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...

Easily_decided_games_11

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.

Close_games_2_11

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.

Close_games_11

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).

Average_scoring_margin_11

Here are the trendlines for each game. Here is the methodology for determining these values.

Example_11

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

Charlotte: 10.59

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.

Close_win___11

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.

Close_win____2_11

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.

This was a less than stellar week for the Suns, going 1-3 in all. But even with the losses, there were still some players who stepped up. Who deserves to be named the player of the week?

The Finalists

Goran Dragic aka "The Slovenian Slasher"

Weekly Stat Averages:

Points: 18.5 FG%: .423 Assists: 7.8 Steals: 1.5 Rebounds: 2.5

Dragic had a good week overall. He set a new season high in points at home against the Kings with 31. And although he turned the ball over more than he should have, he also upped his assist totals and continued his aggressive style of play throughout the adversity.

This hasn't been an easy stretch for Dragic, playing without Bledsoe has proven to be more difficult than many of us probably realized. However, he has played with maximum effort, leading the Suns in scoring this week while also leading them in assists.

Marcus Morris aka "The Silent Assassin"

Weekly Stat Averages:

Points: 13.2 FG%: .752 3pt%: .708 Rebounds: 5.0

Initially, some may be surprised to see Marcus on this list, but take a step back and look at how he's performed over the past week, and it becomes more obvious. Although Markieff Morris has proven to be consistently inconsistent, Marcus Morris is quietly in the midst of having one of the most efficient stretches of his NBA career.

Over the past week, he averaged 18 minutes per game, and 13.2 points. Not only that, but he was selective with his shots, and scored them at an extremely high percentage. Marcus led the Suns in field goal percentage and three-point percentage over this past week, and has made the most of his minutes by contributing with not only shooting, but rebounding as well. Marcus has been one of the Suns' best and most consistent bench players this season, and this week was no exception.

P.J. Tucker aka "Corner Pocket "

Weekly Stat Averages:

Points: 12.5 FG%: .592 Assists: 2.0 Steals: .5 Rebounds: 5.0

P.J. Tucker was one of the main reasons the Suns beat the Bobcats in their only win of the week, and he fought hard to keep the Suns competitive. Tucker has been one of the unsung heroes of the Suns this season, and his hustle and aggressive style of play helps set the expectation for the other young players on the team.

Not only has Tucker continued to play with the relentless hustle that helped make him a fan favorite last season, he improved his shooting and found his new favorite spot on the court to make the other team pay...the corner three.



The Player of the Week

P.J. Tucker

P.J. Tucker deserves to be recognized this week as one of the new leaders of the team who inspires others to hustle and play hard while leading by example. Tucker was one of the main reasons the Suns were able to pull out a victory in Charlotte Friday night, and he continues to be one of the most consistent positives for the Suns every time he steps on the court

Tucker has worked hard to improve his offensive game after earning a reputation as a tenacious defender last season. This plan seems to be working for him as he has developed one of the most consistent strokes from the corner in the entrie league. In fact, P.J. tucker is currently tied for 10th place in highest three-point percentage thus far, and nearly all of those shots have come from that corner area that he has seemingly perfected.

P.J. has stepped up his game in a big way this season, while still continuing to hustle on every play and defend some of the best players on the opposing teams. Tucker deserves to be recognized this week for his hard work and consistency on both ends of the court. He remains one of the Suns most underrated players.

Poll
Who do you think deserves to be named the Phoenix Suns' player of the week?

  227 votes | Results

The Suns were able to overcome one of their sloppiest games of the season, hanging on just long enough to secure a victory tonight over the Charlotte Bobcats.

Tonight, the Phoenix Suns took on the Charlotte Bobcats on the road, looking to end a four-game losing streak. The Suns fell behind early in the first quarter but were able to fight back and take a three point lead at the end of the first quarter 27-24.

In the second quarter, the Suns continued to battle with the Cats, but were eventually able to build on their lead going into the half, 55-44.

the third quarter was long and drawn out with tons of trips to the line. There were 22 free throws in all between both teams. This is also when Channing Frye and P.J. Tucker got into a bit of foul trouble, collecting 4 each. Still, the suns were able to hold serve and end the quarter maintaining an 11 point lead.

The Fourth Quarter

The fourth quarter started with a 10-0 run for the Suns before Cody Zeller stopped the bleeding at about four and a half minutes in. The Suns started to look a little sluggish about midway through the quarter again, but a four-point play by Channing Frye and an alley-oop from Dragic to Markief Morris helped to stretch the lead and put the Suns in coasting mode with about 4 minutes to go.

