The Phoenix Suns really needed a win, but couldn't put the Pistons away until the final minutes. The Suns missed open shots, but the Pistons outdid them by missing free throw after free throw.

It was a sell out crowd on Star Wars night, but the Suns weren't backing it up with stellar play. The Pistons bulled their way to points just like we predicted pregame, and the Suns barely made enough shots to close out the game. Eric Bledsoe had his highest scoring fourth quarter since November (15 points) and the Suns now stand only a half-game out of 8th in the West.

The Pistons, #1 in the league in points in the paint, were held below their season average tonight as the Suns nearly held them even (46-40).

Much like the Wednesday game against Orlando, the Suns slogged their way to a basically a stalemate then started the third quarter on a 7-0 run before the Pistons scored.

Maybe Suns owner Robert Sarver came into the locker room at halftime again, this time telling them Memphis lost and Marc Gasol went home in a walking boot?

The run to start the third quarter ran up to 14-3 before the Pistons called a timeout and righted their ship with a 14-2 run of their own to tie the game. The Suns didn't help their cause with bad possessions and missed open shots.

And just like Wednesday night, it was a 1-point game late in the third. The Suns just couldn't find a way to pull away from a losing team on a losing streak.

But this time there was no 27-5 run. The Suns could not get untracked and the game stayed close thanks to Rodney Stuckey scoring 9 points on three touches early in the 4th (two threes and an and-one).

With the game tied at 82-82 with 5:51 left, the Dragon re-entered the game. But it was Eric Bledsoe's night to have the killer 4th quarter, with 10 huge points to give the Suns the lead for good with 3 minutes left (finished with 15 in 4th, and 23 for the game).

The Pistons killed themselves with terrible free throw shooting, making only 8 of their first 24 attempts.

The Suns tried to kill themselves with terrible shooting against the league's 4th-worst defense, but Eric Bledsoe carried the Suns to victory.

Goran Dragic kept the Suns alive with 19 points and 5 assists in the first three quarters (20 for the game as this was Bled's night). Markieff Morris had another good game with 16 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists.

Greg Monroe had a very frustrating game but still finished with 16 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists.  Andre Drummond finished with 13 points and 16 rebounds, but missed 4 of 7 free throws. Not to be outdone, Josh Smith finished 0 or 8 on free throws, and Detroit made only 10 of 26 for the game.

The Phoenix Suns started the game sluggish again, thinking that good offense always beats bad defense but forgetting that the other team thinks the same thing.

In the first 15 minutes of play, the Pistons had outrebounded the Suns by 10 already and held a 2-point lead. But then the Suns second unit took the lead, behind rookie Alex Len, the Morris Brothers, Gerald Green and Eric Bledsoe. The game was not pretty, by any stretch of the imagination.

The Suns Star Wars productions were better prepared than the Suns mental state for this game.

The entire first half was a slogfest of the Suns and Pistons playing to their strengths and doing it well. The Pistons had 30 points in the paint in the first half, 11 second-chance points and 8 offensive rebounds. The Suns made 5 of 13 threes and 9 fast break points.

Time: 7:00 MST TV: FSAZ With a pivotal three-game road trip on the not-too-distant horizon, the Phoenix Suns close out their brief two-game home stand with a visit from the reeling Detroit Pistons....

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The Phoenix Suns sit a game-and-a-half out of a playoff spot with 14 games to go. In their next six games, starting tonight against the Detroit Pistons, the Suns will face 4 teams with losing records. These are must-win games if you want to make the playoffs.

The Pistons come into US Airways Center to face the Phoenix Suns as losers of 12 of 15 games since returning from the All-Star break, giving up 108.5 points per game in the process.

But the Pistons could prove a tough matchup for a playoff-hopeful Phoenix Suns team that can't defend the rim. Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and the rest of the Pistons get the ball inside on most possessions where the Suns are indefensible.

The Phoenix Suns really need this win to stay in the playoff hunt, a game-and-a-half behind two teams that are winning at a much faster rate than the Suns lately. The Suns have won only 6 of their last 14 games as the playoff pressure mounts.

