The Phoenix Suns try to complete their homestand with a 4-1 record tonight against the Washington Wizards (20-21). If the Suns win tonight, their 25-17 record would match their most games over .500 since 2010.

Over the past nine days, four former Suns (three from last season alone) have brought new teams into US Airways Center. Tonight, it is Marcin Gortat's turn to try to beat the Suns as a starter for a new team - the Washington Wizards.

The opponent

Homecoming week continues. Last game, it was Luis Scola returning to the valley after a forgettable year got him traded to the best team in the league. Last week, it was Kendall Marshall leading the Lakers into town. And then Shawn Marion came in with the Mavericks.

Now former Suns center Marcin Gortat returns to US Airways Center for a taste of Orange Crush. I know, that's not a regular nickname but it fits after the Pacers game, and the Suns are wearing those orange jerseys again tonight (reportedly). So, Orange Crush is the nickname of the day.

Anyhoo, back to the Polish Gazelle. His production for the Wizards is almost identical to last year. He plays 2 more minutes per game for Washington (32) than last season, and puts up 12 points and just under 9 rebounds in those minutes. Defensively, he's done well defending the rim (though not as well as Plumlee), surrendering 50% field goal shooting, which is better than league average in that area.

The Wizards best player, of course, is John Wall. Wall's shooting percentages are low (42% from the field, 31% on threes), but he scores at will. He takes nearly 6 free throws a game and total 20 points and 8.5 assists in 37 minutes a night. And Wall is still just 23 years old.

The Wizards second best player is 20-year old Bradley Beal, who makes 43% of his threes and scores 17 points a game. Factor in Nene, a resurgent Trevor Ariza and the Hammer, and you'd think the Wizards are pretty darn good.

Except, they're just barely okay. Their bench is awful, and their offensive schemes leave a lot to be desired.

"I don't like the position I play," Gortat said after scoring just six points on 3-of-10 shooting in the Wizards' 113-96 loss on Saturday at Verizon Center. "I'm constantly drifting more and more away from the basket. That's not my game. I'm capable of making one or two plays like that away from the basket, but I feel more comfortable underneath the basket."

Nearly 37 percent (84 of 228) of Gortat's shots this season have come outside the paint, which is much higher than his previous two seasons in Phoenix.

"I just think I have to talk to Coach and clear things up and make sure we are on the same page," Gortat said.

Where have we heard this stuff before, calling out the scheme to the media?

The Suns

Let's stay with the Gortat theme. This and later quotes from the Washington Post today:

Even as Gortat makes his return to US Airways Center on Friday, the Suns continue to appease the scruffy-bearded, 6-foot-11 big man from Poland. The Suns had scheduled a Polish heritage night for their first home game, but Gortat was already elsewhere for the festivities. Phoenix will honor the tickets of fans who paid to see Gortat play by allowing them to use those tickets to see the Wizards.

Good for the Suns, honoring those tickets. And, while it seems crass, good for the Suns to pull the trigger on a necessary trade despite having spent time and effort to set up that Polish Heritage night in the first place.

Gortat is certainly grateful for the kindness but he is also a competitor, so he has no plans of going over to the weight room to hang out with his old teammates, coaches and trainers. He expects to sit in that visitors' locker room with his Wizards teammates, focusing on what he most wants during his reunion.

"I just want to beat them. Quite honestly, I just want to beat them bad," Gortat said with a laugh, before explaining himself. "No hard feelings. I was never mad at these guys when I was leaving. It's part of the game."

This one I highly, highly doubt. Gortat won't be able to contain himself this afternoon. He's just too gregarious, and too good at laughing himself off. So while he talks a good "mean guy" game, I fully expect to see him ambling down the hallway when reporters are on the loose, cracking jokes and making fun of himself and others in a light-hearted way. That's just Marcin's style.

After spending a few months working with new Coach Jeff Hornacek and observing first-year General Manager Ryan McDonough, Gortat said he isn't completely shocked by the Suns' run.

