Healthy Conley to lead hot Grizzlies against Suns

PHOENIX — Memphis point guard Mike Conley in back in form and so are the Grizzlies, who have won five of their last six and already have won twice in Utah this season.

Conley had a season-high 28 points in a 110-100 victory in Utah on Friday, and the Grizzlies will bring a three-game winning streak into Phoenix for the second of three meetings between the two Sunday.

The Suns, meanwhile, are looking to regain that first-game feeling, having lost seven in a row since beating Dallas 121-100 in the season opener. Memphis won by 21 points when the teams met Oct. 27.

After missing all but 12 games a year ago because of a heel injury that required surgery, Conley appears to be at the top of his game.

He added five assists, five rebounds, a steal and zero turnovers while making 11-of-13 free throws in 33 minutes Friday, arguably his most complete game of the season.

Not that he is feeling satisfied.

“Some timing is still off a bit with the shot and the legs and getting the body back together, but tonight’s game as opposed to the first time we played them is night and day,” Conley told reporters. The Grizzlies beat Utah 92-84 in their first meeting Oct. 22.

Center Marc Gasol, who had 19 points and eight rebounds when the Grizzlies beat the Suns 117-96 last week, told reporters Conley’s return has been seamless … as expected.

“We read basketball the same way,” Gasol said. “He sees the same angles that I see. Once we look at each other, we know what each other should do.”

Conley had not scored more than 28 points since putting up 35 against San Antonio in a 110-108 victory on April 22, 1017 in Game 4 of a first-round playoff series.

“We just play the game the right way,” Conley told reporters about the chemistry he feels with long-time teammate Gasol.

The two are in their 11th season together.

“It’s easy to come back when you have a guy like that who knows where you need the ball and gets the best opportunity for your team to score,” he added.

Memphis (5-2) has used its quickness to pester opponents into a 45.7 percent shooting from the field. The Grizzlies also are second in the league in steals with almost 11 a game and are plus-five in turnovers a game, the best ratio in the league.

“For us, it starts on the defensive end of the floor,” Grizzlies coach J.B. Bickerstaff told reporters.

“We feel like if we do what the things do well defensively, it puts a ton of pressure on people. You end up with them digging a hole, and they have to work their way out of the hole for a whole game.”

The Suns are on the other end of the spectrum through eight games. Opponents are shooting 51.1 percent from the field, and the Suns are minus-14 in point differential, lowest in the league.

Devin Booker had 18 points in a 107-98 home loss to Toronto on Friday, his first game back after missing three with a strained left hamstring. The Suns led at half for only the second this season but were undone by a 14-4 Raptors’ spurt to open the fourth quarter.

Point guard Isaiah Canaan had a season-high 19 points his return to the lineup after missing one gamer with an ankle injury.

“We had a stretch in the fourth quarter that we couldn’t really handle the physicality, their length, their size,” Suns coach Igor Kokoskov said. “We were just tired. We looked tired. We were on our heels instead of being aggressive and attacking

“We have to do a better job just in understanding, ‘What I have to do individually to be in a better shape?”‘

Rookie center Deandre Ayton had 17 points and a career-high 18 rebounds against the Raptors, his fifth double-double of the season and the most in franchise history through eight games.

Ayton, 7-foot-1, has 88 rebounds through his first eight career games, most by any NBA player in the span since Dwight Howard in 2004

“It’s a big part of our defense, finishing possessions with a defensive rebound,” Kokoskov said. “I am glad he kind of de-iced himself. It was extraordinary, and a great effort his part just to show presence in the paint and complete a rebound so we can run.”