The Phoenix Suns and Orlando Magic fought toe to toe until the Suns broke open the game with a 27-5 run to take a 21-point lead and never looked back. The Magic, missing two of their best players and playing the second night of a back-to-back, didn't have the energy to finish strong.
The Phoenix Suns have lately been very good at making other teams' offenses look better than they are, and tonight's game was no exception. The Orlando Magic stayed close by using opportunistic hustle plays to convert broken plays into points on a regular basis. Until a game-deciding 27-5 run by the Suns, that is.
Goran Dragic had a "quiet" 18 points and 6 assists, while Eric Bledsoe flirted with a triple double until the game was a rout before he could get a chance (7 points, 7 assists, 6 assists in his first 20 minutes of play).
Gotta have a good win with a group of Bright Siders attended the game! Our own Jim Coughenour, Sean Sullivan, Scott Howard and East Bay Ray met up at Majerle's before the game started and managed not to make fools of themselves as the Suns and Magic slogged their way to an ugly, if entertaining, finish.
The game was tied until the Suns made 4 of 5 threes while the Magic missed everything to give the Suns a 12-point lead, starting a run that extended out to 27-5 before it was over.
And yes, the game was over as the Suns grabbed a 21 point lead with 7 minutes left.
All that remained was whether Eric Bledsoe would stay in the game long enough to grab a triple double. He had 7 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds in 20 minutes of play before the 4th started.
But Bledsoe hardly touched the ball, letting Ish Smith run the show after being such a big part of the game-deciding run.
The game started off slow for the Suns, missing four layups in the opening minutes, but then they began to heat up before Orlando could get too comfortable in their offense. Their 29th ranked offense, that is. But hey, these are the Suns so every team loves first quarters against them.
But with their top playmaker already out (Jameer Nelson), center Nikola Vucevic got himself ejected complaining about two offensive fouls he committed (was called for) with Channing Frye defending him.
The Magic still hung strong in the first behind Victor Oladipo (7 points, 4 assists) and two late buckets by Tobias Harris after Vucevic (8 points, 3 rebounds in 10 minutes) was ejected. The Magic made 50% of their shots (who doesn't, against the Suns?) and scored the same 25 points the Suns did.
The second quarter started off with a thud (three pointer by Nicholson) but then the Suns scored several possessions in a row thanks to the rookies with 7 quick points. It looked like a good summer league game for a while there.
The Magic remained in the game thanks to Arron Afflalo's shooting and basically outhustling the Suns as any young team should when they're playing young guys (younger than the Suns by a ways). Tobias Harris did athletic things the Suns couldn't contend, dropping 12 points and 4 rebounds in long minutes after Vucevic was kicked out.
These Suns just aren't playing strong D. In case you hadn't noticed.
Eric Bledsoe had a good half, with 5 points, 5 assists, 3 steals and 3 rebounds, while Goran Dragic had 12 points, 2 assists and a steal.
After allowing the Magic to score 52 points despite missing two of their best players, Jameer Nelson and Nikola Vucevic (ejection in first quarter), the Suns came out in the second half trying to prove something. They started the quarter on a 7-0 run, showing much better effort at the point of attack on defense.
Still, the Magic hung around on hustle plays. They are an athletic young team. And Miles Plumlee tries too hard, and too often messes up a good play opportunity.
The Suns maintained a 7-point lead until Eric Bledsoe got his rest and the Magic immediately went on a run to tie up the game. P.J. Tucker was having a hard time defending Arron Afflalo and the Suns missed several opportunities to widen the lead, including missing a point-blank fast break layup and throwing away an outlet pass. Factor in an Afflalo 4-point play and you've got yourself a ball game.
Thanks to a couple of threes by Marcus Morris in the final minute, the Suns had a 6-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
So, I was going to do something a little more basketball-related before I started perusing the comments of the more recent posts. There's a lot of agita and anguish around the Bright Side given Phoenix's recent woes on the basketball court and in the standings. And so I wanted to take a step back and take a look at how far this franchise has come in less than a year and how much we have to celebrate already! This may be totally corny, but I don't care. Everyone needs a little corn in their diets. Let's take a minute to do something positive for ourselves.
Last year, this team was a trainwreck. Lance Blanks. Lindsey Hunter. Michael Beasley. Shannon Brown. 25-57. Whatever hope we had as fans going into that season was extinguished almost immediately when Phoenix dropped back-to-back games to Miami and Orlando by over 20 points each. If the writing wasn't on the wall then, it certainly was by the time Alvin Gentry was fired halfway through the year. Sure we might have held out hope that they could right the ship, but for the first time in ages, we were all pretty sure we were looking at a legit lottery team. In a weak draft, natch.
And we were all pretty sure we were looking at a legit lottery team when this year started as well. Two starting point guards. First year head coach. Injured lottery pick. A starting power forward who hadn't played in over a year. A bench consisting of inconsistent twins who seemed to be competing for the title of lesser brother and a bunch of throw-ins from the Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat salary dumps.
Hell, 6 of the Suns' current players (P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, Ish Smith, Archie Goodwin, Miles Plumlee) played in Summer League this year. And it would have been 7 if Alex Len had been healthy. Half the roster. That is not a good omen. All but a tiny minority thought that this year was going to be a long, losing fuse on the way to #ignitingthefuture. Entertaining losses were the ceiling most of us put on the Suns' season this year.
