PHOENIX — Through two and a half quarters, the Phoenix Suns seemed to be cruising to an easy win on their third consecutive game night behind some torrid shooting and a zone they mixed in to...

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untitled  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

You can't blame the Phoenix Suns for the lack of creativity when deciding how to lose games. At first it was the lack of scoring. Then it was the dreaded second quarter. Then it was the lack of defense. Then it was the lack of rebounding. Tonight was an oldy but goody. The dreaded 4th quarter collapse, and the Suns execution of it was nearly flawless.

The Suns started the game hot, using a 14-0 run en route to a 31 point quarter off of 59% shooting. Steve Nash dished 5 assists in 8 minutes of play while Grant Hill scored 9 and Michael Redd came off the bench to score 5 in his first three minutes of action. The Hawks shot 39% off of 9-23 shooting.

In the second, the Suns left the right side wide open for the likes of Willie Green and Joe Johnson, who combined for 3 3-pointers and Josh Smith kicked in 6 to reduce the lead to 2. But Nash and Frye responded with 3's of their own, and the Suns held the lead 57-46 at the half.

Josh Smith and the Pachulia guy teamed for 19 points in the third quarter, as the Suns began to run out of gas, shooting 6-17, losing the quarter to the Hawks, 26-21.

AND THEN THERE was the 4th quarter. I'll save you all the time and energy of reading the blow by blow. here's a short summary:

Suns: 2 technicals (one on Nash?), didn't score a point in 4+ minutes, 5 turnovers.

Hawks: 12-0 run, lots of Josh Smith, defended, rebounded, played like they wanted to win the game.

Commentary

I'm truly embarrassed by this performance. Especially at home. I don't care about 3 games in 3 nights. These are world class athletes getting paid great money. No excuse there. Age? No. Nash went for 22 and 16, Hill went for 18 and 6 and played insane defense on Joe Johnson nearly all night.

  • The Suns played well for 2.5 quarters and then mailed it in. I blame Alvin Gentry for that. Love the man as a coach, but he needs to remind his team they are playing a game. He cannot allow them to lose focus. Period. How, I don't care how.
  • Next, Frye needs to play some defense or sit down. Josh Smith is not easy to defend, but he absolutely ate Frye alive tonight.
  • Defense. Willie Green? 20 points? 2 wide open 3's. A career 32% shooter goes off for 4-6 3's. Heck man, there are a 100 players in the league that can drain a wide open 3.
  • Marcin Gortat goes for 13 and 6. Why? What's wrong, Marcin? We're used to seeing better numbers and more aggressive play from you.
  • Backup point guards. Seriously guys? Price commits 3 turnovers then gets T'd up. Thanks for that contribution. When Telfair comes in, everything stops. While Steve Nash moves the ball around and penetrates, works the pick n roll, sets his teammates up, Telfair dribbles. And dribbles, and dances around and dribbles more until the shot clock is at 2, then he tries to make something happen.

There's my rant. And after listening to Alvin Gentry, I feel, I don't know, irrational? Here he is, speaking calmly:

"I thought we played really good basketball for a stretch then struggled...We couldn't seem to get anything against their zone...Too many turnovers, that really hurt us. I thought we did good a job limiting the offensive rebounds. I think we played really well for stretches, but it's a 48 minute game...We tried to take their best player Joe Johnson out of the game, and we did a really good job of taking him out of the game. But they had other guys that stepped up."

He sounds tired and he looked tired. I am tired too.

Next up, 2 versus the Lakers.


Final - 2.15.2012 1 2 3 4 Total
Atlanta Hawks 21 26 26 28 101
Phoenix Suns 31 25 21 22 99

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Buck up, Marcin, we got another tonight.  (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

The good news for the Phoenix Suns is that Steve Nash and Grant Hill are playing tonight in the last night of back-to-back-to-backs against the Atlanta Hawks at US Airways. Even more good news for the Suns is that Michael Redd and Markieff Morris are playing well, both coming off 20 point efforts last night against the Nuggets. The bad news for the Suns is they don't have Jeremy Lin, and it is doubtful that the Suns will trade Steve Nash, Marcin Gortat, and Jared Dudley for him. Bummer. Pardon the sarcasm. We all know the bad news for the Suns is_________________(insert your most favorite negative statement about your favorite NBA team).

The Suns played arguably their best game of the season in the last meeting versus the Atlanta Hawks, winning 99-90, with Steve Nash leading the way with 24 points and 11 assists while the Suns shot over 50% from the field while limiting the Hawks to 39%. It would have been a laugher except for the 15 points the Suns dropped in the 4th quarter.