"I'm not. They have a very good coaching staff, a very good GM, they have a few young players, rising stars," he said. "They have a great system. They have a great defensive coordinator. They're young, they just enjoy playing."

...

"There will be some emotions, for sure. I will have some emotions. I've been there for three years and I ain't going to lie," Gortat said.

The stats


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The lineups

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The key matchup

While the real key to the game is Goran Dragic and Gerald Green against John Wall and Bradley Beal, it's more fun to talk about something else.

How about the matchup of the new center Miles Plumlee (and rookie Alex Len) vs. their old center Marcin Gortat. Now that's funner.

Marcin Gortat would love nothing better than to score 20 points and pull down 20 rebounds tonight, to lead his team to victory over the franchise that traded him away. Miles Plumlee and Alex Len, who won the "fight for bread and water" in September, would like nothing more than to outplay Gortat in their first matchup since the trade.

The prediction

Marcin has promised to play great against former teams/opponents before, but has not consistently delivered. Yet the tipping point on this game is how great John Wall plays vs. the Suns guards. If Wall dominates and the the Wizards supporting cast supports him, then the Wizards can win.

Most likely, though, the Suns win this game by 10+ points.

Rookie Archie Goodwin needs some playing time, so he's going to Cali to get it. In other news, another McDonough brother has risen up the ranks of Valley pro team.

The Phoenix Suns have assigned rookie Archie Goodwin to the D-League Bakersfield Jam for the weekend. He will only miss the Suns game tonight, against Washington, and will meet his big-boy team for the road trip that starts in Cleveland.

Per Paul Coro of azcentral.com, it's just a weekend jaunt to shake off the rust and get some playing time.

The league's second youngest player, Archie Goodwin, has recently lost his spot in the rotation to 10-year veteran Leandro Barbosa as the Phoenix Suns go on a playoff run. He's played only sparingly and doesn't appear to have big role for the rest of the season, barring injuries.

What better to do with a 19 year old kid than send him to play in the developmental league for a couple of games this weekend?

Well, something better might be to send him off for more than just a couple of games. Goodwin needs to play somewhere. As the season rolls along, the team has fewer and fewer practices in lieu of recovery time between games.

But the Suns have never been big on the D-League, hardly using it over the past several years when the same situation occurred where a rookie wasn't playing much. Two games here, five games there.

The Celtics never used the D-League much either, when current Suns GM Ryan McDonough was in their front office.

Many feel that the best experience for a young guy is to practice with his team, build relationships there, and see how a real NBA team runs. If you go to the D-League, you're just playing in a different environment under different rules and it's simply a chance to get your legs again.

McDonoughs taking over

When Ryan McDonough took over the Suns last summer, he was able to bring along some family. His brother Terry, an NFL front office guy, got a job as a scout for the Cardinals at the same time.

Now, Terry has been promoted to Vice President of Player Personnel for the Cardinals.

If the valley is going to make it's mark on the nation in the next few years, it will be thanks to the Boston-bred McDonough brothers.

Now all we need is for brother Sean, a play-by-play announcer for college football, to get a gig in the area.

Father Wil, since passed away, would be proud as will be Valley residents when both McDonough teams make the playoffs in 2014 (one can hope, right?).

The Pacers are the best team in the NBA. The Phoenix Suns are just days away from tanking their season after the loss of Eric Bledsoe. Of course, the Suns proceed to absolutely obliterate the Pacers on ESPN to improve to 24-17 on the season.

The game started on the right note, with the Pacers for some reason deciding to play at the Suns free-flowing pace. The Pacers kept up for a while, but then the Suns began to pull away and held a 13-point lead at halftime.

That 13-point lead became a 17-point lead at the end of three.

Then a 26-point lead six minutes later, at 99-73 with 6:06 left in the game.

Then Indiana coach Frank Vogel waved the white flag and pulled his starters for basically the first time in the second half. To be clear, it was the Pacers starting unit, not their backups, that got blasted in this game.

For the second straight game, the Suns annihilated a winning opponent's starting unit in the 4th quarter WITH THEIR SECOND UNIT. Suns starters didn't even have to return in either game.

