Tonight, the 11-18 Phoenix Suns will take on the 16-12 Indiana Pacers in their first of a three-game road trip. The Suns are coming off a heart-breaking loss at home against the New York Knicks (minus Carmelo Anthony, Raymond Felton, and Amare Stoudemire), thanks to a last-second catch-and-shoot from J.R. Smith who somehow made the heavily contested, falling-to-the-side jumper to end a valiant come-back effort from Phoenix.
To make matters worse, the Suns will likely be without starting point guard Goran Dragic who suffered a bruised wrist, forearm, and hip after crashing to the floor on a fast break attempt against the Knicks. However, the Pacers are also dealing with the loss of one of their best players as well; Danny Granger is still sidelined from a knee injury that has had him dressing in suits for the last month and a half.
The good news for the Suns is that they seem to have found their identity as a team who never gives up and takes pride in their newly discovered defense. Not only that, but they seem to have found a good fit for their starting line-up finally, with a nice mix of athleticism, scoring ability, and veteran savvy in their starting five. But can the Suns find a way to get a much needed win on the road without their starting point guard?
When: Tonight, 5pm MST/7pm EST
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN
Watch: Fox Sports Arizona (locally), NBA League Pass
Sebastian Telfair vs. Lance Stephenson
Shannon Brown vs. George Hill
Jared Dudley vs. Paul George
Luis Scola vs. David West
Marcin Gortat vs. Roy Hibbert
UPDATE: Goran officially out
Guard @goran_dragic is officially out for tonight's game at Indiana and is listed as questionable for Saturday's game at Minnesota.— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) December 28, 2012
The Suns can't get hung up on what happened against the Knicks on Wednesday night, they need to put that game behind them and start over fresh and ready to compete against a pretty good and underrated Pacers team. The Suns need to come out strong and ready to play for 48 minutes...They can't afford to let themselves fall behind early against a good team in hostile territory.
If the Suns are indeed without Dragic tonight, which head coach Alvin Gentry hinted at yesterday, then the Suns will need some stellar play from Sebastian Telfair to lead the starting unit. Not only that, but the Suns will need Kendall Marshall to step up and lead the second unit in what will likely be the first substantial minutes of his NBA career.
Jared Dudley had the game of his life against the Knicks on Wednesday night, scoring a career-high 36 points in the loss. Although the Suns don't have a superstar on the team by any stretch of the imagination, they will need someone to step up tonight and once again provide that kind of scoring, whether it be Dudley again or someone else.
Marcin Gortat has been on an upswing of sorts after a few weeks of very mediocre play. The Polish Machine has once again re-emerged as a legitimate threat down low on both sides of the court, and the Suns will need his best tonight against the 7'1" Roy Hibbert. In their last meeting (which the Suns won), Gortat got the best of this match-up with a 23 point, 8 rebound performance, compared to Hibbert's 19 points and 7 rebounds. If Gortat can manage to control the glass and outscore Hibbert down low, the Suns should be in great shape.
Although the Suns have lost the last three games, they have never lost their competitive edge and can be a very dangerous team to play against. The Suns aren't a very talented team, but they certainly have a great deal of heart and fight in them, and could still win this game even without Dragic at the helm.
However, in order to do so they will need a total team effort on both ends of the floor. Plus, they will need someone to step up tonight and provide that additional spark for the team. The Suns must also limit their mental lapses and mistakes and capitalize on those of the Pacers. Tonight will be a true test of this team's character and resolve while playing without Dragic, and it certainly won't be easy...but I wouldn't count them out just yet.