The last time these two teams met, the Phoenix Suns experienced probably their best win of the season to date by beating the (then) 15-5 Mavericks in Dallas 126-122 to improve to 12-8 on the season. The win was important because the Suns were kicking off a killer road trip, with upcoming games against Houston and the LA Clippers.
The Suns led virtually the whole game and left fans wondering if that win could spark a long streak of goodness. Well, the Mavericks win did spark a long streak but of the bitter variety as the Suns went on to lose six consecutive games after that, punctuated by two buzzer-beating three pointers.
The Suns have since found their footing by sweeping a three-game road trip back east, including a strong win over the 19-7 Washington Wizards on Sunday night and now come home to face the Dallas Mavericks before Christmas.
Two games ago, the Dallas Mavericks improved their playoff possibilities with the acquisition of Rajon Rondo from the Boston Celtics for a backup big man, a backup point guard and a backup shooting guard. Not a bad exchange.
So far, the Mavericks and Rondo are getting used to each other. Rondo, who generally can't hit a barn door with a slingshot from ten feet away, has been hit-sometimes-but-mostly-miss in the Mavericks five-shooter offensive scheme.
The Mavericks are built to score in bunches, and are nearly the exact opposite of the Houston Rockets in that their biggest weapon is the mid-range shot. As a team, they shoot 47.7% from the field on all shots, but in two games with Rondo they have shot just 43% (Rondo is 9-26 himself). They are 1-1 in those games, with the only win a 99-93 affair over a San Antonio team playing without Ginobili, Parker, Green, Duncan and Splitter.
See their shot chart, according to Statmuse.com
The Mavericks are the kings of the mid-range game, a slap in the face of analytics gurus with a nod to NBA days gone by. Remember, NBA teams in the 80s thrived on mid-range shots and scored more then than teams do now.
It will be interesting to see how long the Mavericks take to gel with Rondo in the lineup. Let's hope that takes at least one more game to be realized.
The Suns, meanwhile, have a more 21st-century shot chart predicated on threes, dunks and layups. They are 2nd in the league in three-point attempts per shot attempt, tossing up 3s more often than last year even. Part of that is that opponents are clogging the paint defensively, begging the Suns to beat them from the perimeter. So far, that tactic is working, the Suns are only 17th in overall field goal percentage and 11th in three-point percentage. Not scary.
What's totally fascinating to me is the difference between the Suns shot charts on the road (where they are 9-7, including 7-1 against the lowly East) versus at home (where they are 6-7, including 2-5 against the lowly East).
It's like two different teams!
On the road, the Suns are much hotter from the three-point line and lean to the right (when facing the basket), but at home they are hotter from mid-range while leaning left on the threes.
What gives? Isn't this the same team with the same players in the same scheme?
A look at individual players' shot charts shows that the bench - Isaiah Thomas, Gerald Green, Marcus Morris, Alex Len - actually shoot better on the road than they do at home, while Bledsoe and Dragic shoot better at home.
Let's look at the Suns shot charts year over year - last year's 48-34 team vs this year's 15-14 team so far.
You'd think with the same coach and 8 of the same rotation players, the Suns would like similar. But they DON'T. This year's team relies a lot more on midrange shots and has switched hot corners.
This switch is inherent in the one main personnel change: Channing Frye vs. Isaiah Thomas. The Suns are taking even more threes and making more shots at the rim this season thanks to Isaiah Thomas' highly efficient scoring model that matches Dragic and Bledsoe's.
But something that has nothing at all to do with Channing/Isaiah is that Marcus Morris has morphed from an analytics dream last year to a mid-range maven this year.
The ink blots haven't changed much, but the darkness has - meaning that he's not scoring from the same places this year as a year ago.
And even more fascinating is Marcus' shot distribution/scoring on the road vs. at home this year.
Again, the ink blots haven't changed much but the frequency of scoring is different for Marcus at home vs. on the road, and that's true of many of the players.
Okay, enough with the shot charts. Thanks for indulging me. StatMuse.com is a new service that I've been fortunate enough to get a chance to beta test. They've got a ton more to give - I just like shot charts.
This one's going to be a barn-burner, I think. And hopefully in the Suns' favor. The Suns play up/down to their competition, so they should be quite focused against the Dallas Mavericks who have been tabbed as an NBA Finals contender with Rondo at the helm.
Suns by 2 (on a missed three by Dirk at the buzzer!)
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Your recap of the Phoenix Suns' week that was, as well as a look ahead.
Perhaps it's time to bring the purple back to the Suns' home floor.
After a 6-game losing streak that saw the Suns drop games at the black-and-orange palace to the Heat, Pistons and Bucks, the Suns again fared much better on the road and ripped off three straight, culminating in an impressive win over the 19-6 Washington Wizards.
Their record now stands at 6-7 at home and 9-7 on the road.
The reason for this is anyone's guess, or perhaps it's only an early-season anomaly. Either way, it doesn't hurt to ask: is the ho-hum atmosphere at the newly-named Talking Stick Resort Arena a contributing factor? And is the Phoenix Suns organization failing to make their own home games attractive?
