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The Phoenix Suns have lost 4 straight games, just after winning 4 straight which was just after losing 7 straight. Talk about an up-and-down team.

But the Suns are missing their best player, Goran Dragic, who leads the team in points, assists and steals while he recovers from a bruised bum after a hard fall against the Knicks and they are a paltry 2-12 on the road this season, including their last 6 in a row.

The Suns could sure use a steady hand against the Wolves, just in case the game is close at the end. Let's hope Dragic feels better.

Injuries

While the Phoenix Suns have had little to celebrate this season beyond good health, the Minnesota Timberwolves have to be wondering what it's like to field their best players all in the same game.

The Wolves have played 26 games so far, and only three players have taken the court in each: Luke Ridnour, Alexey Shved and Dante Cunningham. Only Ridnour is a regular starter.

The latest injury, just as Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio are rounding back to form, comes to their center position. Nikola Pekovic has battled an illness and is probable for tonight's game. Chase Budinger, Malcolm Lee and Brandon Roy (really? I am shocked!) are out indefinitely.

But the Wolves are pretty healthy at this time and should give the Suns a really hard time on their home court.

Offense...meh

The Wolves share the ball much the same way as the Suns, with only two guys averaging more than 15 points per game (Love and Pekovic). Both teams struggle to score. The Wolves rank only 23nd in offense (102.7 points per 100 possessions) while the Suns hover at 14th.

Surely, with Rubio and Love rounding into form, their offense will improve in time. But right now, it's hit and miss as they and their teammates figure each other out.

Defense first, for the Wolves anyway

Rick Adelman built an offense-oriented reputation after years with Sacramento and Houston, but this Wolves team hangs their hats on defense.

While the Suns languish at the bottom of the league on defense (26th overall), the Wolves are feasting. They rank 5th in the league, giving up just 101.6 points per 100 possessions.

Yet where the Suns are at their worst on defense (30th in 3-point % allowed), the Timberwolves are at their worst on offense (30th in 3-point % converted). This carries over to overall field goal percentage: Suns allow 29th-worst field goal percentage while the Wolves only rank 25th in field-goal conversions.

This game could be ugly, and low-scoring.

Explosions

The Suns are only 2-12 on the road, so don't get your hopes up against a good (and improving) Wolves team.

But the surest way to lose is to allow Kevin Love to go off on a 30-point, 20-rebound game as he is wont to do. Love is only shooting 35% this season while recovering from a broken hand, and had more turnovers than field goals in the 87-84 loss to Houston in their last game. But playing the Suns just might wake him up.

Andre Kirilenko has always been a Suns killer, it seems. Dating back to his Utah days, he was a pest on both ends of the court. Let's hope Michael Beasley can contain him. (sad chuckle)

Another Suns killer is Dante Cunningham, who quite possibly has made every single shot he's ever taken against the Suns as a Trailblazer and Rocket in previous seasons. The dude hits mid-range shots like nobody's business against the purple and gold.

Finally, I have this inclination that second-year player Derrick Williams will have a great game tonight. He's been in and out of their lineup, but will likely want to show up well against the only team from Arizona, where he starred in college.

Former Wolves growling back to prove themselves?

On the Suns side, is there a chance that Michael Beasley and Wesley Johnson will dominate this game to show their former employers up?

(chuckle, snigger, chuckle)

They probably won't get the chance, since the two players combine for about 12 minutes a game these days. In fact, if Johnson sees the floor you might as well turn off the TV since that would signal a blowout in the wrong direction.

There is a small, teeny-tiny chance that Beasley will decide to engage himself and make a few shots while giving up fewer points than he scores. If that happens, hold your breath and sit perfectly still lest you break the spell. And hope Alvin Gentry knows when to pull the plug before it's too late.

Nay, the former T-wolf most likely to make his former fans a tiny bit wistful is Sebastian Telfair. He is a much better player than the one who donned a Minny jersey because he stays within himself and plays to his own strengths these days: on-ball defense and off-the-dribble shooting. Alvin Gentry loves Bassy and trusts him implicitly. And if Dragic is still hurt, Telfair will get about 43 minutes of playing time to show off.

But you really have to temper expectations with Bassy. Even the Suns, who love what Bassy brings, would never classify him as a starting NBA point guard. He's a great backup, but gets exposed in big minutes.