The Opponent

The Detroit Pistons are an interesting lot, and potentially a tough matchup for the Phoenix Suns. The Suns struggle by giving up too many points in the paint. Lo and behold, the Pistons are good at just that. In fact, the Pistons take the second most shots in the restricted area (ie. at the rim) and the fifth most just outside that, but still in the paint.

This will be a killer for the Suns, who allowed 44 points in the paint IN THE FIRST HALF on Monday night to a Brooklyn team who started 4 guards in their lineup. Those 44 first-half paint points were more than 75% of the NBA's teams average on a nightly basis over 48 minutes. Ugh.

Expect a lot of yelling at your TV over how many times the Pistons make a shot at the rim. They are #1 in the league in 2-point shots and #1 in offensive rebounding.

You'd think they are a winning team with that combination right? Wrong, actually. The Pistons have lost 13 of 16 games and are 25-42 on the season despite playing in the Eastern conference.

When they are not taking shots at the rim, the Pistons offense is terrible. They'd rather shoot long-twos than threes (29th in makes and %), their defensive rebounding is poor (25th), they can't make free throws (30th in FT%) and they commit a lot of fouls (21st). Their top two scorers are really bad decision-makers - Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings.

On the other side, the Pistons defense is terrible. They are giving up 108.5 points per game since the All Star break, topping even the Suns' ineptitude in that area.

Goran Dragic feels confident about this game, citing that it took two buzzer beater long-twos from Josh Smith to win the earlier game this year. The Pistons are 5-21 against the West this season.

The Suns

To contrast the Pistons' strength, the Suns are good at defending the three-point line but terrible at preventing shots at the rim. On the season, the Suns have allowed the league's 4th most attempts in the paint and restricted areas, numbers that have gotten only worse since the All-Star break.

Expect the Suns to shoot a ton of threes because the Suns are great at it while the Pistons are terrible at defending the three point line (allowing 36.6% shooting on the 21st most attempts allowed). In fact, overall on defense the Pistons are terrible and the Suns should be able to capitalize.

The Stats

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The Lineups

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Andre Drummond, their leading rebounder, is day-to-day with a neck strain.

The Key Matchup

The key matchup, I guess, is P.J. Tucker trying to make sure Josh Smith doesn't have an awesome game and carry the Pistons to victory again.

Otherwise, you could say it's Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic keeping Brandon Jennings from tallying a double-double by halftime, something he did in the first matchup this year.

Or, you could say it's Miles Plumlee, Markieff Morris and Channing Frye keeping Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith from scoring 100 points at the rim.

The Prediction

It will be a frustrating game for Suns fans, watching the Pistons feast in the paint. But in the end, the Suns will make enough shots to outscore the Pistons easily.

I'll call this one a 13-point win. Could be even bigger than that. The Pistons are just really bad lately.

In this week’s Throwback Thursday, I talk with Suns center Miles Plumlee about playing and winning a national championship in 2010 against Butler. “To win a title under Coach K is...

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At this late point in the season, good hard practices are few and far between. Getting needed rest to be fresh for games becomes paramount to drilling the schemes into the players between games with hard practices.

For the first time this season, the Phoenix Suns coaching staff posted the playoff standings in the locker room, showing the team that they are within 1.5 games of a playoff spot this morning.

Those standings are right next to Goran Dragic's locker. But he doesn't need the reminder.

"For me, personally, after every game we win or lose I always check the standings so I already knew how the standings are."

They all know that they've dropped out of the playoff situation in recent weeks.

"I think everybody checks that," Dragic said. "Even last game, we lost against Brooklyn Nets we checked the scores, especially Dallas and Memphis.

"We know Dallas lost tonight (Wednesday)."

The Dallas Mavericks lost to Minnesota on Wednesday night in overtime, pulling the Suns to within 1.5 games of both Memphis and Dallas after the Suns beat Orlando. The Mavs/Wolves game ended at halftime of the Suns game - a game in which the playoff-hopeful Suns were tied with the second-worst team in the East off a lackluster first half.

