The Suns were able to improve to 7-6 on the season, and 2-0 on their road trip after beating the Orlando Magic tonight 104-96, before heading to Miami tomorrow night to face the reigning champs.
The Suns started the first quarter with Goran Dragic attacking the rim and Gerald Green letting it fly from beyond the arc. Green shot three of five from deep and led the Suns in scoring with 13 points to start the game. For the Magic it was a combination of Vucevic and Afflalo leading the charge, with 6 and 4 points, respectively. The Suns were able to break out to an early lead, 31-21 at the end of the first quarter, shooting 50% from the field and 40% from deep, while holding the Magic to just 41% shooting and 17% from beyond the arc.
The second quarter started with the mostly second unit of Smith, the Morrii, Goodwin, and Plumlee. Marcus Morris and Ish Smith got off to a quick start on offense, and Ish showed impressive hustle to chase down a transition basket to get the block from behind as well. The Magic began to make some plays of their own though, going on a 9-2 run to cut the lead to just 6, before Hornacek called a timeout to stop their momentum, and quickly replaced Ish and Goodwin with Dragic and Green.
The Suns and Magic traded baskets for a while, and Orlando was able to keep it close initially, until the Suns were able to capitalize on some bad shots and sloppy play from the Magic to push the lead back up to 10 with about three minutes to go in the first half. Orlando continued to fight back though and never let the Suns pull away, and kept Phoenix within reach with a lead of 53-44 going into the half.
Gerald Green led the Suns with 15 points on 6-10 shooting to go along with 6 rebounds and 2 steals. For the Magic, it was Andrew Nicholson leading the way with 10 points and 5 rebounds. The Suns shot 46% from the field and 35% from three, while the Magic shot 42% and 30% from deep. The Suns out-rebounded the Magic 25-23, and won the turnover battle 4-7 in the first half as well.
The second half started with the first unit once again of Dragic, Green, Tucker, Frye, and Plumlee. The Suns started out a little flat and sloppy offensively, and the Magic were able to once again make a mini-run to narrow the gap to within 5 early, before the Suns came storming back once again to push the lead back up to 10 about halfway through the third.
However, Nikola Vucevic was able to hit some nice 15-foot jumpers, and Aaron Afflalo was fouled behind the arc and suddenly the Magic were down by only three. Gerald Green and Markieff Morris were able to provide just enough offense to keep Orlando at bay, and a fast break basket from Dragic to Tucker helped the Suns re-gain momentum and keep the Magic at bay to maintain an 80-72 lead going into the fourth quarter.
The Magic once again took advantage of the Suns' second unit to start the final quarter, as Phoenix was unable to get much going initially with the line-up of Smith, Goodwin, the Morrii, and Frye. But Hornacek was patient, and the second unit was finally able to clamp down defensively and also start making some impressive plays on offense as well.
Still, the Magic were able to begin clawing their way back and Dragic and Green came in to replace Smith and Goodwin. However, the Magic kept pressing on and once again closed the lead to just three points with around four minutes to go in the game.
Just when it looked like the Suns were destined to blow another game by falling apart in the fourth quarter, Channing Frye made some nice plays inside to score when the Suns needed it most, and the Dragon was unleashed...taking over at the end of the fourth quarter with a huge three and another jump shot to seal the deal; as the Suns were able to beat the Magic 104-96.
This afternoon, the Suns will take on the Orlando Magic in a Sunday showdown before heading off to play the reigning champions, the Miami Heat, on Monday. Will the Suns be able to take advantage of this very winnable game?
Where: Amway Center - Orlando, FL
When: 4:00 p.m. (AZ)
Watch: FSAZ (Locally) , NBA TV
The 6-6 Phoenix Suns will take on the 4-8 Orlando Magic in game two of their three-game road trip, which will culminate with a game against the Miami Heat on Monday.
The Suns finally broke their four game losing streak with a win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Friday night. However, it was an ugly game in which the Suns completely fell apart in the fourth quarter. On the other hand, the Magic are coming off an impressive showing against the Miami Heat in which they were leading throughout most of the game, but lost at the end by two points.
G - Goran Dragic
G - Gerald Green
F - P.J. Tucker
F - Channing Frye
C - Miles Plumlee
G - Jameer Nelson
G - Victor Oladipo
F - Aaron Afflalo
F - Maurice Harkless
C - Nikola Vucevic
The Suns are coming off an ugly win, and the Magic are coming off an impressive loss. The biggest advantage for the Suns is that they have had a full day of rest, while the Magic will be playing their second night of a back-to-back. Therefor, the Suns need to take advantage of this by pushing the pace and out-hustling the Magic for loose balls and rebounds.
The other major key is turnovers. The Suns must take care of the ball and find a way to minimize their turnovers, especially in the 4th quarter. they had 21 against the Bobcats on Friday...way too many.
On the plus side, the Suns are ranked first in the NBA in fast break points, averaging 22.5 per game...which also accounts for 22.6% of the total team offense. This is an area the Suns should continue to exploit tonight against the Magic, who are also prone to turning the ball over, averaging 18.25 of them per game.
According to Paul Coro, it's looking very unlikely that Eric Bledsoe suits up for this game, so the Suns will most likely be without him once again. The Suns have had a great deal of difficulty closing out games without him, but they will have to find a way to find a way to do so tonight if they find themselves with the lead going into the 4th quarter, as they can't afford to let another winnable game slip through their hands at the last moment.