Notes

  • The Suns have won 10 of 11 against the Timberwolves, including the last 6 in Minnesota
  • The Wolves have lost 6 games this season after leading in the 4th quarter
  • The Suns have won 6 games this season after being down 10+ points in the second or third quarter
  • The Suns are making only 25% of their 3-pointers in their 4-game losing streak
  • The Suns are 0-6 on the second night of back-to-backs this season, losing on average by double-digits

Takeaways

If the Suns beat the T-wolves, then we can rest easy and bask in the glow of a great game.

If the T-wolves beat the Suns, then the Suns are one game closer to getting another first-round pick next spring.

No matter what happens, Suns fans win.

I finish off the preview with a breakdown of Wolves stats and a few links.


FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
Kevin Love 15 34.9 5.9 16.7 35.5 1.2 5.3 22.5 5.7 8.3 68.8 3.5 10.3 13.8 2.4 2.3 0.8 0.5 1.9 18.8
Nikola Pekovic 24 32.0 6.2 12.5 49.3 0.0 0.0 0.0 3.3 4.2 79.0 3.6 4.6 8.2 1.2 2.2 0.7 0.8 2.5 15.6
Andrei Kirilenko 22 35.1 4.8 9.6 50.0 0.5 1.9 26.8 2.9 3.8 75.0 2.1 4.9 7.0 3.1 2.4 1.7 1.5 1.5 13.0
Chase Budinger 6 23.3 4.0 8.3 48.0 1.2 3.8 30.4 2.7 3.3 80.0 0.7 2.8 3.5 1.5 2.0 1.0 0.5 1.5 11.8
Luke Ridnour 26 30.9 4.4 9.8 45.1 1.0 2.9 32.9 1.8 2.3 79.7 0.4 2.4 2.8 4.4 1.7 1.3 0.2 2.5 11.6
J.J. Barea 21 23.4 4.0 9.4 42.1 1.0 3.2 32.8 1.9 2.3 83.3 0.8 2.8 3.5 4.4 2.0 0.7 0.0 1.8 10.9
Alexey Shved 26 27.6 3.8 9.4 40.2 1.6 4.8 33.6 1.7 2.3 72.9 0.7 2.0 2.7 4.4 2.2 0.8 0.3 2.1 10.8
Derrick Williams 22 17.5 2.8 6.8 40.7 0.7 1.9 35.7 1.9 2.6 71.9 1.0 3.5 4.4 0.4 1.0 0.2 0.5 1.0 8.1
Dante Cunningham 26 22.5 3.4 6.9 49.4 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.6 0.8 68.2 1.8 3.2 5.0 0.7 0.5 0.9 0.5 2.0 7.4
Brandon Roy 5 24.2 2.2 7.0 31.4 0.0 1.8 0.0 1.4 2.0 70.0 0.6 2.2 2.8 4.6 1.4 0.6 0.0 1.0 5.8
Malcolm Lee 16 18.0 1.8 4.8 38.2 0.5 1.5 33.3 0.8 1.3 60.0 0.9 1.5 2.4 1.3 0.6 0.8 0.4 1.9 4.9
Ricky Rubio 5 18.2 1.0 4.2 23.8 0.0 1.2 0.0 2.2 2.8 78.6 0.6 1.4 2.0 4.0 2.4 1.2 0.0 2.2 4.2
Greg Stiemsma 23 11.0 1.0 2.7 37.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.6 0.8 72.2 0.4 1.5 1.9 0.3 0.8 0.3 1.3 1.9 2.6
Lou Amundson 11 8.5 0.5 1.4 33.3 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.3 1.2 23.1 1.0 1.4 2.4 0.1 0.5 0.5 0.5 1.1 1.2


Suns vs Timberwolves coverage

Canis Hoopus




Minnesota Timberwolves 111, Phoenix Suns 107 Remember the goodwill the Phoenix Suns temporarily built up with a four-game winning streak heading into last Friday’s showdown against the Portland...

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Back in 1979 when the NBA and ABA merged they instilled the ability to gain more points for a shot made from further out. The level of difficulty is obviously there for longer shots so naturally the extra point is earned.

The longest shot in the league and the closest shot are arguably the most important throughout a game in terms of creating momentum and ending it, which has been the root of the Phoenix Suns problems this season.

From my philosophy you take away the paint. Then you close out and contest. What has been hurting is us is that they (the three-point shots) have been so wide open and our rotations have been bad at times. Teams live and die by the three and we want to make them live in-between. -- Forward Jared Dudley on three-point shots

This season the teams that have made the three with consistency, and even more importantly, defend it with the same vigor have been successful.

