Shane I am looking at the Suns schedule… YIKES!!! U.S. Airways is going to be empty for awhile!! Is this team capable of staying in the race with all of these road games? There is no doubt that...

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Can the Suns take care of business tonight on the last game of their home-stretch?

What: Phoenix Suns Vs. Charlotte Hornets

Where: U.S. Airways Center - Phoenix, AZ

When: 7:00 p.m. (AZ)

Watch: FSAZ (locally) / NBA League Pass

Tonight, the Phoenix Suns are playing the final game of their five-game home stand against the Charlotte Hornets, before going on the road for a six game stretch that begins tomorrow night against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Th Suns have split their first four home games, going 2-2, in what has been anything but an easy stretch for Phoenix.  This will be an important game for the Suns for that very reason.  They would like to end their home-court stand with a winning record before going on the road for the next week and a half.

As for the Hornets, they are coming off of a two-game losing streak on the road against the Los Angeles Lakers and the Portland Trail Blazers. Charlotte will be looking to steal a win in Phoenix to try to salvage their road trip, with one game still left to play against the Golden State Warriors tomorrow night before they return home.

Probable Starting Lineups

Team Suns Hornets
PG Eric Bledsoe Kemba Walker
SG Goran Dragic Lance Stephenson
SF Marcus Morris Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
PF Markieff Morris Marvin Williams
C Miles Plumlee Al Jefferson

What To Watch For

Start Your Engines: The Suns are still trying to figure out how to start their games with as much intensity and energy as they finish them.  So far, the Suns have been bailed out on their slow starts through their inspired play late in the game, but they can't continue this trend without consequences.  This has definitely become a pattern, and the Suns will be looking to remedy the situation tonight against Charlotte.

Never Underestimate Your Opponent: Yes, the Hornets are 3-5.  Yes, the Suns are a better team.  Yes, the Suns can still lose.  The Hornets are probably better than their record would indicate.  On Tuesday, they lost by only two points to a very good Blazers team, in a game that went down to the wire.  They also lost by only two points to the Memphis Grizzlies to start the season.  The point is, the Suns can't afford to overlook the Hornets in tonight's get-away game before heading to La-La Land.  Charlotte is very capable of hanging a bad loss on the Suns if they don't come prepared.

Slash Brothers: The Suns are supposed to have one of the best starting back-courts in the NBA.  At times this season, they have definitely lived up to that billing, but at others...not so much.  In fact, the second unit back-court of Isaiah Thomas and Gerald Green is averaging more points both individually, and together, than the once dynamic-duo of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe.  The Suns are only eight games into the season, and this is certainly no time to panic, but I think the team and fans alike would love to see their two starting guards begin to dominate on the floor together, and build leads against their opponent without having to rely on their dynamic second-unit to consistently save the day.

Big Al: Once again, the Hornets have a player who could be kryptonite for the Super-Suns.  Al Jefferson continues to be one of the most underrated bigs in the NBA, quietly averaging over 22 points per game to start the season.  The Suns will need both Miles Plumlee and Alex Len to play strong yet disciplined defense against the Hornet's very skilled big man.  One positive in this match-up, however, is that Al isn't the best rebounder, so hopefully the Suns can take advantage of that.


UPDATE: The Hornets are pretty banged up going into this game:

The Charlotte Hornets announced earlier that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will not play against the Phoenix Suns tonight as he recovers from a right foot injury. This news comes just one day after the Hornets announced Marvin Williams' status was questionable, which now looks to be upgraded to "doubtful" as it seems Cody Zeller will start in tonight's game.

Additionally, Lance Stephenson and Gary Neal have been declared questionable for tonight's game. Stephenson is dealing with a groin strain while Neal is recovering from a bruised left foot.



President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby talks to Arizona Sports’ Bickley and Marotta about Bledsoe and more.

Team Finland.

Phoenix Suns Starter Jacket

Had a Chicago White Sox Starter jacket in the same style when I was in middle school. My mom saw Dr. Dre wearing a Sox hat in a music video. Then we had a conversation about gangs. This Suns version of the early 90's classic jackets is actually quite a bargain. It's used, but just $44 after shipping, and looks to be in excellent condition. Sized medium. Here's an XL for a few bucks more.

Phoenix Suns Starting Lineup Collection

1988-Starting-Lineup-Phoenix-Suns-Hornacek-Johnson-Gilliam-Chambers-SLU-Rookie

Also from the era of Starter jackets. Up for bid is this Starting Lineup collection that an enthusiast may not already own. If you've already got Majerle, KJ, and Barkley, scoop up Eddie Johnson, Armon Gilliam, Tom Chambers, and Jeff Hornacek. All four are new and unopened, yours for $50 after shipping.

Cotton Fitzsimmons Autographed Golf Ball

SIGNED-LEGENDARY-COACH-SUNS-COTTON-FITZSIMMONS-TITLEIST-GOLF-BALL-COA

So this is a thing. Golf ball is signed in blue Sharpie, and remarkably enough, comes with a certificate of authenticity. Fitzsimmons coached the Suns from 1970-1972, 1988-1992, and from 1995-1996. He was named the 1988-89 NBA Coach of the Year. You can pick this up for $40 after shipping. For $5 less, here's a dollar bill autographed by Cotton.