Last week I took a look at how the Suns had fared in close games this season. Consider this part two, as I look further into what constitutes a close game and the correlation between winning % in close games compared to overall winning %.
We have hit the last Sunday before Thanksgiving and the Suns sit at 6-6 after a
practically unwatchable bounce back victory against the Charlotte Bobcats. The Suns basically dominated the second half of that game, but let the Bobcats scramble to within single digits in the waning moments. Charlotte even hit that magical number of five points with :14 left in the game...
That makes it 11 out of 12 games this season where the score has been within five points in the final three minutes. Yes, three. Don't ask me why people were disseminating the five points/five minutes stat when this makes it appear even closer. But at this point that stat has really become a farce. The Suns have played very competitively this season. They have led in the fourth quarter of every game with the exception of their home loss to Sacramento. But only a few of their games have really been close...
And so I have a graph... a graphtastic graph. The plots on this graph depict the scoring margin between the Suns and their opponents at each time either team scored over the last three minutes (180 seconds). Everything above zero represents the Suns leading and everything below zero represents the Suns trailing. The Suns are 5-2 this season in games that really aren't that close. Six of these got within the fabled five point mark in the last three minutes, but only one of them even became a one score game (OKC). Calling any of these close, with the possible exception of OKC, seems really disingenuous. I'll expound on this as we progress.
Here are the five games the Suns have played which definitively qualify as close. All five were decided by three or less points. I only tracked the last three minutes of regulation in the Brooklyn game, which went into overtime, in this graph, but I have more data that I will share on this later. See the difference? This graph is like the turkey (preferably deep fried and injected with something savory like jalapeno butter) that stuffs between the pieces of roll (perhaps pretzel rolls?) from the first graph. In these games the Suns are 1-4.
Here is the previous graph blown up to facilitate further analysis. Four of these five games were were within four points the entire last three minutes. Three of them were within three. All five had a lead change (none of the easily decided games did).
Here are the trendlines for each game. Here is the methodology for determining these values.
What I'm determining here is the average scoring margin between the teams over the last three minutes. At the three minute mark (180 seconds) the Suns led by five. Then with 152 seconds left they scored and led by seven. For 28 seconds (180-152) the Suns led by five points (28 x 5 = 140). They led by seven for the next 47 seconds (47 x 7 = 329) and so on. Then I add up all the totals in that third column and divide by 180 seconds. In this case the Suns led Portland by an average of 8.97 points over the last three minutes. Here are the totals for the other 11 games.
Utah 11/1: 1.64
OKC 11/3: -4.97
NO 11/5: 6.43
SA 11/6: -.88
Denver 11/8: 8.03
NO: 11/10: 7.14
Portland 11/13: 1.06
Brooklyn 11/15: -.96 *The average for overtime was -.89 and for the last eight minutes overall was -.91
Sacramento 11/19: 1.96
Sacramento 11/20: -8.24
This further illustrates the case between the close games and more easily decided contests. All of the close games were less than +/- two points over the final three minutes. Among the other seven games only OKC was even within +/- five (-4.97). The other six games were all over +/- six points (6.43).
Now to try to amalgamate all of this into a more approximate definition of what constitutes a close game.
- The 12 games can be divided into two groups: five games had a +/- within two points while the other seven ranged between +/- five to 11.
- The five close games all had a lead change.
- The closest of the seven game group was within one score at a point in the final three minutes (OKC at -2 with :30 left).
- All of the close games were decided by three points or less. The other seven games were all decided by six points or more.
From this I would offer that an average +/- somewhere between 3-4 or lower will probably always be a close game. Running this type of measurement through seasons of games could probably pinpoint a more exact number of what average scoring margin would be most all-encompassing. Some other games where a team rallies to within a score in the final minute will be outliers from this general rule, but should also be included as close games. A final margin of victory of five points or less is also fairly predictive, but less so than the two previous metrics.
What do you think?
Now, back to that final margin of victory within five points. While this is somewhat of a crude designation, it is effective enough to allow me to demonstrate another point. After the Brooklyn game there was some talk of the luck involved with winning close games. The percentages of certain shots, the ability of teams to set themselves up in situations with better opportunities to succeed, close games coming down to a 50/50 coin flip type of situation, etc.
Well, I enlisted some data compiled for me on teamrankings.com to propound the correlation between overall winning % and winning % in close games. Basically, good teams tend to win more close games than bad teams. It's not a 50/50 proposition.
The trendline for this compilation of data shows that there is definitely a link between overall winning % and close game (decided by five points or less) winning %. This is for the 2013-14 season. But, of course, this might be misleading... Why? Sample size. Of course one would expect that teams with an early advantage in close games would also have a better overall winning % after only a dozen or so games.
Well, let's take a look at 2012-13.
This agrees with the first chart over a larger sample size. As you can see, only three teams with losing records were over .500 in close games while 10 teams with winning records were over .500 in close games.
Shockingly enough, better teams with better players win more games... and more close games.
Hopefully you liked all my charts and graphs. I
spent way too much time enjoyed making them. Maybe next week I will move on to a fresh topic. Or maybe not. Obsessing on this has been kind of thought provoking. Plus, rants can tend to stretch on at times.