  • Gerald Green had 18 first half points, 23 for the game.
  • Goran Dragic finished with 21 points and 4 assists in 22 minutes.
  • Markieff Morris had 20 points off the bench.

First half

The Suns started hot form the tip, making their first four shots on exactly what they wanted. Two threes, a short runner from Goran Dragic and a oop from former Pacers Gerald Green to Miles Plumlee on the fast break.

The Pacers kept pace by making a number of midrange shots, or as head coach Frank Vogel puts it, low OERs. He dropped OER in the pregame press conference, which is short for Offensive Efficiency Rating. Who says coaches can't use advanced stats? Two of the best on the court right now.

The Pacers offense is not very imaginative. Post up (West), take a midrange shot, go for offensive rebound.

Within 6 minutes, the Pacers had a 19-17 lead. That's a 152-136 pace. Something tells me this won't continue.

And, it didn't. Shots started missing from both sides, turnovers increased and the Suns went on a 9-4 run to take a 3-point lead with 3 minutes left in the first. The pace of the game is still fast, fast, fast. Just as the Suns like it. When will Pacers go back to their winning formula? The Pacers were only within 3 points because of 4 offensive rebounds (to the Suns 0) creating second chances.

Still, the quarter ended with 59 points scored. Not at the Pacers preferred pace. Roy Hibbert played the entire first 12 minutes, as did Paul George (except for a few seconds). The Suns whole-quarter counterparts were P.J. Tucker and Miles Plumlee (minus a few seconds).

The most entertaining part of the last few minutes of the quarter was Leandro Barbosa going right at Roy Hibbert three times in two possessions. He scored once, got blocked (out of bounds) once and overshot the last one. LB and Hibbert shared a joke after each one. Barbosa played for the Pacers in 2012.

End of one: 30-29 Suns.

The Suns opened the second period on a 12-2 run to open up an 11 point lead, but then got careless with the ball and couldn't get any more separation from the Indiana second unit.

The crowd turned quickly on Luis Scola, by the way. After a tepid cheer when he checked in, the crowd started to boo him after a few "Scola" plays. I can see why the fans booed him. As an opponent, he's very frustrating.

Gerald Green came out on fire in this game and kept it up in the second quarter: 18 points in the first 20 minutes of play, along with 4 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal.

When the Suns lead got to 13 with Gerald Green's 17th and 18th points on a fast break dunk, the Pacers started to lose their cool. Lance Stephenson committed an offensive foul, and then Roy Hibbert drew a tech.

David West returned from an early wrist injury after scoring 8 quick points in the first to settle his team down. They went to him in the post three straight times, with him missing once and drawing fouls on the next two and then missing again. Gerald Green, though, proceeded to jack up two even-lower-OERs-than-usual and the Pacers had a chance to right their ship.

But Hornacek called a timeout to bring the starters back (along with meep-meep for Green) and opened up the lead even further on several great plays by Dragic, Barbosa and Plumlee.

End of half: Suns lead 62-49.

Halftime stats/notes:

  • Gerald Green 18 and 5 (versus Paul George's 14 and 4)
  • Miles Plumlee 7 and 5 (versus Hibbert's 6 and 4)
  • Luis Scola with 3 points
  • Suns shooting 55% to Pacers 48%. More aggressive than Pacers, taking the shots they want almost every time.


Which Pacer team will show in the second half? The one who thought they could hang with the Suns pace, but couldn't? Or the ones who can dictate pace with their plodding offense and stifling defense?

We shall see.

Second half

And, the second half started like the first half ended. So much for that Pacer haymaker, or sleeping aid. Suns started the quarter on a 10-2 run to take a 21 point lead before the first timeout was called.

Go Suns!

The Suns lead got all the way to 24 halfway through the Q before Indiana made a few shots (gasp, attempts inside 15 feet!) and pulled to within 18 before Hornacek called his own timeout.

