If it can be said that a 6-9 team is on a hot streak, then the Phoenix Suns appear to be on the verge of one. Tonight, the Suns will look to extend their road game winning streak to three when they take on the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center at 6:30pm MST.
The Phoenix Suns lost the first two games of their current road trip to the San Antonio Spurs without Manu Gilnobli, and then to Chicago Bulls without Derrick Rose. But just when it looked like all hope was lost, the Suns came back to life with two promising, consecutive road wins against the New York Knicks and the Boston Celtics, and now sit at 2-2 over the last four games. The Suns have now turned what looked like a very treacherous five game road series into what could end up as a winning trip, depending on how they finish tonight against the Dallas Mavericks.
Also, in what should be great news, Dirk Nowitzki will not play in tonight's game as he continues to sit out for what will be a four game hiatus to work on conditioning and rehabbing a sore knee. However, the last two teams the Suns played minus one of their star players they lost (see above), so the Suns cannot rely on this alone to help them.
Instead, if the Suns hope to finish off their road trip with a win against Dallas before returning back home to play the Toronto Raptors tomorrow, the Suns will need to keep their energy and intensity high and continue to play great defense like they did over their last two games. The Mavericks are still a dangerous team even when Dirk-less, so the Suns need to come out strong and keep the pressure on throughout the game.
Read on for more analysis after the jump...
Here's a look at the Mavericks:
The Dallas Mavericks will be looking for their seventh straight home win and their ninth consecutive victory against the Phoenix Suns tonight. Without Nowitzki, the Mavericks will instead start Lamar Odom in his place at the Power Forward position. Dirk was held out against the New Orleans Hornets on Saturday and Lamar Odom played very well in his absence, scoring 16pts to help the Mavericks win 83-81. Oh, and Vince Carter will also be sitting out tonight's game as well with a sprained foot...In case you wanted to know.
Keys to a Suns' win:
This is a winnable game for the Suns who can finish off this very tough road trip with a record of 3-2, if they can defeat the Mavericks tonight! How bad do they want it? Time will tell.
More Game Links Here:
A week ago at this time, the Suns were slipping into darkness. They had completely fallen apart to the tune of a 4-game losing streak as of Ray's writing of last week's 'Week in Review' post. A respectable start had degenerated into embarrassing losses to Cleveland and New Jersey on consecutive nights and a 5-game east coast trip on the horizon.
After an embarrassing loss to Chicago (without Derrick Rose, even) that stretched the losing streak to 5 games, 2-time MVP Steve Nash finally found his handy dandy headlamp and carried the team through the darkness. Coach Alvin Gentry switched up the starting lineup, by moving Channing Frye and Jared Dudley back to the bench where they previously shined, and the team rebounded with gritty wins on the road against New York and Boston. The wins were by no means pretty, but wins are wins. All wins count the same.
Did I use the word 'wins' enough in that last paragraph? It's a nice word. Can't possibly be overused.
As the Suns enter a new week, let's take a deeper look into the week that was.
Record for the week (January 16-22): 2-1
Overall record for the season: 6-9
Western Conference Position: 12th
Even going 2-1 this past week, the Suns lost ground in the conference (they were 11th a week ago). It's going to be an uphill battle all season folks, so strap yourselves in for a bumpy and expectedly unpleasant ride. There are a lot of teams in the same talent range as the Suns, and too many with more talent. Read this article by Paul Coro - beat writer for the Suns - for a great breakdown of the west.
Offensive Rating: 101.8 (17th of 30); Points per game: 92.9 (18th of 30)
As you can see, the Suns are no longer an offensive juggernaut. They began to fade last season too, but not nearly to these levels. Grant Hill is slowly regaining his legs, which are key to his offensive arsenal of jump shots and breakaways. Jared Dudley and Channing Frye have been completely healthy, but haven't shot nearly as well this season as last season. And remember, this is the same top-5 as the second half of last year.
Over time, the offensive rating should improve, but the days of leading the league in scoring are gone. The Suns simply don't play fast enough anymore.
Defensive Rating: 103.8 (20th of 30); Points allowed per page: 94.7 (17th of 30)
The Suns' defense improved again this week, against New York (88 points allowed) and Boston (71 points allowed). Only the Chicago game was a real stinker (whopping 118 points allowed). If the Suns are going to win half their games this year, they need a defense in the top half of the league. A healthy Grant Hill will go a long way toward that end. He really put the screws to Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce last week. Plus, Ronnie Price hounded Ray Allen into a poor night as well.
As you can tell from the offensive and defensive ratings, the Suns are a bit below average. Their 6-9 record is no aberration.
Game of the week: Suns 79, Celtics 71
The Suns played really good defense in this game, as Ray told us after the win.
The Celtics "Big Three" tallied only 36 points combined as the Suns played a stifling, ball-hawking defense that is foreign to most Suns fans. Sure, the Celtics are aging and their offense was discombobulated with Rondo out, but the Suns played defense with a ton of energy.
The game was so recent, let's just hit the link to the game recap and bask in the glory.
Stud of the Week: Steve Nash
While Marcin Gortat has been stellar all week, it's the magical return of Steve Nash to his MVP form that has made the Suns a winner these past two games. Nash is hitting that on-the-run-3 from the right elbow again and driving to the basket for twisting behind-the-head layups for the first time since... well, he hasn't hit those shots with ease and regularity in a long, long time. Makes me smile all big and goofy.
Nash's week produced averages of 20 points, 10 assists and 4 rebounds. Very nice.
