Hi everyone. I don't really remember how to begin a blog post since it's been like a year so I'll just say this - Trevor Ruffin, Ian Lockhart, and Kenny Battle. What do those 3 former Phoenix Suns have in common? Probably nothing.
So did everyone notice that we're in the thick of a playoff race in the Western Conference? That's pretty fantastic, no? The regular season ends in 16 days and the Suns are going to play 9 games in that span of time. Things are as tightly packed as something which is by its nature very tightly packed.
9 of the Western Conferences Top 10 teams were in action last night and unfortunately for our beloved Phoenix Suns pretty much all of the relevant players in our part of the race reigned victorious. Here are last night's results:
Los Angeles Lakers 93, New Orleans Hornets 91: Kobe didn't play again but the Hornets are like really, really bad at basketball. Something called a Devin Ebanks started in the place of the guy who once scored 81 points in a game and the Lakers were carried by Pau Gasol's 25. NOLA actually led this game by 8 with 6:03 to play in the game but then forgot to keep scoring. The win helped LA create some separation from their Staples Center roommates for the Pacific Division crown.
Oklahoma City Thunder 109, Milwaukee Bucks 89: The Oklahoma City Preening We Refuse to Act Like We've Been There Beforers (rolls off the tounge nicely) opened up a 35-18 first quarter gash on Milwaukee and never looked back. Monta Ellis shot 3-12 for the Bucks and, in surprise news - Monta Ellis only shot 12 times in a game. Russell Westbrook led the winners with 26 points and probably puffed his chest out and did some sort of faux tough guy face on all of his 11 baskets.
Memphis Grizzlies 94, Los Angeles Clippers 85: Somebody woke the Grizzlies from their bear sleep and they've won 8 of their last 10 while tallying wins over Miami, Oklahoma City, the Clips, Lakers, and probably the 1986 Celtics. Marc Gasol led this balanced effort with 18 points and 5 other Grizzly professional basketball players scored in double figures. Blake Griffin had 19 points but probably no highlight dunks otherwise you'd have seen them 697,426 times by now.
Denver Nuggets 123, Golden State Warriors 84: My effort level for this paragraph will reflect that of the Golden State Warriors. Uh, Denver won by a lot, avenging a loss from last week. Danilo Gallinari came back but Al Harrington tore his meniscus probably. That's it.
Utah Jazz 91, San Antonio Spurs 84: Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker all sat this one out. In not so breaking news, the Spurs aren't as good without Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker. "Former All-Star" Devin Harris (yes the quotes were necessary as unless you remember seeing it then it didn't happen) led the Jazz with 25.
Houston Rockets 94, Portland Trail Blazers 89: Anyone know who Portland's head coach is without googling it? Didn't think so. If you didn't figure it out from having Seth Pollack ram it down your throat repeatedly - Goran Dragic has developed quite nicely for the Rockets and he led them again last night with 22 points and 7 assists. Portland played both Hasheem Thabeet and Jonny Flynn last night, which would indicate to me that they weren't trying that hard.
So where does that leave everything? Here are your standings for April 10th, 2012:
Western Conference Standings:
|1. Oklahoma City
|2. San Antonio
|3. LA Lakers
|4. LA Clippers
See what I was saying about things being tight? They totally are. Almost no room for error for any of the teams listed above. Tonight's schedule is pretty light:
April 10th Western Conference Games (that are relevant):
Sacramento Kings @ Dallas Mavericks: The Kings are 5-23 on the road this season, so barring a complete collapse from Dallas I'd expect to lose a half game to the Mavs tonight. On the plus side for Suns fans, this is the last game the human sacrifice that is the Sacramento Kings has with anyone in the 6th through 10th spots in the West.
He certainly has played well recently, most notably in big wins this past week over the Jazz (9 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and a block), Lakers (13 points, 3 rebounds, 7 assists and 2 steals) and Timberwolves (14 points, 7 assists, 2 steals and a block), all in about 20 minutes a game.
Telfair is one of the Suns' most improved players since the All-Star break, producing more points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks each game while shooting at a higher percentage in those all-important minutes when Nash is resting.
He is feisty on defense, creating havoc for the ball-handler and producing steals at a high rate. And now he is being more aggressive each game, making his presence known in the second and fourth quarters. As a unit, the Suns second team has begun to produce winning results, staking the starters to a 4th-quarter lead in nearly every game lately against stiff competition.
Building on a lead is important for the second unit, considering Nash and Co. don't always come back as fresh in the second and fourth quarters as when they started each half. Telfair's unit has helped the Suns in the win column as well, contributing to the 18-8 run since just before the All-Star break.
But where does Bassy rank in terms of Nash's other backups these last few years? Hit the jump to find out.
Below is a table from basketball-reference.com showing all the backups to Steve Nash since 2004, broken down by season, for players who appeared in at least 10 games. Not a distinguished list, to be sure.
Leandro Barbosa was by far the Suns best backup PG, and he wasn't even really a point guard! At least some of his minutes each game since 2004-05 were played at shooting guard alongside Nash. Eddie House ranks high as well, despite not being a true PG either.
And while Aaron Brooks is fairly reviled on this board as an undersized shooting guard, his assist rate as the Suns' backup PG last year was higher than any Suns backup PG since Nash returned to the Valley. By far.
It is really difficult to back up Steve Nash because Nash has a unique and highly effective style that teammates love because he sets them up so well for easy scores. Any backup pales in comparison, especially if they try too hard to imitate the Nash Rambler, and generally take a long time to acclimate themselves into a successful role. Take a look at the first season for each of those guys in Nash's shadow, all clustered at the bottom of the list.
A couple more things jump out at me on this list:
(SB Nation Arizona, Seth Pollack) It's pretty hard to keep Grant Hill off the court. Over the last few years this has been a running joke with Phoenix Suns coach Alvin Gentry who "battles" with his aging star to even limit Grant's floor time in practice. So it's no surprise to hear that Hill is close to returning to the court for the Suns just a few weeks after having the meniscus in his knee repaired on March 30.
During the ESPN broadcast of the Suns win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday, Hill said that he would like to play as soon as Saturday in San Antonio. He admitted, however, that the team would probably like to wait a bit longer.
Suns' Grant Hill could return next week vs. Portland
Hill went through a rigorous pregame workout Monday night of plyometics, sprints and shooting that had him drenched in sweat. Earlier Monday, Hill did a workout of lateral basketball movements for the first time.
Complicating matters to some small degree has been the performance of the team without Hill. The Suns are 5-3 since Grant last played and 5-1 over their last six games. Shannon Brown and Michael Redd have stepped up and played well.
Brown, as a starter in place of Hill, is averaging 17.4 points in 10 games as a starter and shooting an efficient 45 percent from the field. He's also handling the ball more and dishing assists and playing well within the flow of the offense.
Hill, however, is still a premier perimeter defender and will almost certainly return to the starting lineup when ready although it's possible that his minutes will be limited depending on match ups and game situation.