However, the Suns once again got sloppy for no reason after leading by as much as 21, and the Bobcats were able to cut down the lead to only 13 with around two minutes to go after an easy transition basket and two back-to-back turnovers that led to easy points for Charlotte...leading Hornacek to call a time out.

Even after P.J. Tucker hit a three to put the Suns back up by 15, the Suns once again gave up an easy transition basket and Ish smith threw a wild pass for yet another turnover, and before the Suns knew it they were up by only eight points with just over a minute to go.

The pace turned frantic and Dragic turned the ball over yet again, but fortunately for the Suns the Bobcats were unable to capitalize. However, when Dragic was intentionally fouled with just 45 seconds to go, he missed both free-throws...unbelievable. After a jump ball the Bobcats were once again able to cut the lead to just six after making a quick lay-up and this time they intentionally fouled Markieff Morris with just 26 seconds to go.

And guess what...he missed the first one...Here we go again. Fortunately he was able to make the second, Suns up seven.

On the other end of the court the Suns gave Charlotte three shot attempts by not boxing out, and the Bobcats were able to cut the lead to five before intentionally fouling Markieff Morris again. This time, he made the first and missed the second. Fortunately, P.J. Tucker was able to hustle down the missed free throw and then he was intentionally fouled...and of course missed his first free throw as well before making the second.

Still, there just wasn't enough time for the Bobcats to capitalize on all of the Suns' missed opportunities, and the Suns were able to hold on for the Win 98-91.

The only good thing I can say here is that the Suns built up enough of a lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter to sustain them through that disaster of a finish. I don't know what happens to the Suns without Eric Bledsoe on the floor, but it's apparent that they don't know how to hold a lead or close out a game, that much is for sure.

Of course, the most positive note of all is that the Suns were able to snap their four-game skid to once again put a "W" in the score column, no matter how ugly the end of the game was. The Suns have a great deal of work to do on their fourth quarter woes, as they simply cannot afford to play this way and expect to win games against quality opponents. The Suns were fortunate to escape with this win tonight.

The Good:

  • P.J. Tucker was perfect from the field, going 6-6, including three from deep, for 17 points in all to go along with his 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and of course his energy and hustle on the court.
  • Channing Frye led the Suns with 20 points on 6-10 shooting to go with 3 rebounds, 2 steals, 1assist, and 1 block. A solid game for Channing tonight.
  • Archie Goodwin once again showed how he can impact the game with his energy and hustle. He is one of the fastest players I've ever seen with an incredibly quick first step. He logged 8 points on 3-5 shooting, 6 rebounds, 1 steal, and 1 block in his 22 minutes on the floor

The Bad:

  • Apparently, Eric Bledsoe's shin bruise
  • Gerald Green's 0-8 three-point shooting. Still he was able to manage 10 points from inside the arc.

The Ugly:

  • 21 Turnovers: Coming into this game the Suns were averaging 17.4 turnovers per game...tonight will only raise that number. What's worse is 6 of those came in the fourth quarter, and three of those in the last two minutes of the game...More on that below.
  • Free Throws: The Suns shot an abysmal 58% from the charity stripe tonight...going 22-38 in all. That's just downright terrible, especially when many of those key misses came at a time when the Suns needed them most. Which leads me to...
  • Closing out the game: The Suns are proving to be incapable of maintaining a lead, or closing out a game without Bledsoe. Is Eric Bledsoe's absence really the cause, or is it merely a correlation we are seeing with all of this sloppy play late in the game recently. Whatever it is, the Suns need to get it figured out, and fast

Next up is another road game against the Orlando Magic on Sunday. Stay tuned...

An affinity for drama started a four-game losing streak for the Phoenix Suns, and in a game with the Charlotte Bobcats on Friday, it nearly continued the skid. Despite Phoenix building a 21-point...

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For years the Eastern Conference has been ridiculed by NBA fans and considered to be inferior to the West. Sub-.500 teams have routinely made the playoffs in the East over the last several years while winning teams miss out in the West. This year, the East has really stepped it up - in the worst way possible.

The Western Conference is rolling along as it usually does. Nine teams currently have winning records with seven or more wins, including two with 10. Heck, there are competitive teams all the way down the conference (until you get to Utah anyway).

San Antonio is rolling along at 10-1, and that's with a limited Tim Duncan who has already missed two games and is shooting under 40 percent from the field when he has played. I swear Gregg Popovich has some sort of deal with the devil.

Since a rough start to the season, the Portland Trail Blazers have turned it around and won their last eight. Replacing J.J. Hickson with Robin Lopez and upgrading the bench has really paid off for Rip City.