Honorable mention to the inimitable Marcin Gortat, with averages of 16 pts, 13 rebounds and almost 2 blocks this past week.
Dud of the Week:
Channing lost his starting job, and no one was surprised. He's been so maddeningly inconsistent. Even when we thought he was breaking out of his shooting slump in time to go on a hot streak, he didn't. And he's not producing much of anything else, either.
Channing's week: averages of 5 points, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks, along with 3 fouls in 20 minutes per game.
Not many other duds, really. Unless you count Michael Redd, who sat the last 2 games. The team had a pretty good week, overall.
The team finally comes back home, and at worst it will be a 2-3 trip. if they can slip past Dirk-less Dallas tomorrow, I will rejoice. After that, the Suns host Toronto, hit the road to Portland and then host Memphis. Not a good sked overall. Better hope for wins against Dallas on 2 rare days rest, then lowly Toronto at home.
As a power forward who does not control the ball at the beginning of a possession, Amare is wholly dependent on the scheme and the players around him to get him the ball where he can score. Once Amare gets the ball in the post, or on the pick-and-roll, he scores it better than nearly any player in the league. There's a reason Amare is paid more than $16 million per year. He's worth it.
However, his presence becomes nothing more than a decoy when the guy holding the ball is Carmelo Anthony. Anthony took 18 shots to Amare's 2 in the last 22 game minutes - 4th quarter plus 2 overtimes. Oh, and the Knicks lost because Denver started triple-teaming Melo, who went 2 for 8 in the overtimes, while Amare's only shot came with 7 seconds left in a 6-point deficit.
To hear the Knicks' gamecallers on NBATV, this was no aberration. It's simply life with Carmelo. Anyone but Melo is now just a decoy. Sound familiar? Remember when the Nuggets were considered selfish and full of too much one-on-one heroism? That disappeared last February. Since Melo was traded, Denver has become a MUCH better team.
And now, Amare gets what he asked for. Well, not exactly I guess. He wanted to be the man in New York. He wanted to be Batman. And he wanted a few Robins around him. I doubt he envisioned the Robin that he actually got, in Carmelo Anthony.
In the fourth quarter and 2 overtimes of last night's nip-and-tuck game against Denver, Amare TOUCHED the ball no more than a handful of times. And he took 2 shots: one that drew free throws in the 4th, and then a meaningless 3-ptr with 7 seconds left in the second overtime with a 6 point deficit. That's 22 minutes of game time (12 fourth quarter + 2 five-minute overtimes), where one of the greatest scoring machines in the NBA barely touched the ball. He must have been double or triple teamed to deny him the ball, right? Uh, no. He was being defended in those 22 minutes by either Al Harrington or Nene.
It's just that once Carmelo Anthony got the ball, he was going to take the shot. And for some reason, he got the ball on nearly every Knick possession. If D'Antoni had visions of Anthony making smart choices with the ball, he was sorely mistaken. In the first three quarters (36 minutes of play), Carmelo Anthony went 1-12 on shots. ONE FOR TWELVE. So what does he do in the fourth quarter and 2 overtimes (22 minutes of play)? He takes 18 more, of course. Buoyed by three successful layups to start the run, he made half of those (9-18) and drew two additional shooting fouls. That's good right?
Not when Denver realized Anthony had tunnel vision and started triple-teaming him in the overtimes. They literally left two Knicks open on each possession, knowing Anthony wouldn't bother passing the ball. How could they know this? How could George Karl be so reckless with the game on the line? Oh yeah, Anthony played in Denver for 7 years. After going 7-10 in the 4th, Anthony shot only 2-8 in the two overtimes, and Denver won the game.
And before you blame D'Antoni for the 18 to 2 differential in shot attempts between his 2 stars, remember that Anthony did this same thing to George Karl for years. Once Anthony left, Karl now magically coaches a team that passes and shares like crazy. And before Anthony arrived on D'Antoni's doorstep, Mike's teams passed and shared like crazy. Who's the culprit again?
Which brings us back to the theme of this post. Two ex-Suns - Mike D'Antoni and Amare Stoudemire - thought they'd found their panacea. They thought they could step out from Steve Nash's (and Robert Sarver's) shadow and show that the Suns' success was really about them. And that if they could just get that meddling owner out of their hair, life would be grand.
But the problem with real life is that we humans make too many assumptions. We make decisions to fix or eradicate the "bad", assuming that what's "good" will always be there for us because we're the ones who brought the good.
It never crossed Amare's mind that maybe just maybe it could be worse in New York than it was in Phoenix with 3 WCFs in 7 years. He thought he could do better than being the #2 on a contender, living in a city that loved him and playing with a point guard who got him the ball every chance he got.
It never crossed Mike D'Antoni's mind that it could be worse in New York than it was in Phoenix with 2 WCFs in 4 years. He thought he could do better than a roster tailor-made to his coaching, than a PG who knew how to run Mike's offense better than anyone in history, than a front office who wanted to win despite a tight (yet, luxury-tax spending) budget.
Well guess what?
Mike D'Antoni might be out of a job real soon, and his inability to control strong personalities like Carmelo will severely hinder his future head-coaching possibilities. Maybe he actually DID have it pretty good in Phoenix.
Amare Stoudemire has already found himself mentioned in trades, because it's obvious to everyone that Amare + Melo will not bring a championship to New York. And since Amare is dependent on Melo to pass him the ball, Amare is the one who is quickly becoming the more tradeable piece. And with 4 years left on his guaranteed contract, Amare has NO say on where he might be headed.
Sometimes, you get what you asked for. Unfortunately, it's not always what you expected.