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Across the Internet, Thursdays have turned into Throwback Thursdays, where social media users and abusers post old pictures of themselves. ValleyoftheSuns has decided to jump into the Phoenix Suns’...

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As the Suns survive, the Grizzlies grab an enormous win against the two-time defending champions.

If you are a fan of backing into the playoffs then last night was not the night for you.  With the Memphis win over Miami, the Suns are basically going to have to split their next two games (@Spurs, @Mavericks) to avoid a potential elimination game with Memphis on Monday.  This is of course conditioned on the Grizzlies winning their next two games - but since those games are home against Philly and at the Lakers - logic would suggest they're going to take care of business.

So if the Suns lose both of their weekend contests and the Grizzlies earn their expected results, the Grizz/Suns will meet on Monday with the Suns trailing by a game and the tiebreaker already lost.  That would mean the Suns would need to beat Memphis, beat Sacramento, and have Dallas beat Memphis (in Memphis) just to make the playoffs. Basically the Suns can't lose both games this weekend.

There's your morning pessimism.  On to the recap:

Wednesday April 9th Key Western Conference Results:

Phoenix Suns 94 New Orleans Pelicans 88 (Recap) -  I honestly don't think this game could have been uglier.  In the preview thread a few of us wound up in a typically ridiculous exchange regarding what would happen in the event the Suns lost to a Pelicans team playing without Anthony Davis and pretty much every other relevant player on the team other than Tyreke Evans.  In the proposed alternate history hellscape, Alex Skinner brought up coming upon a barely surviving Al McCoy who uttered "Shaa-- Shazaam" and then I added that with his dying breath he'd mutter "Withey....."

As I watched this game come down to the wire and completely ignored the coworkers I foolishly agreed to go to happy hour with (side note -  do not agree to go to a happy hour with coworkers who don't care about basketball during the middle of a playoff race.  I'm an idiot) I couldn't help but think that the prophecy would come true and Bright Side would descend into a Jeff Withey, old Pierre the Pelican, and King Cake Baby-run police state.

Luckily for those of us who didn't want to be slaves to the King Cake Baby regime, Eric Bledsoe came up with a clutch steal, assist, and jumper in a 48 second stretch to help give the Suns a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

Crazy Uncle Gerald scored 21 points (4/7 from three) to lead the Suns while the Dragon added 20 and Bledsoe put in 16 (all in the 2nd half).  As you all know, I'm no basketball genius but to make the playoffs the Suns should probably avoid going 4 minutes and 32 seconds without a basket at the start of the 2nd half the rest of the way.

Our proposed overlord Jeff Withey led the Pelicans with 17 points - which I'm sure you won't be surprised to find is his career high.

Memphis Grizzlies 107 Miami Heat 102 (Recap) -   I guess we shouldn't be totally surprised but we can certainly be disappointed.  Miami was playing with Dwayne Wade, Greg Oden, Udonis Haslem, and potentially most surprisingly Chris Andersen and they simply ran out of steam against a motivated Grizzlies team.  The champs led by 7 with 2 and a half minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter but Memphis went on a 36-17 run over the next 13 minutes and took the game.

Without Andersen helping to man the middle, the Grizzlies bigs dominated the Miami front line.  Zach Randolph scored 25 points on 12/15 shooting while Marc Gasol had 20 points of his own.  Mike Conley chipped in 26.  When all three of those guys are going for the Grizz they are a tough team to beat.  LeBron James led Miami with 37 points but the 2nd leading scorer was Rashard Lewis.  If your 2nd leading scorer is Rashard Lewis and it isn't 2009 - you're gonna have a bad time.

Current Western Conference Standings:

TEAM W L PCT GB L10 STREAK
1.San Antonio
60 18 .769 - 8-2 LOST 1
2. Oklahoma City
57 21 .731 3
7-3 WON 2
3. LA Clippers
55 24 .696 5.5 7-3 LOST 1
4. Houston 52 26 .667 8 6-4 LOST 1
5. Portland
51 28 .646 9.5 6-4 WON 2
6. Golden State
48 29 .623 11.5 7-3 WON 2
7. Dallas
48 31 .608 12.5 7-3 WON 4
8. SUNS
47 31 .603 13
8-2 WON 3
- Memphis
46 32 .590 14 6-4 WON 1

Thursday April 10th Western Conference Games of Significance:

Spurs @ Mavericks -  Tony Parker isn't playing and Manu Ginobili left the Spurs last game with a left calf contusion.  With the Spurs having all but clinched home court advantage throughout the playoffs and coming off a spanking at the hands of the T'Wolves you begin to wonder what their level of motivation will be tonight.  Dallas will want this game more but I've learned to never underestimate Pop magic.

Nuggets @ Warriors - If the Warriors win this game I'll ignore them for the rest of the season.  If they lose then they might put themselves a LITTLE more in play.  David Lee remains out for Full Squad while the Nuggets are coming off a pair of scrappy battles against the Rockets - one of which they won.