The Suns rank 22nd in attendance per game with 15.9 thousand. Of the 8 teams ranked beneath them, only the Pacers won fewer games last season than the Suns' 48, and they play a much less entertaining brand of basketball.
Missing the playoffs for four straight years will have this affect, so none of this is really a surprise. Nothing will fill the seats again like a playoff series, but while we wait for that franchise turning-point to arrive, there are still some tweaks that could be made to make a Phoenix Suns home game feel more like a Phoenix Suns home game.
Here are three very simple suggestions:
The Suns paid homage to their 90's era when they unveiled a modernized version of the uniforms that Charles Barkley wore, but they badly misfired with their court redesign. Just a reminder, this is what a home game for the Phoenix Suns looks like:
Oh, Danny Manning. What could've been.
This was an era notorious for some garish artistic choices in the NBA (as evidenced by the burgundy needlessly lumped into the Sonics' color scheme in the above vid), but the Suns stood apart with their clean combination of purple and orange. Nobody wears purple and orange, but for some reason the Suns have undermined their own identity by first implementing gray into the mix in 2001, and now forcing black upon us.
No one asked for gray, no one cares for black. You're the Suns. Black is the antithesis to what you are identified by. Replace the black on the court and home uniforms with traditional purple, and I can virtually guarantee that your brand will be better received.
Own your identity. Right now it looks like the San Francisco Giants decided to switch to hoops.
The last two marketing taglines were "Ignite The Future" and "Fuel The Fire". Ok, that works. Suns, fire, I get it. How about incorporating it into the home games a bit more, like for instance, the music? Surely I'm not the only one that rolls my eyes when 'Everybody Clap Yo' Hands' plays at least twice a game, and the theme song from the 'Addams Family' is even more dated, and not in a fuzzy, nostalgic kind of way. Perhaps 'Light My Fire' by The Doors would be more appropriate? 'Firestarter' by Prodigy? 'Fire' by Jimi Hendrix?
Take a cue from the Hornets. Their floor looks like a hive and they pump in buzzing sounds.
Because they're the Hornets. Simple.
This one isn't specific to the home-game experience, but I'm gonna rant on it anyway. Al McCoy has sadly been marginalized by the nature of modern television. Obviously Steve Albert and Eddie Johnson work for Fox Sports, not for the Phoenix Suns, but it would be truly magical if the Suns could some way blend McCoy's radio broadcast into the television coverage like they used to.
I'm fortunate to be just old enough to truly remember the warmth of watching a Suns game delivered by McCoy's inimitable charm and silky delivery. Even today, the sound of his voice immediately makes me think of the likes of Cedric Ceballos, Elliot Perry, Dan Majerle and that beautiful purple and orange floor. He'll turn 82 at the end of the season, and while I am well aware that contracts and legal obligations far outweigh sentimentality, it would be truly amazing to hear at least one more season with Hall Of Fame broadcaster.
If you're not going to put him into the Ring of Honor, at least let his voice be heard.
The Suns will play only 3 of their next 11 games at The Stick, and perhaps in this topsy-turvy season this is a blessing in disguise. They have won only a single game at home in the month of December (12/2 vs. Indiana) so hopefully by the time they embark on an eight-game homestand on January 13, they'll remember the concept of having an advantage at home.
Enough of my blathering. On to the recaps.
December 17 @ Charlotte Hornets, W 111-106
The Suns got off the 6-game schnide with a not-very-impressive win in Charlotte, considering that they were down by 17 first-half points to a 6-19 Hornets team. On the flipside, if they had any plans on folding the season away then we would have seen it in that second half. We didn't. Rejoice.
If the Hornets win wasn't convincing, they also followed with an equally unconvincing win over the Knicks at 11am Arizona time. Don't two unconvincing wins count for one good win? Seems like they should.
December 21 @ Washington Wizards, W 104-92
Ah, no mealy-mouthing around this one. A good win against a good team, with both sides at full strength. It was also against an Eastern with a big frontline and was on the second half of a back-to-back.
The Suns return to action against their Western brethren. The Mavs will likely have revenge on their minds Tuesday night, and have a new point guard by the name of Rajon Rondo to aid in their quest. The Kings always give the Suns more trouble than it seems like they should, having already notched an overtime win in their matchup this season, but the Lakers are still the Lakers and Kobe is taking 'heroball' to notoriously ridiculous lengths. However, as the Suns found out last year when they were blown out in their final game versus the Lakers, sweeping any team isn't easy.
Bled has suffered a drop in production this season, like most of his teammates, but there's no doubt that he's a special player. His performance in New York showcased all of his skills, including his ability to take games over in the 4th.
Alex Len had his hands full against Big Al, who has been putting up these kinds of stat lines for years, and the Ukrainian was schooled accordingly by the crafty vet. The only saving grace was that Jefferson only managed a pair of freethrows as Len was able to avoid foul trouble.
While IT got a few buckets on the corpse of Andre Miller in DC, a poor shooting night was exacerbated by some questionable shot selection in the second half. The Suns pulled out a convincing win nonetheless, saving us all from a tire fire of controversy.
Good luck, Suns fans. See you next week.