Then we have a group of five teams with eight wins each, including Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder, one of the most entertaining teams in the league in the Golden State Warriors, Point God Chris Paul and the Clippers, the Howard and Harden led Houston Rockets and ... the Dallas Mavericks? Yep, the Dallas Mavericks (Monta Ellis is killing it, somehow, and he's doing it efficiently!).

Rounding out the group with seven wins apiece are Memphis (riding a four-game win streak after a rough start and looking like the Grizzlies squad we expected) and Minnesota (another very entertaining team powered by Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio).

The Western Conference is going to be a battle all season long and yet again it looks like at least one, if not more, winning teams will miss the cut come playoff team.

However, as we head east, the picture isn't so pretty.

Indiana opened the season with a nine-game winning streak before suffering their first loss and the Pacers are currently tied with the Spurs for the best record in the league. Back-to-back defending champs the Miami Heat are right behind the Pacers at 9-3, and as long as they have that LeBron James guy I think they'll be fine. These two teams can go head to head with any team in the league, regardless of conference.

After those two the conference dives off a clip. The Chicago Bulls are third with just six wins (and just lost to the Denver Nuggets, who are currently tied for 10th in the West). The Bulls will be fine in the long run once everyone gets healthy and Derrick Rose shakes off the 18 months of rust, but right now they aren't anything special. And they're still the third best team in the East. Despite losing Josh Smith to free agency, the Atlanta Hawks stand at 7-5 behind the sharpshooting of Kyle Korver (oh, and a couple other guys are playing well also in Jeff Teague, Al Horford and Paul Millsap, but it's clearly Korver's team).

And now we've reached the end of winning teams in the East. After naming four teams. And you know who the fifth best team in the East has been? The Charlotte Bobcats. Yes, those Bobcats. At 6-6, with big name free agent acquisition Al Jefferson only playing in three of those games.

That means there are three teams currently in the Eastern Conference playoff picture that are below .500: The Toronto Raptors, the Philadelphia 76ers (so bad they can't even tank right) and the Detroit Pistons.

What's even worse is that Toronto, at 5-7, is leading the awful Atlantic Division and therefore is sitting as a top-four seed. The Knicks and the Nets have been disasters so far at 3-8 and are only a half game out last place. I had my reservations about both teams, as I'm sure many others did, but I don't know if anyone saw THIS coming.

Making matters even worse, teams that were expected to make big jumps due to active offseasons (Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards, Cleveland Cavaliers) have all struggled early on.

The Pistons are 4-7 and their three major additions - free agents Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings and lottery pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope - together are shooting 42.4 percent from the field. They have a talented front line in Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, but with Smoove at small forward they've struggled with spacing (shocker) among other things.

The Wizards are also at 4-7. Their two best players, John Wall and Bradley Beal, have done a lot of good things this year but they've both struggled to score efficiently, and the team as a whole has been awful on defense. Injured lottery pick Otto Porter hasn't even played yet.

The Cavaliers are half a game behind the other tow at 4-8, and they've struggled mightily to score the ball. Star point guard Kyrie Irving got off to a rough start and the only player on the entire team shooting over 50 percent from the field is Anderson Varejao. No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett has given them absolutely nothing. There is more talent on this team than a year ago, but the pieces just aren't fitting together right now.

The season has barely begun, and there is still plenty of time for these teams to turn things around. But some troubling trends have revealed themselves. The East just isn't very good.

Thus far, the West has dominated competition with a 37-17 record in games against Eastern Conference foes. Eight of the top 10 records in the league are in the West. Disregarding divisions and putting the leftover Western teams in the East, here's what a playoff bracket would look like.

West East
San Antonio (10-1) Indiana (10-1)
Portland (10-2) Miami (9-3)
Oklahoma City (8-3) Chicago (6-4)
Golden State (8-4) Atlanta (7-5)
Dallas (8-4) Minnesota (7-6)
L.A. Clippers (8-5) Charlotte (6-6)
Houston (8-5) Phoenix (5-6)
Memphis (7-5) New Orleans (5-6)

That looks at least a little bit better, right? Even with the help of the West, there still aren't enough good teams to field an all-.500-or-better playoffs. The East needs to step it up.

Despite their recent struggles, the Suns still have on of the 16 best records (technically 17 best, but Denver's on the outside looking in at 5-6 due to tiebreakers. They would make the playoffs in the East. What does that mean? Nothing, but it makes me feel good at this stage of the season.

I'll leave you with this: As I was preparing to publish this, Grantland's Zach Lowe published his own column on a similar topic, and makes the case for eliminating divisions. Give it a read. Lowe is really good at this writing thing.

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