Right now of the sixteen potential playoff teams (based on today's standings) there are 10 teams in the Top 15 in three-point makes, 9 in defending the three-point line, and 12 in three-point differential. The three-point line is not the defining factor in a playoff team, there are far too many intangibles that go into that formula, but it is clearly an important element in winning the game-by-game battles that lead a team to the playoffs.

Of those teams the Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, Atlanta Hawks, and Brooklyn Nets are in the Top 15 in all of those "three-point factors."

For the Suns in particular the three-point shot has been a barometer of their success. The team has won the battle beyond the arc in 12 games this season (tying three times as well) showing the importance to this team. During the seven game losing streak that was a major contributor to the lack of success.

The team is 11-18 by the way.

Numbers do not lie. The team is 18th in the league in makes (191), opponent makes (205), and differential (-14) proving that middle of the pack mentality that the Suns have adopted statistically this season.

In wins the Suns are making 2.09 more threes than their opponent per game and almost two more threes a game. On paper that is simplistic, but in wins the team is scoring 104.1 and they are scoring 93.17 per game in losses. Those missing three pointers are six points lost leading to losses rather than victories.

Wins
Suns Opponents
2 4
12 10
6 9
7 7
7 5
11 13
6 2
5 2
6 3
8 3
17 6
87 64

Made threes by the Suns and their opponents in wins

Those are fairly respectable numbers and if they can find consistency behind the arc on both ends then they can change their fortunes, but in the losses the numbers are right there to see plain as day.

Losses
Suns Opponents
5 4
5 9
7 15
4 2
6 6
5 8
5 8
4 9
6 12
6 8
8 12
6 4
8 4
9 7
5 5
5 7
3 11
8 9
105 140

Made threes by the Suns and their opponents in losses

How can that change? Rotations and fixing the ever growing issue of inconsistent defense on the perimeter are clearly the issues, but the issues seem to be different game-by-game. Some games they are over committing to the non-shooters, others they are rotating to the wrong spots on the floor, and overall they are making mental mistakes throughout the game.

We talked about that today, we need to tighten up our rotations and we got to know personnel of who we are rotating to. What we ask them to do is very, very simple. We have to make sure we execute that. We have to make sure that if I am rotating out to (Steve) Novak that I get there maybe a step and a half earlier than as opposed to a Kenneth Faried. -- Alvin Gentry on the rotations

The team is watching film and seeing different issues every game. They are the type of employees that show up late one day, then take too many breaks the next, and then give a lackluster effort on top of it. When the manager goes to assess the poor performance, what do they point out?

That is the thing we talked about in the film session. We can't come in and show the same mistakes over, and over, and over again being committed by different people. We have to show these mistakes and then next week it has to be something else that we are showing that we are trying to correct. -- Gentry on the miscues

Well Monday you were late, Wednesday you took too many breaks, and then Thursday you were not engaged leading to an overall bad week come Friday. That is the position Gentry is in right now as they constantly watch film on this and yet the results are the same. It is not always Shannon Brown, or Jared Dudley, or just one player making the mistakes, but it is someone new in a new way every game. The side screen-and-roll has been a death knell for the team.

The team is giving up 1.173 PPP (points per possession) on pick-and-roll situations in man defense. With that they are 30th in the league (that has 30 teams) and 60.1% shooting from the field. A lot of those shots are threes off of the poor rotations.

As Jay-Z so eloquently stated, "difficult takes a day, impossible takes a week." On what level is are the Suns issues then? Are they just difficult or impossible? Are they fixable in a day, a week, a season, or more?

In the past five years -- when led by Steve Nash and Channing Frye albeit, the Suns were around the top of the league in three-point differential getting teams out of their normal routine and rushing threes. Now they are on the other end of that style.

The defensive scheme may be simple, but the group is simply not getting it and because of that they are struggling to win games behind the three-point line that is becoming crucial for good teams to be great teams.

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Goran Dragic's injury has come at a bad time for those fans who want to watch the Suns win games. With Dragic at the helm, the Suns are very steady in the closing minutes and find ways to get easy scores. Without him, the Suns are just as likely to turn the ball over as they are to score. When you do that, your chances of winning go in the toilet.

In the last two games, the Suns have held a fourth quarter lead against a winning team (90-86 over Knicks, 83-81 over Pacers) only to lose.

After taking late leads at the 5:19 mark of each game, the Suns scored on only 7 of 24 possessions (5 field goals, 2 trips to the line) while committing 7 killer turnovers for an overall 29% conversion rate. Not surprisingly, they got outscored 29-15 by the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers in those closing minutes.

