The Phoenix Suns are currently nestled in 12th place among Western Conference foes, 3.5 games behind the Denver Nuggets for the 8th seed. Amid the rest of the WC in between Phoenix and the playoffs are three other squads, Portland, Utah, and Minnesota. The chances of all 4 taking a dump while the Suns make a victorious run are slim to none. Nevertheless, two straight victories after the All-Star break may have given many of us a reason to watch tonight as the Kings come to town.
The men in purple and orange have sauntered out of the All-Star break knowing if they are to make any kind of improbable run to the playoffs, they must play full games in which they play defense, rebound, and shoot a respectable percentage from the field. Although it's only been two games, the Suns have shown that shutting down the opponents best player(s) is a great way to win games.
Vs. The Wolves, the Suns held Minnesota's bigs in check, as Love/Williams/Beasley shot 11-40 and 16 boards in between the 3. Meanwhile every Suns starter picked up at least 5 boards, included Steve Nash, who grabbed 8, one more than Marcin Gortat. As a team, the Suns out-rebounded Minnie 44-37
On the offensive end, every Sun starter scored in double figures, while every reserve scored at least 3 points and totalled a +10
Vs. the Clips, the Suns were awful from the field, managing only one quarter above 18 points. But the Clippers starters totalled 18-56 from the field (-41 +/-), and won the rebounding battle 52-46. Grant Hill locked up Chris Paul, while Channing Frye pulled down 14 boards and made Blake Griffin's life hellish.
The Suns starters totalled a robust +63, outscoring the Clippers first team 66-46. It's great to look at the box score and see Gortat with a "ho-hum" 18 and 14, including 5 offensive rebounds and 2 blocked shots.
The Suns are looking to break the .500 mark at home tonight. They are currently 9-9 in the desert.
MORE FUN WITH NUMBERS
In the past 5 Games, The Suns are:
6th in the West in rebounding differential at +3.80
2nd in the West in scoring differential at +7.60
2nd in the West in opponent FG% allowed at 42%
4th in the West, in games scoring 100+ points, going 3-1
"We have got to take advantage of every situation as far as playing at home...If we are not going to shoot the ball well then the only thing that can keep us in the game is our defense..."
"We're not trading Steve Nash because he represents everything this franchise is and should stand for, he's an important part of the fabric of this team and the community...he's earned the right to stay here as long as he wants and as long as he's all in on this program...the value that he brings both on and off the floor is incalculable...To me, and I've been through this process on the other side...the most important thing in attracting other players here and retaining players is that we communicate the culture and the values that this franchise stands for...the most important value that you can stand for is treating people the right way and respectfully and honoring the service they have provided, and I think we are communicating that to Steve and the NBA community at large."
"I don't want to get into details. That's spilled milk. I just think there are opportunities to make moves. What was the identity? That's the biggest thing we struggled with. What was our identity going to be? When they went and got Shaq, they had a certain idea of what the identity was going to be. To try to implement that, you would have to change some roster spots."
"The conditions are different -- the Kings have no momentum on the court with two straight losses to the L.A. teams after beginning the second half with a home win over Utah. We also know the difference between the home Kings and road Kings, and must adjust accordingly. Phoenix isn't amazing at home (9-9, +1.3), but is better there than on the road (7-11, -5.3)."
One of the most problematic aspects of the Phoenix Suns so far this season has been the inability of the bench to hold onto leads, much less create or expand them, when Steve Nash and the starters are rested. At the crux of this issue has been the point guard play, specifically, with back up point-guards Sebastian Telfair and Ronnie Price struggling to lead the offense and execute plays.
The inability of the Suns' second unit to establish a rhythm and maintain the flow that the starters set in motion has already cost the Suns several games, and even led to our own Alex Laugan to coin the "2nd Quarter Rule" based on this very problem, in which he proposed that the Suns chances of winning or losing a game could actually be predicted with 90% accuracy by whether or not they won the second quarter when the bench plays most of the minutes.
This issue has led many fans to cringe when Nash leaves the floor, and call for Alvin Gentry to put Nash back in as soon as either Telfair or Price make a mistake. But what if the problem was that the second unit hasn't been given enough time on the floor or trust to work through the problems? Well according to an article from Paul Coro of the AZ Republic, Sebastian Telfair apparently believes just that.
Read on after the jump for more...
In the article, Sebastian Telfair explains why he thinks the Suns' struggled in the first half of the season.
"I think there should've been more put on us in the first half of the season. We should've been used more. We're going to win or lose a lot of games with the second unit."
At face value, this seems to make sense. After all, the bench unit this season is comprised of mostly new players to the Suns who did not have much of a training camp to work together or establish any kind of continuity before being thrown to the sharks. Sebastian Telfair, Ronnie Price, Shannon Brown, Michael Redd, and Markieff Morris are all new to this system, with only Robin Lopez, Hakim Warrick, and Josh Childress having experience working together.
But how can head coach Alvin Gentry justify giving more minutes to a unit who is struggling so mightily, when the team is fighting to win each and every game for a chance just to qualify for the last spot in the playoffs? It's a catch-22. Plus, does Telfair's assertion really explain all of the troubles the second unit is having? Doubtful.
Sebastian then went on to explain some of what he thinks are the causes of the second unit's struggles thus far.
"When we struggle offensively is when we get scored on defensively. When we come down and run set plays every time, that doesn't work for the second unit as well as the starters. The key for us is coming out with energy on defense and getting out in transition. That's how the ball is going to get moved. Half-court hasn't worked the first half of the season, and I don't think it's going to work in the second half. Defense is the key."
This observation also seems to have some merit as it appears that the strength of the second unit is its athleticism, speed, and youth compared to the starters; and since they have not had the time to gel as a unit, they are more effective on the break and in transition than they are in a traditional half-court set.
So what should be done? Well, for the time being the Suns appear to be on a roll starting the second half of the season with two impressive wins over the Minnesota Timberwolves and the L.A. Clippers, despite the continued poor performance of the bench.
Going by the old saying if it ain't broke, don't fix it, it probably wouldn't be the best time for Gentry to force the issue with the second unit in an attempt to overcome their problems. But if the Suns' really do plan on competing for a playoff spot this season, it's an issue that simply cannot be ignored much longer. With the trade deadline fast approaching, the Suns will have to make a decision of whether or not to make a move in an attempt to improve their roster, or stick it out until the off-season with what they already have.
One thing's for sure, what was once a strength for the Suns over the past couple of seasons is now one of their biggest weaknesses, and something will have to change regarding the lack of productivity from the second unit if the Suns are serious about saving the season.