Last night's game against the Lakers was an instant classic. By far the best game of the 2010-11 season. I don't care if you're East Coast biased and completely favor teams like the Heat, Celtics or Bulls (*cough*ESPN*cough*), that game was legendary. It's unfortunate that the Suns couldn't have come out on the winning side of things last night, but what's done is done.
Instead of having really any time to recuperate, with the starters all logging insane amounts of minutes, the Suns travel back home to face the Toronto Raptors. Expect this game to turn into a jump shot-fest, as is usually the case when teams are incredibly tired. And, you know, when you're facing the Toronto Raptors, who hold their opponents to an average of 48.2% shooting. That's worse than Cleveland and Sacramento, and only marginally better than Detroit. Yeah, it's bad.
That said, the Suns need to find whatever it is will propel them to a victory. I dislike using the term "must win," but the Suns MUST win this game if they want to have a shot at making the playoffs. I also don't like to make sweeping predictions based on one game, but if the Suns lose this game, we're missing the playoffs. I'm calling it now.
No one will fault the Suns if they come out shooting flat, playing minimal defense and just generally lacking energy. Everyone understands that triple overtime games take awhile to recuperate from, especially when you're as old as Nash, Hill and Carter (37, 38, 34). However, even with the excuses already locked and loaded, the Suns need to try their best to win this game.
With Toronto coming into this game losing six of their last nine games and sitting at a measly 20-50 record, the Suns should be able to pounce on this team, even with their lack of fresh legs. If the Suns can't find a way to come out firing against the second worst field goal percentage defense in the NBA, they don't deserve to win this game. But enough of the generalizations and whatnot - let's get into what the Suns actually need to do in order to win.
Step Up 4: The Bench
The Suns' bench needs to step up their collective game to the highest level possible. We know Nash is going to be tired. We know Hill is going to lose a step defensively for the evening. We know Vince Carter is...well, if we see less of him, I think we're all okay with that. But with all the starters likely burnt out from playing heavy minutes last night, it is the Suns bench needs to be the spark that ignites the team to victory.
Aaron Brooks played well in his limited minutes against the Lakers, putting up 15 points in 14 minutes and being one of the catalysts that got the Suns back into the game against the Lake Show. Lopez even put up respectable numbers in his 10 minutes on the court, netting 4 points, 2 blocks and 3 rebounds. If there ever were a time for Lopez to step his game up, it is now. Not just for tonight's victory (though that's necessary as well), but if this team is thinking about the playoffs at all, they're going to need more production from Robin.
Shut Down The Excuse Factory
If the bench can't get it done tonight, it will be with a hope and a prayer that the Suns pull out a victory. As mentioned before, the excuse cannon is ready and aimed to fire. "But they were coming off a triple overtime game that ended late last night," one fan might say. "Gortat and Frye played a combined 110 minutes last night, what else could you expect," (hypothetically) quoth another Suns faithful. "They were hitting their shots and are a young team, and when you let a young team hit their shots, they get confidence, and my knee was giving me problems , and we played in triple overtime last night, and..." Vince Carter
might probably will say.
It is the time of the season where excuses just aren't good enough. For the first few months of the season, it was the Adjustment Period. The Suns were getting used to Hedo Turkoglu and their remade bench and vice versa. When the trade with Orlando went down, it was the Adjustment Period Redux. Sometime last week, it was the Steve Nash And Channing Frye Are Injured Period (I know, great name, right?). But at this point, with a healthy roster and the playoffs barely in sight, the Suns have no excuses. Triple overtime, schmriple overtime.
Expect to see an intense first quarter and a half from the Suns, as the desire for victory carries their tired little legs around the court. But don't be surprised if the third quarter slump is even worse than normal. At that point, we can just hope the Raptors live up to their sterling defensive reputation (jokes) and hope our jumpers fall. If not, we could be looking at the harsh realization that this Suns team just isn't going to make the playoffs.