Finnish Paul Westphal Trading Card

Exactly what it sounds like. Complete with a instructional picture at the top in case you're not sure what this dude in purple wearing short shorts is doing. It's from 1980, and I'm not sure how collectable it is, but you can add it to your collection for a grand total of $17.

1997 Game Used Horacio Llamas Warm Up

1997-PHOENIX-SUNS-GAME-USED-WORN-WARM-UP-HORACIO-LLAMAS

Seller states that this was obtained from the Phoenix Suns. Llamas was with the Suns for all of 28 games between 1996-1998. In total, 58 points, 36 rebounds, $112 and it's yours.

Suns Autographed Pennant

Nice piece here. Pennant looks bright and crisp. 10 signatures from Suns in the early 80's, including head coach John MacLeod, Alvan Adams, Kyle Macy, and Dennis Johnson. Free shipping, bidding starts at $50, buy it now is $70.

1994 "Playing With Fire" Poster

Nice poster for a nice price. Barkley, Majerle, KJ, and hey! Danny Manning! Throw it in a cheap frame and it's excellent man cave decor. $15, $6 to ship, but buy more posters and that shipping cost goes away.

Rising to the Top With the "Team of Oddities" Book

Another addition to the Suns library I know that you're working on. I googled "Team of Oddities" to see what comes up. In Google Images, the first picture is of the book. The second is disturbing. The third is more disturbing. Scoop up this read for about $15 after shipping.

Walter Davis Circle K Cup

1977-78-Circle-K-MSA-Cup-Walter-Davis-Phoenix-Suns-University-of-North-Carolina

Suns legend out of the University of North Carolina. Includes "B&W head shot, color graphics, brief vital stats." Regarding the condition, "nice shape. lite wear." 13 bucks and it's yours.

Connie Hawkins Autographed License Plate

License plate autographed by Phoenix Suns great Connie Hawkins. Hawkins spent 5 seasons with the Suns, averaging 20.5 points and 9 rebounds. Bidding starts at $15, or you can buy it now for $30. 9 bucks to ship.

The Phoenix Suns are smaller than nearly all of their opponents, but somehow they broke even last year on the boards and won the battle of quick scores. This year, the Suns are struggling to win that battle.

The Phoenix Suns are struggling this season much more than last season to keep possessions alive after a missed shot. Their overall scoring is down only slightly, but that's mostly because the Suns have picked up the pace (4th in pace this season vs. 8th last year). In actuality, their scoring should be higher this year thanks to a faster pace.

Where the Suns are struggling is quite obvious to most observers - rebounds, second-chance points - but surprisingly is a battle they WON last year.

Nearly all teams miss more than half the shots they take, including the Suns. It's easier to win basketball games when you can extend the possession. Factor in that most offensive rebounds are near the hoop, second-chance points are usually scored at point blank range. You can see why the Suns would want to rebound their missed shots. Last year, the Suns produced a respectable 12.9 points per game on second chance points (18th in the league) despite being smaller than most opponents, but this year they are only creating 11.5 second chance points per game (28th in the league).

Why does this matter?

Second-chance points are crucial to balancing the scales. Coming out even in that department is a "win" for the Suns.

Last year, the Suns were a respectable 16th in total rebound rate (grabbing 50.1% of all available rebounds on either end of the floor), helped by a 15th rated finish in offensive rebound rate (% of rebound chances off Suns missed shots in which the Suns got the rebound) versus a 21st rated finish in defensive rebound rate. The Suns ranked 13th overall in total rebounds partially because they had more chances than most opponents because of their 8th rated pace.

But this year, the entire team has declined in that area - currently ranked 28th in offensive rebound rate (21.5%) and 22nd in second-chance points (11.5 per game). Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, Miles Plumlee and P.J. Tucker have seen the biggest drop in production on the offensive glass.

Surprisingly, with almost all the same players back from last year, the Suns have so far flipped the script on rebounding. This year, the Suns are 8th in the league in defensive rebound rate (76.5%) but terrible on the offensive boards. This translates to the opponent getting fewer second chance points (down from 14.2 to 12.9 per game), but the Suns lose that "win" by scoring fewer second chance points themselves.

You might think that the Suns are scheming to improve their transition defense at the expense of crashing the offensive boards, but alas they are not. This year, the Suns are giving up 15.2 fast break points (vs. 14.3 last year), ranking 26th worst in the league in that department.

TL;DR

For those whose eyes have glazed over from all the stats, what does this mean to the Suns?

It means that the Suns have to win the 'quick score' game, despite being at a natural deficit in size on most nights. You don't have to grab every rebound, but you do have to be better than your opponent at turning those rebounds into points.

Quick scores are created by via (a) second-chance points from offensive rebounds and (b) fast breaks.

This season so far, the Suns produce 11.5 points per game on second-chance points and 17.5 per game on fast breaks (29 points total), while they give up 12.9 and 15.3 respectively (28.2 total) for a tiny .8 point advantage.

But last year, their advantage was more pronounced, with 12.9 and 18.7, respectively (31.6 total) versus 14.3 and 14.1 for the opponent (28.4 total), for a much bigger 2.8 point advantage.

The Suns can out-shoot their opponents, but unless they can create a solid advantage in quick scores they are going to struggle to win as many games as last year.

Tonight's opponent (Charlotte) and Saturday's opponent (Clippers) just happen to be two of the top five defensive rebounding teams in the league. The Suns will have to scrap like crazy to get more quick scores than either of them.

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