With Christmas over, it's time for the Suns to get back to work. The schedule makers blessed the Suns with bookend home games around the holiday, and the team was in no danger of being highlighted in a Christmas day game, so they should be fresh coming off of time off with family and friends. Hopefully they weren't getting too fat and happy while tonight's opponent, the New York Knicks, were busy getting coaled up by the Los Angeles Lakers.
When: Wednesday, December 26, 2012, 7:00 PM local time (9:00 EST)
Where: US Airways Center, Phoenix, AZ
Watch/Listen: TV: FSAZ, Radio: 620 KTAR
The Knicks won the previous meeting between the teams 106-99 at Madison Square Garden on December 2nd. New York used a 35-22 second quarter to put separation between themselves and the Suns. Phoenix closed the gap to six at 91-85 with 6:24 left, but couldn't completely recover from the disastrous second quarter. Carmelo Anthony had a game high 34 points. Marcin Gortat had 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Suns. Raymond Felton dominated the point guard matchup with 23 points and seven assists versus Goran Dragic's nine points and five assists (foreshadowing alert).
New York Knicks: 20-8
Points per game: 102.6 (T-5th) Points allowed: 96.5 (T-12th)
Injuries: Marcus Camby, Raymond Felton and Steve Novak have all been, or still are, nursing injuries, but all are expected to play. Amar'e Stoudemire is not expected to play for a few more games. Rasheed Wallace is also out and Iman Shumpert is recovering from a long term injury.
The Knicks are coming off of a hard fought loss on Christmas day against the surging Lakers at the Staples Center. Carmelo Anthony, as he has done all season, led the Knicks with 34 points, but he also logged 43 minutes in the game. Four other Knicks played at least 34 minutes in the game, including Tyson Chandler who clocked in with 40.
New York is off to a sizzling start, but has tapered off recently with three losses in their last five games, including home losses to the Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls. The team has incorporated many new pieces around its remaining core players and has seemed to do so rather seamlessly. This is not the same Knicks team that ended the 2011-12 season. The additions include Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton, Ronnie Brewer, Rasheed Wallace, Pablo Prigioni, Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby. Amar'e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert return, but neither has seen action this season. The only remnants from last season's roster are Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, J.R. Smith and Steve Novak. Four players. That's it.
One of those players happens to be early season MVP candidate Carmelo Anthony, which is quite an important returning piece. Melo is currently second in the NBA in scoring (28.3) and actually boasts the highest eFG% of any year of his career (.531) thanks in part to blistering shooting from three point range (.437). Did I mention he played 43 minutes yesterday? Felton and Kidd seem to be the newcomers who have been most impactful, orchestrating an offense that was stagnant all too often last season.
Phoenix Suns: 11-17
Points per game: 97.3 (12th) Points allowed: 100.9 (26th)
Injuries: None, as usual.
The Suns are coming off of a savage beating at the hands of the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday night in what turned out to be the fourth time this season that the Suns have lost by more than 20 points. The final score of 103-77 wasn't really indicative of the Suns play, because it wasn't really that close. The Suns seemed more concerned with complaining about the officiating than competing in the game and the Clippers smelled blood.
The Suns look to recompose themselves in the getaway game before a daunting three game road trip to close out the year. The near future holds grave implications for the Suns, as they will either reverse their current trajectory and fight for a playoff spot or find themselves hopelessly out of the race in the next two to three weeks. It's already gut check time for the Suns. Unfortunately, recent indications don't adumbrate favorably.
After a stretch that provided a glimmer of hope on the defensive end, that spark is fading into the gloaming. The Suns are now mired in 29th in opponent field goal percentage (.471) and 30th in opponent three point field goal percentage (.405). The Suns are an average offensive team with no go to scorer that plays hideous defense. I think that sums it up pretty thoroughly and tersely.
What To Watch For:
Player X vs. Goran Dragic: Goran has been playing so poorly lately that I pretty much expect him to get violated on a regular basis. Dragic is now averaging 12.6 points (on 41.2% shooting) and 5.8 assists for the month of December. The Suns have played 11 games so far in the month. Dragic is supposed to be the team's best player. Flip a coin. That will tell you whether Dragic will score more than 10 points, considering he's pulled off the feat only seven times in his last 14 games. Throw in the nasty habit of picking up early fouls and it becomes alarmingly clear that he needs to get his sh$# together. Tonight sounds good to me.
Fireworks: The New York Knicks are on pace to set NBA records for three pointers made (11.5) and attempted (29.2). Despite launching bombs at such a prodigious rate the Knicks rank third in the league in three point field goal percentage. The Suns, as previously mentioned, are dead last in the league at defending the three. Tonight we will see how the matchup of best vs. worst unfurls.
Rebounding: Finally, an area where the Suns don't suck worse than their opponent. The Suns are an impressive -3.5 in rebounding differential (good for 25th in the league) while the Knicks are a lowly -4.2 (three spots below Phoenix at 28th). Both of these teams get owned on the glass on a regular basis. Maybe this could be a point of emphasis for the Suns to focus on in the game since the Knicks don't have a superfluous number of areas of weakness.
Tired Legs/Playing the Suns/Dignity: Not only did the Knicks play a fiercely contested game against the Lakers yesterday, but now they're playing the Suns. The legs might not be quite as fresh since key players logged heavy minutes. It might be hard for New York to get up for this game after the spotlight of a Christmas day matchup. The Knicks may be bummed about playing a back-to-back and missing out on holiday festivities. The Knicks may be disinterested in playing a team of the Suns caliber and overlook them. The Suns may be pissed off after the humiliating rout they suffered through last game. Any or all of these may culminate in an unexpected victory for the Suns.
Key Stat: The season high for scoring in a game by an individual Sun this season is 26. Both Dragic and Shannon Brown have hit this mark once. Carmelo Anthony has scored at least 26 points 17 times. Seventeen. I set the over/under for a Sun scoring 30 at 27 games. We are officially over. Anthony has scored at least 30 points 11 times this season. The Sun is a star, but the Suns have no star.
The Final Word(s):
I really like the dynamic coming into this game based on the way the last few days have played out for both teams. The Suns would definitely appear to have the advantage based on rest and intangibles. The only problem I see in forecasting a Phoenix victory is that the Suns just aren't very good
at all right now.
The Suns are just 3-9 against teams with winning records, as of right now, on the season. So while a victory isn't outside the realm of plausibility, I don't know that I'd give the Suns the same coin flip of having a good game that I gave Dragic earlier.
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