Compare that to a 47% conversion rate on late-game possessions in the 6 prior close games (decided by three points or less), with only 4 turnovers in 63 chances, when Dragic is at the helm and the last two games look even worse. That kind of conversion rate would have been won these games.

Let's look at the Pacers and Knicks games in more detail.

Pacers game: In the final 5:19 after taking a 2-point lead, the Suns made only 3 of 11 shots with 3 turnovers to 1 assist while the Pacers outscored the Suns 16-8 on the back of 14 free throw attempts and 0 turnovers. Sebastian Telfair, who otherwise had an excellent game, went 1-5 with a turnover while Luis Scola had 2 turnovers and committed 2 personal fouls. The Suns only attempted one shot at the rim during this run vs. 10 jumpers.

Knicks game: In the final 5:19 after taking a 4-point lead, the Suns made only 2 of 6 shots with 4 turnovers to 2 assists while the Knicks outscored the Suns 13-7 on the back of 5-for-9 shooting against only 1 turnover. Yes, this was the JR Smith game in which he made 2 tightly contested jumpers to score the Knicks last 4 points in the final 30 seconds.

Failure in late-game execution without their starting PG Goran Dragic has killed the team. Amid all the failings of the team so far this year, late-game execution has not been one of those failings. In fact, the Suns have done well at the end of games. Sure, they have missed a few gimmes in closing seconds and conversely have allowed back-breaking contested jump shots but that's it. The Suns misses were good shots while they have been killed by bad ones.

Before Dragic hurt his tailbone on a bad foul, the Suns were 3-2 in games decided by three points or less in regulation with another three going to overtime where the Suns won 1 of 3.

How was the Suns' execution in those?

  • Portland, Dec 22: In the final 6:49 after taking a 1-point lead, the Suns made 5 of 12 shots with 1 turnover to 5 assists, but Portland outscored the Suns 14-10 by making 5 of 9 shots, including both of their 3-pt attempts. Dragic missed his only two shots attempts but did have 1 assist to 0 turnovers.
  • Memphis, Dec 12: In the final 5:43 of a tie game, the Suns scored on only 3 of 9 possessions (two baskets, one trip to the line vs. 2 turnovers) but outscored Memphis 6-4 by holding them to 2 of 6 shooting with 2 turnovers of their own. Dragic made the game-winning shot, a twisting layup amongst three defenders with no time left.
  • Dallas, Dec 6: In the final 5:30 with Dallas holding an 10-point lead, the Suns scored on 11 of 16 possessions (7 baskets, 4 trips to the line vs. 1 turnover) and outscored Dallas 23-16, only to lose on Mayo's step-back contested jumpshot. Telfair and Dragic played together in those final minutes, scoring or assisting on 6 of 11 scoring trips.
  • Philadelphia, Nov 25: In the final 6:00 with Sixers holding a 7-point lead, the Suns scored on 7 of 13 possessions (6 baskets, 1 trip to the line vs. 0 turnovers) and outscored Philly 14-10. But Beasley missed a tying layup attempt in the final seconds and Philly closed out the win.
  • New Orleans, Nov 23: In the final 5:40 of regulation plus 5 minutes of OT with the Suns holding an 11-point lead, the Suns scored on only 7 of their last 19 possessions (5 baskets, 2 trips to the line vs. 0 turnovers), and were outscored by Orlando's hot shooting 23-15. Luckily, Orlando's run started with the Suns holding an 11 point lead. Dragic scored or assisted on 4 of those 7 possessions with committing any turnovers.

I could go on, but you get the gist.

The Suns have had a lot of failings and head-shaking moments. But even the darkest-hearted Suns fan has to admit that the Suns have played a lot of exciting, close games.

In close games, the Suns have been protective of the ball and pretty successful on offense in the closing minutes. Sure, the Suns don't have a "closer" but Gentry and Dragic have done a reputable job getting buckets in closing minutes without turning the ball over.

In those prior 6 close contests decided by three points or less or in overtime, the Suns scored on 33 of 69 possessions (47% conversion rate) with just a small handful of turnovers littered in those 69 possessions. The Suns won 4 of 7 tight games overall, with the three losses being those the Suns were fighting back from larger deficits only to make the game close at the end.

But in the last two games (both losses), the Suns scored on only 7 of 24 possessions (29% conversion rate) with as many turnovers as scores.

Killer.

Let's hope Goran Dragic's butt feels better tonight against Minnesota.

Another late lead thrown away. Another road game lost. The Phoenix Suns fell to the Indiana Pacers 97-91 on Friday night in a game they should have won. This season has been marked by long streaks,...

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