Since that game, the Hawks have gone 2-2, winning against the likes of the Pacers and Magic, while losing to the Lakers and the Heat. In those last four games, the Hawks shot, 46%, 43%, 38%, and 34% from the field.

Both squads played last night, and both squads are on 2 game losing streaks. Last night the Suns chose to rest Nash and Hill, and the Hawks rested Stackhouse and Pargo. Mostly because the two aren't in the rotation. Thus, the Suns should be fairly rested and ready to defend their home court against the Hawks.

Your Phoenix Suns are currently 12-16, sitting in 3rd place in the Pacific and 13th in the conference 3 games out of a playoff spot. Many of you may have given up on watching the standings, but I bring this up because Alvin Gentry has not. And perhaps as a simple realist, or perhaps as a means of encouraging his team or the fans, Gentry has this to say to us all:

"To tell you the truth, if you look at the teams in the West, there's no one running away with this thing. Oklahoma City has 21 wins. You get past the Clippers, who have 17, and there is a logjam to the bottom of the conference. We had four home losses that are awful. You take those and make them wins and we have 16 wins."


So you're saying there's a chance?

Always. There's always a chance. And so I continue to watch and hope, albeit realistically, which is different than pessimistically, but not by much, because I cannot help but think about several things:

The Suns are 6-12 vs. the WC, including losses to, well everyone: 12th place Golden State, 8th place Portland, 7th place Houston (twice), 6th place Denver (without Nash & Hill), 5th place, LA Lakers, 4th place Dallas (twice), San Antonio, and of course Oklahoma City. In fact the only teams in the West the Suns have defeated are the Hornets, Grizzlies, and Blazers.

Where am I going with this? Nowhere, like the Suns, unless something dramatic occurs like_____________(insert your favorite positive something there). You have to defend your home floor, and you have to win in your own conference if you hope to get anywhere, yes?

But onto new and different things.

The big stat heads and sophisticated basketball types like to get into some pretty sophisticated numbers when attempting to analyze individual and team performance. One of these statistics is the very famous PER, or Player efficiency Rating. This statistic is designed to measure a player's per minute production by analyzing accomplishments, adding in good things while subtracting bad things. Keep in mind the average for PER is 15.

So instead of the same old thing, I provide you with PER, courtesy of www.basketball-reference.com:

SUNS

Rk Player G MP PER
1 Steve Nash 26 820 23.2
2 Marcin Gortat 29 948 21.0
3 Jared Dudley 28 844 15.3
4 Markieff Morris 29 599 14.0
5 Hakim Warrick 20 320 13.6
6 Channing Frye 29 677 13.5
7 Michael Redd 16 233 13.2
8 Josh Childress 17 241 11.9
9 Robin Lopez 27 341 11.2
10 Shannon Brown 23 485 11.1
11 Grant Hill 27 729 10.7
12 Ronnie Price 27 431 8.9
13 Sebastian Telfair 23 294 6.9
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/15/2012.

HAWKS

Rk Player G MP PER
1 Jerry Stackhouse 12 70 19.9
2 Al Horford 11 348 19.6
3 Josh Smith 29 994 19.3
4 Joe Johnson 29 1044 17.4
5 Marvin Williams 26 633 16.6
6 Jeff Teague 29 942 16.3
7 Tracy McGrady 25 450 15.6
8 Zaza Pachulia 29 680 14.3
9 Vladimir Radmanovic 28 483 13.2
10 Willie Green 29 451 13.2
11 Ivan Johnson 24 356 13.2
12 Donald Sloan 5 20 12.1
13 Jannero Pargo 25 274 10.7
14 Erick Dampier 3 24 9.3
15 Kirk Hinrich 11 204 8.6
16 Jason Collins 13 137 2.3
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/15/2012.



Of course, PER has fatal flaws like most statistics, which is why you see Grant Hill at #11. You can't measure something that isn't really measurable by numbers. Grant Hill's defense for example. While he doesn't get bushels of blocked shots and steals, he is a defensive specialist who does his job primarily by moving his feet and body, staying in front of his man, getting a hand in his face, and taking charges, which, as far as I can tell, is not figured into the equation. So Mr. Hollinger, you aren't that smart, pal.

And no, I didn't include Jermey Lin's PER. You can find that on your own.

THOUGHTS


Why not a win tonight? Nash and Hill are "run down" but they at least had last night off. The Hawks are downward trending in shooting percentage, and the Suns D'd them up pretty well last time. Horford is still out, and Erick Dampier has been signed for depth. Really. It would be nice to pick up a home W before two straight against the Lakers. This is a winnable game for the Suns, and I expect a quality effort.

Check for the game thread 30 minutes before the start of the game.




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