At this point, the Pacers decided to get more physical on offense and defense to try to slow down the Suns. David West and George Hill drew fouls - the MO of the end of the half as well - but the Suns stayed strong and kept making shots.

Joey Crawford tried to insert himself into the nationally televised game at this point, making foul calls kinda like Leslie Nielsen playing the baseball ump in that one movie (which was it?).

George Hill became a one-man wrecking crew, drawing fouls on several possessions in a row and playing hounding defense on the other end. Goran Dragic committed his fourth foul in the process, threatening to get the Suns in trouble. Then Barbosa committed his third foul and the Suns were even more in trouble.

Ish Smith got to take a turn next on Hill. Somehow, Ish and Barbosa were able to keep the pace up and the Suns held on to a 17 point lead going into the 4th (96-79).

That's one punch the Suns survived already. Can they survive another?

Suns shooting 59% for game. 72% on threes. Against the league's BEST DEFENSE, Even if it's an off night for Pacers, isn't this something to behold?

Fourth Quarter

The Pacers started the 4th with a couple of baskets to cut the lead to 13. Paul George and Roy Hibbert started the 4th, ostensibly to see if the Pacers could make it a game.

But the Suns second unit stayed strong and built the lead quickly back to 19. If Marcus Morris would have made a wide open three, or Channing Frye had made a putback slam, the roof would have come of the building.

As it was, Markieff Morris made a three a couple possessions later to make it a 22 point game, and the Pacers called a timeout with 8:23 left.

For the second straight game, the Suns might be able to finish the entire fourth quarter with the second unit beating the tar out of a winning team's starting five.

BOOM!

Frank Vogel waved the white flag at 6:06 left in the game after the Suns blew out to a 26 point lead.

What was that Charles Barkley said when Eric Bledsoe went down? Oh yeah "They're done." By they, Charles meant the opposition?

Miles Plumlee talks about what it will be like to face his former team.

The Phoenix Suns had a shoot around on Wednesday as they prepared for their second nationally televised game of the season against the Pacers at US Airways Center.

Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee will be facing their old team.

Head coach Jeff Hornacek told the media he would like to stick with his typical rotation, but if it's not going well we could see them go to smaller lineups to pull Indiana center Roy Hibbert away from the basket (ed note: just like Dave predicted this morning!).

Here are some quotes from Miles Plumlee on facing Indiana for the first time.

Plumlee on what he learned last season: "The only way I could evaluate was by my personal growth and I thought I grew as a player and improved.  Everything else was out of my control and I was just happy to be apart of a winning team."

What he learned playing against Roy Hibbert in practice: "It helps a lot, just like it probably helps him against me. You know each other tendencies so it makes the game a little more interesting it's not a one-time matchup.

What experiences he took from being with the Pacers last season: "I think in college there isn't that level of post play. To see some of the best in the league and getting to watch them night in and night out helped me a lot. The stuff I'm working on here I know what it's supposed to feel like."

An otherwise quiet day from Suns shoot around.  That wraps things up; game is at 8:30 PM tonight and is nationally televised on ESPN. Dave King will be covering the game live at the arena.

If anything interesting comes from after Pacers shoot around I'll have some quotes from that in a little bit.

The Phoenix Suns play a unique offensive style that the Pacers will have to scheme to stop, but the Pacers have been scheming to stop the entire league this season. These two scrappy teams face off on national TV to see who can win that chess game in the alley.

The trade that shaped the 2013-14 Phoenix Suns comes full circle tonight. Last July, the Indiana Pacers supplied 40% of the Phoenix Suns starting lineup from the end of their bench in exchange for a backup power forward. Somehow, both teams came out better for it.

Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee, neither better than 10th man on the Pacers, are leading a playoff contender in the desert this season. Now they get to show Indiana their talents tonight on ESPN, hoping for a win against their former team.

Big reminder: this game is a 8:30 (or more likely 8:45) Phoenix time, after the early ESPN game finishes.

The opponent

Only the NBA's best team. The Indiana Pacers are a cool 33-7 this season, sporting 10 more wins than the Suns over the same 40 games. They outscore their opposition by nearly 10 points per game.