And yet, here we are. 38-29. Two potential all-stars starting at guard. Several Most Improved Player candidates. A Sixth Man of the Year candidate. A Coach of the Year candidate. A top-5 MVP guy in Goran Dragi?. Two rookies who look poised to flourish given time and tutelage. And those throw-ins I mentioned before are in out starting line-up and among the first guys off the bench. This team can lose 11 of its next 15 games and still finish above .500. Oh, and next year we have several first round picks and cap space to spare.
Ladies and gentlemen, it has been a very good year. I think we should take a moment to appreciate it. So the comments section for this post are a straight up appreciation and gratitude thread. The next four weeks are going to provide more than enough time to agonize over playoff position and mid-round lottery picks and what could have been. So let's set those worries and concerns about rotations and poor defense aside for just a minute and bask in the glory of where we're at. No Debbie Downers or Negative Neds allowed. Let's all just take a minute and acknowledge one or two things about this year's Phoenix Suns team that we are happy/grateful/excited about. I think it might do us some good.
I'll kick things off by extending my gratitude to one Mr. Robert Sarver. I have no doubt that Mr. Sarver has always wanted to field a winner since taking over the team. Along the way, he has made mistakes, but he has also seen fit to acknowledge and learn from those mistakes. I am very happy that we have an owner that has grown into his role and made a point of eliminating those parts of the organization that don't work and experimenting with new ones! It's him we have to thank for Ryan McDonough, Jeff Hornacek and the culture of winning they've instilled in this team this year. Thank you, Mr. Sarver!
Thank a commenter. Appreciate a player. Show some love to a broadcaster. It doesn't matter. Make it rain positivity in the comments! Let's do something nice for ourselves as a community. The stressful stuff can wait until tip-off against the Magic tonight.
If the Phoenix Suns want to sneak, fight or claw their way into the NBA playoffs, wins at home against losing teams are must-win games. Tonight's game against Orlando is one such game.
The Magic are a rebuilding team just like the Suns but are taking a slower road back to the top, tallying the second-fewest wins in the league this season at 19-49 overall. Loaded with good young pieces, the Magic need to find a star or two to lead them back to the promised land.
The Orlando Magic struggle on the road (4-31) and against the Western Conference overall (4-20). They are even worse against the Western Conference on the road (0-12).
So it should be an easy win for the Suns tonight, right? Think again. Cleveland came in with similar numbers a week ago and finished off the Suns without a problem. The Magic have some good young talent and still get a lot of credit for their rebuilding efforts, but just like the Suns are still looking for that star or two to lead them back to the promised land.
While the Suns may have found one in Eric Bledsoe, the Magic may have found one in Victor Oladipo. Oladipo has struggled some as a rookie, but he's still a very good young player. His 13.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game suggest he's a combo guard possibly better suited off the ball more, but the Suns know all about that kind of player. Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic are also good young second year players.
There's good news and there's bad news.
The good news is that as bad as it has seemed the last few weeks on defense, the Suns aren't the worst in the league.
Since the Suns returned from the All-Star break, their defense ranks 20th in the league in terms of points per possession (107.1 per 100 possessions). Not good, but not as bad as we might have thought. The Suns are also actually 13th in the league in total rebounding since the break. In fact, ten teams have put up worse points per possession defense than league-worst Utah did in the first half.
The bad news is 8 of those 9 worse defenses than the Suns' are deep lottery teams. Only Atlanta has played worse defense since the All-Star Break and has remained in playoff position.
What has happened to the D? Opponents are attacking the Suns' weak spot: interior D. Opponents are running more pick-and-rolls, drives, cuts, whatever it takes to get to the rim. The Suns have allowed the 6th most attempts in the restricted area since the Break and the second-highest field goal % (67.3%). Couple that with the 4th most attempts in the paint (but outside the restricted area) and the 5th highest conversion rate there (41%) and you can see how the Suns have allowed an astounding number of teams to exceed 50% shooting lately.
This break down on defense is multi-level. Not only are Plumlee, Frye and Morris playing worse defense at the rim, the Suns' perimeter defenders are allowing a lot more back-door cuts and dribble drives into the restricted area than before the break. The Suns were always suspect here, but it's gotten worse.
You're not going to make the playoffs unless you shore up the defense a bit. The Suns offense is fairly even from before/after the break. It's the defense that has dropped off just enough to turn the tables in the win column, losing 8 of their last 13 games.
It will be fun to see the Suns' Eric Bledsoe against the Magic's Victor Oladipo. The Magic had considered acquiring Bledsoe last summer to play next to Oladipo in Orlando before the Suns snatched lil Bron up for the desert. Oladipo has tallied a strong stat line this season, just a little short of Bledsoe's with good numbers in points, rebounds, assists and steals.
The Suns don't necessarily need to win this matchup statistically, considering some of Oladipo's numbers are a product of a bad Orlando offense while Bledsoe shares scoring with several other players on a good Phoenix offense. But the matchup will be fun to watch regardless.
With Orlando having just played last night in Golden State while the Suns had a day of rest, I have to give the Suns the advantage.
We can't count on the Suns outhustling opponents anymore this season, but the Suns superior offense should allow them to at least out-shoot the Magic to victory.
Suns win by 8 points, 113-105.