not made a 3-point shot since Feb. 2, a stretch of nine games.

“The way this game is trending right now, you better be able to make a 3 or you better be a real pest on the defensive end of the floor,” Triano assessed of the career 26.1 percent 3-point shooter. “I think he’s got the ability to do both of those.”

The Suns likely will have two first-round picks this June, and possibly three. Other than their own selection, they will get Miami’s first-round pick if it falls outside the top seven, and Milwaukee’s first-rounder if it lands within picks 11-16.

Memphis, which hasn’t had a pick higher than No. 12 since taking Hasheem Thabeet in 2009, has already dealt its 2019 first-round pick to Boston. So this year’s selection carries more weight than most.

The Grizzlies also had no first-round pick last June, then plucked Ivan Rabb early in the second round. The 21-year-old played in only four of the team’s first 42 games, but has gotten into 14 of the last 17, scoring in double figures three times and recording his first NBA double-double (10 points, 11 rebounds) earlier this month against Atlanta.

Interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff assured this week, despite the fact that young guys such as Rabb are getting more playing time, his team hasn’t given up on the season.

“We haven’t been a group that’s laid down,” he boasted after a competitive effort in a 109-98 loss at Boston on Monday night. “We’ve been a group of guys that have continued to fight.”