The Pacers best attribute by far is their defense, leading the NBA in fewest points allowed per possession by a wide margin: 92.8 points per 100 possessions. They are second in overall rebound rate (percentage of rebounds grabbed per opportunity), gobbling up 52.7 of all available rebounds. On the defensive end, they pull down 76.9% of all opponent misses, by far the best in the league. Once you miss, your chances are over.

On the perimeter, they give up the second fewest 3-point attempts in the league, and that's the good news for Suns fans. Worse news is that they're first in 3s allowed, and first in 3-pt field goal percentage allowed. In case that was too much math, that's saying the Suns won't get off many 3s.

The play at a very slow pace, so the Suns will be hard-pressed to get out and run. This game might resemble those east-coast road games, except the opponent is a lot better.

Areas in which the Pacers are #1 in the league:

  • field goals allowed
  • FG% allowed
  • 3-ptrs allowed
  • 3-pt% allowed
  • 2-pt% allowed
  • defensive rebounds allowed
  • assists allowed
  • points allowed

Chinks in the armor? Well, their own offense is only 16th in the league, and their offensive rebound rate is just 20th overall (both worse than the Suns). Their true shooting percentage is basically even with the Suns at 54.6%, which gives credit to 3-point shooting.

The Suns

For the season, the Suns have been able to boast a +3.2 scoring advantage every game due to their shooting at the three-point line. On average, the Suns score 28.3 points per game on 26 3PA, while the opposition only gets 25 points on their 26 shots in response (19 3PA + seven 2PA - because it's not like it's 3-or-bust on the other end).

That basically means that the Suns stake themselves to a three-point win just on their frequency of hoisting threes, if all else were equal.

Against the Pacers, the Suns will have to manufacture that +3 (or more) to have a fighting chance. The Pacers are #1 in the league in allowing fewer than 18 three-point attempts per game - fewest in the league.

At whatever total attempts, the Suns must find a away to make three more 3s than the Pacers to maintain that advantage. With the Pacers being the league's best defensive rebounding team, the Suns cannot expect to make up that difference on hustle and second-chance points.

The stats

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The lineups


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Former Suns starter Luis Scola comes off the bench at power forward, scoring 8 points and grabbing 5 rebounds per game. Not a bad trade for the Suns, who get 23 points and 11.5 rebounds per game from Plumlee and Green.

The key matchup

There's great matchups all over the court...for the Pacers. While Goran Dragic should be able to outplay George Hill, the other Pacer starters are very likely to outplay the Suns starters.

McDonough's Best Trade

Suns netted two starters and #1 pick for backup PF Scola

Please do not expect Miles Plumlee to outplay Roy Hibbert. While Plumlee might get his jump back, thanks to the nervous energy of playing his former team, he will likely overshoot his shots and commit dumb fouls as well.

Also, do not expect Alex Len to look very good in this game if he's matched on Hibbert. Hibbert is a max-contract center, the best defensive center in the entire game. Neither Plumlee nor Len have the experience to show up and play Hibbert to a stand still. Sure, Alex Len showed flashes on Sunday night of a very bright future, but his game will be inconsistent all season.

Most likely, Hornacek will recognize this and play most of the second half in a small ball lineup to try to force Hibbert off the court. Hibbert cannot hang on the perimeter, so sticking him on Frye or Morris would negate a lot of his defensive value because he will be 15 feet from the basket when Dragic or Barbosa start their drive.

The prediction

If the Suns can negate Hibbert with small ball, and they make a normal % on threes, then they can steal this game from the Pacers.

But the Pacers are the league's best team, boasting a stifling defense that brings offenses to their knees. Unfortunately, the Suns have poor offensive execution outside of fast breaks and drive-and-finish-or-kick, feeding into the Pacers hands.

I'd love to predict a win, but I can't in good conscience: 100-95 Pacers win. (you could consider it a small victory, in that the Suns are very likely to keep this game close. If you're into that sort of thing.)

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