The Phoenix Suns are still picked to lose the battle for the playoffs vs. Memphis and Dallas, but a closer look at the numbers shows the Suns are the best of the three teams.

With just a few games to play, most NBA observers are still counting the inexperienced, upstart Phoenix Suns out of the playoff picture despite the Suns holding a one-game lead over Memphis Grizzlies for the 8th spot and being just one win behind Dallas Mavericks for the 7th spot with four games to play.

Current standings:

  • Dallas 48-31, 7th place, remaining games against San Antonio, Phoenix, Memphis
  • Phoenix 47-31, 8th place, remaining games against San Antonio, Dallas, Memphis, Sacramento
  • Memphis 46-32, 9th place, remaining games against Philadelphia, Lakers, Phoenix, Dallas
If you credit Memphis with wins over the lowly Sixers and Lakers, and Phoenix with a win over Sacramento, that gives all three teams 48 wins with the only games remaining against themselves or the San Antonio Spurs.

Crikey!

Phoenix MUST end the season with more wins than Memphis, since Memphis has the tiebreaker over the Suns no matter what happens in their game. If Phoenix beats Dallas, then Phoenix has the tiebreaker over Dallas.

In a three-way tie, Phoenix would lose out because of the 4 losses already to Dallas and Memphis this season.

Looks like it could take 50 wins to make the playoffs in the West, and that a 49-win team could be sent home without a ticket to the dance.

But who is playing best?

Memphis has gotten a lot of publicity for charging back into the playoff picture once their center, Marc Gasol, got healthy and Dallas has Dirk so... of course they are going to close out the clutch wins.

But it's the Phoenix Suns who are playing the best basketball of the three teams fighting for those last two spots.

Let's take a look at how each team has fared in their last 25 games with their preferred starting lineups. Everyone's healthy, so let's match up each other's best and duke it out.

But hey, you say, that could just be because the Suns have played the easier schedule. Certainly, the mighty Grizzlies with Gasol and Randolph and fiesty Mavericks with closer Dirk will be better on the bigger stage against playoff-worthy foes, right?

Against playoff teams (East and West), during that 25 games
  • Phoenix Suns - 10 wins, 4 losses against current playoff teams
  • Memphis Grizzlies - 7 wins, 7 losses against current playoff teams
  • Dallas Mavericks - 5 wins, 7 losses against current playoff teams
Hmm, so the Suns are doing pretty well against the playoff teams too? That's strange. The Suns sport an "upstart" lineup full of also-rans, underachievers and journeymen. How can this be?

Maybe the Suns are just feasting on the weak teams in the East. Certainly, against the mighty West is where the Suns will come up short.

Against Western Conference playoff teams (during that 25-game stretch)
  • Phoenix Suns - 6 wins, 3 losses against West playoff teams
  • Memphis Grizzlies - 2 wins, 3 losses against West playoff teams
  • Dallas Mavericks - 4 wins, 4 losses against West playoff teams
So, while the Suns have only played nine of those games against West playoff teams, that's more than the other contenders. The Grizzlies have only played five, while the Mavericks have split eight.

I encourage the nation to think again about which of these three teams will fail the head-to-head test over these last few games of the season. During wins over Portland and Oklahoma City in the past week, opposing coaches and players admitted the Suns just wanted it more. The Suns outworked, outhustled, and outplayed those playoff teams who were fighting for their own seeding position in the West.

It is SO FITTING that these three teams play each other at the end of the season. It really is a play-in series, and may the best team win. Certainly, the hottest team and most successful of the three is the Phoenix Suns.

Do not go gentle into that good night, Phoenix.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light!

#ignited

After missing a year with an enlarged heart, Channing Frye is now being recognized for having an over-large heart on and off the court.

We all know that Channing Frye is a good guy, and his story is quite inspiring. His name itself mean "buffet of goodness". Now, former NBA players are showing respect for how he approaches and plays the game.

Phoenix Suns forward Channing Frye has been named a finalist for the 2013-14 NBA Sportsmanship Award, an honor that reflects the ideals of sportsmanship, ethical behavior, fair play and integrity.

Frye (Pacific) is one of six divisional winners, which include Boston's Jeff Green (Atlantic), Milwaukee's Mike Dunleavy (Central), Washington's Bradley Beal (Southeast), Portland's Damian Lillard (Northwest), and Memphis' Mike Conley (Southwest). Each team nominated one of its players for the award, with former NBA players selecting the six divisional winners from a pool of 30 nominees.

NBA players will vote on the award, with eleven points given for each first-place vote, nine points for each second-place vote, seven points for third, five points for fourth, three points for fifth and one point for each sixth-place vote received.

Former Sun Grant Hill previously won this award three times (twice as a Phoenix Sun), after the 2004-05, 2007-08 and the 2009-10 seasons.

Frye missed all of last season with an enlarged heart - a viral condition with no cure other than rest and relaxation. There was no guarantee Frye would live, let alone play basketball again.

"Nothing is more important to us than the health and well-being of our players," said Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby. "Channing and his family have the full support of our organization. His health is our primary concern and we are committed to helping him in any way he needs."