"At halftime, I said hey," Hornacek recounted. "If you think you guys are a playoff team, this is the time to come out at third quarters and you get after it and try to really take the game away. I think we were just playing the game for a half."

Dragic said they were told at halftime that Dallas had lost, a little boon to the team's spirits knowing they had a good chance to pull closer to the playoffs with a good second half.

"It was after our huddle," Dragic said. "Robert [Sarver] came in [to the locker room] and yelled 'Dallas lost, Dallas lost'!"

The Suns came out with a 7-0 start to the third quarter to create some separation, and then went began a 27-5 run with two three pointers at the end of the third before pouring it on in the fourth.

"We needed this win," Dragic said afterward.

Much has been made of the Suns' defensive lapses since the All-Star break. Before Wednesday's game, the Suns were giving up 107 points per 100 possessions since the break and were a bottom-five defense in field goal percentage allowed and points in the paint allowed.

Some of the regression can be blamed on the interior defense, never a strength of this team. But they have been a bottom-five team in points allowed in the paint all season with good results (39-29 record to this point), so that hasn't been the killer.

It's been slow rotations and missed assignments, leading to wide open jumpers and cuts to the basket. A growing problem can be the lack of practice time, which has to be much-needed for the league's least-experienced playoff contender.

"We haven’t really had a lot of practices, guys have been banged up," Gerald Green, one of the four veterans on the roster, said. "We’ve been on the road and it’s been kind of tough. At this point in the season, towards the end, it’s a lot tougher to get practice time."

Coach Hornacek agrees, but says he needs to balance rest with practice time.

"Yeah, this stretch here we only have two times in the last month and a half where we have two days off in a row," Hornacek said, "and both of them are off back-to-back games. So you give them the day off, and you can't really kill them [the next day] with a hard practice the day before another game. The schedule for us is tough right now. It's tough to have those practices where you're able to get the guys right."

Eight-year veteran Channing Frye doesn't worry about the lack of practice time. He channeled his inner Allen Iverson with a rant off my question on lack of practice time.

"Do you want to practice something and be too tired to play?" he asked in response. "Or do you want to trust in the players that we're going to be able to be rested. If you want to practice, we don't know how to 'practice light'. There's no light practice, we only have one speed.

"So, do you want to win the game or do you want to practice?"

For Frye, practice isn't the answer at this point in the season. Yet, the slippage on rotations is there and young guys need the reminders.

The Suns entered the season with, collectively, the second-least NBA experience in the league. During the season, they added veterans Leandro Barbosa and Shavlik Randolph but have since turned back to the young guys to finish out the year. Alex Len played ahead Randolph in the last few games, putting up 9 points and 5 rebounds in only 11 minutes agains Vucevic-less Orlando. Barbosa injured a shoulder, toe and wrist in his first two months as a Sun, and is now out for the rest of the regular season.

Inexperience needs good habits drilled in, and the Suns just don't have time for it anymore.

"Tomorrow, I think guys are looking forward to [a hard practice] a little bit," Green said of today's non-game day. "It’s going to be tough but at the same time I know it’s going to help us and get us better and we’ll be ready for next game."

Despite being 25 years old, young center Miles Plumlee is only in his second year in the league, his first as a big-minutes player.

"I think that plays a factor," Plumlee said of lack of practice time. "We're not the most experienced team. I don't think our habits are ingrained to the level that other teams are. And so, if we aren't working on it consistently those things can slip."

As for Miles, he says he's past his down period where he lost energy.

"I feel as good or better than I have for a lot of the season," he said, after putting up 10 points and 9 rebounds in just 20 minutes against Orlando. Plumlee has come up one rebound or point shy of a DOUBLE double three times in the last six games, despite not exceeding 26 ,MINUTES in any of them.

Plumlee and Frye both commented that the coach has done a good job of managing minutes and getting guys the rest they need.

But it all comes back to what Channing Frye said is the key to success for this young team.

"You can't be all stressed out," he said. "That's not how we play. We've been one of those teams that's just been reckless, out there just to make havoc of everything and not play tight. We just need to go out there and win."

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