Center Of The Sun: Better Is Still Not Good Enough

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Well, thanks to the holiday and a flip-flop in the schedule here is the inaugural "Center of the Sun" for Bright Side of the Sun. How about that? This is typically going to be a weekly endeavor, but this week it will scope the past two weeks with the games, the highs, the lows, key stats, quotes, player of the week, grades, and a peek into the week ahead.

Let's get this started!

The last two weeks have been a struggle for the Phoenix Suns as they started off with two very impressive wins at home before dropping five straight games. The good news, that is not the worst losing streak this season, but the bad news is the team now has two five game losing streaks on the season already. Something only Cleveland, Detroit, New Orleans, Orlando, Sacramento, Toronto, and Washington can claim to their name.

Game Recaps

vs. Sacramento Kings -- W (101-90)

vs. Charlotte Bobcats -- W (121-104)

@ Portland Trail Blazers -- L (96-93)

vs. Los Angeles Clippers -- L (103-77)

vs. New York Knicks -- L (99-97)

@ Indiana Pacers -- L (97-91)

@ Minnesota Timberwolves -- L (111-107)

After that stretch the Suns (11-20) are now separating themselves from the pack, but in the opposite way that they would like as the sixth worst team in the league and the second worst team out West. Tough.

The toughest part of the week was losing four games by a combined 15 points due to late game execution. Outside of the game against the Clippers where the team just ran into a wall in the third quarter the past two weeks was more proof that they can compete with anyone, but can also lose to just about anyone.

Key Stats

In these seven games the Suns were outscored by an average of 98.1 to 100, which is only a margin of -1.9 PPG. That is better than their season average of -3.6 PPG on the season so far. They are fighting it out, but the issue is that they are losing close games despite being in them. No closer established so far.

In games decided by <10 the Suns are: 5-12

In games decided by <5 the Suns are: 4-7 (all of these count in the above column, but this highlights closer losses)

In games decided by 10> the Suns are: 6-8

They have a losing record in close, semi-close, and blowout type games right now. Seventeen of the 31 games have at least been within striking distance whereas 14 have been blowouts one way or the other. Who are the 2012-2013 Phoenix Suns?

The Highs

The season best four game winning streak extended into this week with two of the more impressive wins of the season. After falling behind by double-digits (again) to Sacramento the Suns stormed back and dominated the second half winning their first divisional game in impressive fashion.

Then with a Jared Dudley three late in the first quarter the Suns took a lead and never looked back on the Bobcats scoring the most points all season and enjoying their second best winning margin all season along the way.

Those two wins became a distant memory after dropping five straight since then.

The Lows

To be very specific the low was primarily on, well, Goran Dragic's lower region (backside) as he hit the deck from a questionable foul by J.R. Smith in the loss to the Knicks. There was not a lot of contact on the play, but Smith came from underneath Dragic as he glided to the rim and he took a nasty fall.

Practice Report

Here is what I reported before the team took off on the road, my Practice Report. Other items discussed were:

  • Line-Up Changes -- There will be no more of that as far as the starters are concerned as Alvin Gentry is happy with the way they are starting games, but he is very unhappy with the way they are closing games. Look for different wrinkles before he settles on a closing crew.
  • Dragic Injury -- Well, that was all in the Low's, but that injury caused Dragic to miss practice this week and the game at Indiana. All sore, nothing major.
  • Three-Point Defense -- The team has been about as poor as it comes (30th in the NBA) on pick-and-roll defense leading to bad rotations on three point shooters. As Gentry told me, you have to be a step and half quicker on a guy like Novak verse a guy like Kenneth Faried.
  • Film Study -- In film study the coaches are showing the team their mistakes, which are similar as the ones form previous weeks. Different players, different times, and even different spots on the floor, but overall the same result. Bad rotations. They continue to watch film, but no results to date to show that it is paying off.
  • Road Woes -- Only six teams in the NBA had winning road records last season as Gentry pointed out when asked about the difference in home and away records. He wants the team to find consistency in their game-plan and then, and only then, can they begin to win no matter the environment.

Grades

A look at three different players on the Suns for the week forming a good, bad, and a surprise either way each week.

  • B+ for Luis Scola -- Granted it has been an up-and-down season for the forward, but this was a return of throw-back Scola as he put up 33 points and 10 rebounds against Minnesota, only his 5th double-double of the season.
  • D- for Markieff Morris -- It was not the sophomore forwards week as he shot 0/7 from three on his way to 5 PPG and 2.8 RPG in seven games. He was very unproductive off of the bench in the wins, even less impressive in the losses.
  • C+ for Sebastian Telfair -- Bassy played well over the past two weeks despite having some situational turnovers that really hurt the team. He stepped in for the injured Dragic to the tune of 19 points and 6 assists while nearly upsetting the Pacers.

Player of the Week:

Jared Dudley - 18.8 PPG 4.8 RPG 4.0 APG 1.1 SPG

Who would have ever thought that all Dudley needed was to have Nash, Stoudemire, and Hill to get out of his way? The past two weeks are a prime example of the value Dudley brings to this team as a shooter, leader, and situational scorer on the perimeter. He had the teams first 30 point game (36 against New York) in 45 games dating back to last season.

Consistent scoring has been an issue for the Suns all season from an individual standpoint and in general as a collective unit.

Dudley put together six games of 18+ points in an eight game stretch. Invaluable as they went 4-4 during that time period. Scoring 36 points was a nice burst despite losing the game, but the fact that Dudley has seemed to take on more of an aggressive role in the offense 34 times over the past two weeks while still getting up 41 threes shows his versatility. Now it is time to show his consistency.

Previewing the Week Ahead:

Monday, December 31st @ Oklahoma City Thunder (23-6)

Wednesday, January 2nd vs. Philadelphia 76ers (14-17)

Friday, January 4th vs. Utah Jazz (15-16)

Sunday, January 6th vs. Memphis Grizzlies (19-8)

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