A year of rest, golf and yoga later, he was cleared by multiple doctors and finally by the Suns to return at the beginning of training camp.

He did not exercise, or even break a sweat, for a full year. Suddenly, he's back on the practice floor a month before regular games begin. When he began working out with the team, Frye warned that he might not be ready by the beginning of the season. But he progressed quickly, and never had any restrictions or setbacks.

When the season began, Frye found himself in the starting lineup and he has never left it. Frye leads the team in games played and starts (78). The only Marcus Morris and Gerald Green have likewise played all 78 games, both coming off the bench for many of them.

I can't tell you how mind boggling it is that after taking a year off he has never had a physical setback. NBA basketball is no joke. The greatest athletes in the world congregate to some of the toughest endurance sports, including soccer/football and basketball.

Channing Frye is one of those athletes.

The greatest recipient of Frye's influence on the game has been his connection with Goran Dragic. Together, they lead the league in points per pick-and-roll possession (1.3). Even more than actual scoring, the threat of the score is what makes the Suns offense run.

Frye forces the defense to hug up on him at the three-point line, which opens the lane for drivers like Dragic and Eric Bledsoe to pick apart the defense.

Dragic explained it to Zach Lowe of grantland.com last week.

How much easier is your life when you can run a pick-and-roll with Channing Frye - a screener who can kill teams with outside shots?

Oh, man, a lot easier. It's a huge difference from this year to last year, when Channing was out. Everybody was so much inside the paint, that you could not create. You could not get to the inside. And right now, it's so much easier. They're so afraid he's going to knock down shots.

Defenders just have to stick to him, instead of helping against you as you go around the pick.

They have to be close to him. And that's one man less in the paint. It's so much easier.

There's one kind of drive you get - when your defender gets between you and Channing's pick, like he wants to send you away from the pick, but Channing's defender is sticking right to Channing. You can just drive into open space away from the pick, right?

Exactly. My guy is already on the side of me, and it's just much easier to penetrate. And if they help, of course, I'm going to find Channing.

Frye is a lifetime 38.5% three-point shooter who was well over 40% this season until recently.

But it hasn't all been roses and daisies this year for Frye. He likely denies it, but it's clear to many that his body has slowed down in the second half of the season. He is not moving as quickly (and he never did move that quickly) and is missing many of his shots.

His three-point percentages are dipping precipitously by the month:

  • December - 42.9%
  • January - 42.1%
  • February - 32.9%
  • March - 28.6%
  • April - 25.0%
Just in the last week, Frye sandwiched a 4-for-5 streak against the Clippers with 0-10 duds immediately before and after that run. At the same time, his rebounds per game have dropped from 5.7 in December to 3.0 per game in April.

But you still cannot discount the impact that Frye imposes on the opponents' defense. He is a career 40% shooter on three pointers, so they cannot leave him open at the three-point line even if he's in a slump. Frye could break out of that slump any time given enough opportunities and he won't stop trying.

Coaches cannot afford to ignore any Suns shooter, except maybe Ish Smith behind the three-point line that is.

ESPN just rolled out a new stat called 'Real Plus Minus'.
Drawing on advanced statistical modeling techniques (and the analytical wizardry of RPM developer Jeremias Engelmann, formerly of the Phoenix Suns), the metric isolates the unique plus-minus impact of each NBA player by adjusting for the effects of each teammate and opposing player.

The RPM model sifts through more than 230,000 possessions each NBA season to tease apart the "real" plus-minus effects attributable to each player, employing techniques similar to those used by scientific researchers when they need to model the effects of numerous variables at the same time.

RPM estimates how many points each player adds or subtracts, on average, to his team's net scoring margin for each 100 possessions played. The RPM model also yields separate ratings for the player's impact on both ends of the court: offensive RPM (ORPM) and defensive RPM (DRPM).

The stat is intended to point out the contributions of players that go beyond the box score. We have always known that some guys have a bigger impact on the game than others. There are also some guys who look better than they are because they play most of their minutes with the team's best players.


Screen_shot_2014-04-09_at_6
You guessed it. The Suns own Channing Frye leads the team in this new stat. Looking at the list, it passes "the smell test" for the most part but of course it isn't perfect.

Other Suns made the list as well. Goran Dragic is 26th in the league, while Eric Bledsoe is 31st. That's three of the league's top 31 players from the Suns. Not bad at all.

Still, it's nice to see Channing leading the way on something like this. Goran Dragic swears Channing is the lynchpin for this team. Opposing coaches have said their biggest worry is Channing Frye. After Frye burned them in the first quarter last month, the Wizards simply assigned Trevor Ariza to hug up on Frye the rest of the game. That took Frye out of the equation, but opened up the floor for everyone else, just as Dragic described to Lowe above.

As the season comes to a close, you know that Channing is chomping at the bit to break out of his slump. Hopefully, his body respond and he will find his stroke in the closing games of the season, as well as the playoffs.

In the process, we also hope he wins this Sportsmanship Award. At least, he won the Pacific Division!

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