The Phoenix Suns try to start a new winning streak against the Minnesota Timberwolves tonight at US Airways Center. Both teams had their 3-game winning streak broken in their last game, and both want to get back on the winning side.
The last time these two teams played, Gerald Green capped an improbable comeback with a last-second jumper to help the Suns escape Minnesota with a win. The Suns overcame a 7-point deficit in the final 2:44 in that one, the only bright spot on a tough road trip right after losing Eric Bledsoe to injury.
Now, the Suns host the Wolves in Phoenix on Tuesday night. The Wolves have since lost Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin to injury, though Pekovic could be activated any day now. He will test his injured ankle before tipoff in Phoenix tonight.
After playing the red-hot Rockets on Sunday night, the Timberwolves are downright cold. Even before suffering injuries to two starters, Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin, the Wolves had managed to lose a lot of game they should have won and still remain 6 games out of a playoff spot.
It's getting a little late in the season to expect much to change in the big picture, but the Wolves still have all the firepower they need to lay the hammer on any team any night.
The Wolves are good on offense (9th in points per possession) and defense (also 9th fewest points per possession allowed). They are 3rd in the NBA in pace, 4th in the NBA in rebounding, 3rd in free throw attempts, and they always cause more turnovers than they commit.
So how are they always under .500? Because they can't close out games and they they allow their opponent to shoot better than they do. The Wolves defensive philosophy is to allow the open shot in order to gobble up the rebound. In practice, they are 4th in defensive rebound % and commit the fewest shooting fouls, but they allow opponents to average 46.7% shooting, 28th in the league. You can just call that the opposite of the Suns defensive philosophy.
It's quite possible that Nikola Pekovic will return tonight, as he's testing his injured ankle each night before tipoff. But without Pekovic, the Wolves are no longer the same rebounding threat. Without Pekovic, the Wolves go really small and put Love at the center position with an undersized PF like Cunningham.
After coming out with 3 gutsy wins since the All-Star break, the Suns
tripped fell against the Rockets while the Dallas Mavericks managed to hold to win against the hapless Knicks last night to strengthen their hold on the 7th spot in the Western playoffs.
With Memphis breathing down the Suns necks, every game is important here on our and there's 27 left. What a race to the finish!
The Suns, let's not forget, are playing short-handed just like the Wolves. The Suns have gone 14-11 without Bledsoe after a 16-8 record with him. The Suns were missing Bledsoe in the recent comeback win over Minny.
The obvious answer is All-Star Kevin Love vs. the Suns defense.
But actually, the most dangerous matchup is everyone ELSE besides Love. You can allow Kevin Love to get his 30 and 10, but you can't beat the Wolves if the rest of their guys have good games.
Suns killers Corey Brewer, Jose Juan Barea and Dante Cunningham have all been playing better recently. Picking up slack for Kevin Martin, Brewer has been posting 13.4 points and 3 rebounds per game over the past 10 games. Barea and Cunningham are putting in 20 points, 8 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game collectively (in 48 minutes). Chase Budinger has recently returned from injury and is shooting the 3 very well, and Rubio is averaging a double-double.
There's always the chance that the Wolves are dominant. They are truly a Jeckyl-and-Hyde team. When they win (27 times), it's by 17 points. When they lose (29 times), it's by 8 points. By contrast, the Suns average 10-point wins vs. 7-point losses.
But I think the Suns take this one. The Wolves are 9-21 against winning teams, while the Suns are 22-6 against teams below .500. Factor in the home court, and this should be a win.
The good news is that Eric Bledsoe is returning soon for the Phoenix Suns, barring setbacks. But should the Suns stop there? Why not sign Danny Granger for some playoff experience and offense off the bench?
The latest developments in the NBA have varying ties to the Suns.
All the details are on Coro's blog, but it appears that Bledsoe is making major progress toward a return to action in the next week or two as long as there are no setbacks.
"I didn't think I was going to be that fast or that quick coming back," Bledsoe said. "When I continue to progress, I think it's going to be a whole lot better."
His return would certainly boost the Suns play on both ends of the court, and it cannot come soon enough. Bledsoe would eat up all of Barbosa's minutes and most of Smith's, but he's a better players and proved that in November and December of this season when the Suns went 16-8 with him in the lineup.
A report came out today the Danny Granger will be released/bought out by the Sixers after they acquired him for Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen at the deadline. The Sixers never wanted Granger to play for them - they really only wanted to remove the specter of Evan Turner's qualifying offer and Lavoy Allen's contract from their books. No one really knows what the Sixers will do with the cap space this summer, but they have more of it now.
Danny Granger is a 30-year old 6'8" small forward who once made an All-Star game and averaged 25 points per game for the Pacers. He's contributed to a playoff team three times in his career, twice as a starter and once going into the second round.
Granger is not the player he once was, as we recently saw in two wins over the Pacers last month. He is shooting just 36% from the field, 33% on three-pointers and contributing half the points-per-minute of his career apex.
Yet, he's talented and playoff-proven.
A couple of national media think Granger would be good in Phoenix.
Matt Moore (the HP guy) has a closet love affair with the Suns, ranking them 5th in the NBA today for cbssports,com. Matt thinks Granger would be good in the Phoenix offense.
So does Marc Stein, another long-time softie for the Suns who ranked them #11 on his Power Rankings today.
Phoenix is an interesting option for a Granger buyout if you believe in the mystical powers of the Suns' athletic training stuff and what they might be able to do to get Granger's body right.
What say you, Suns fans?
Take a look at my experience in New Orleans for All Star Weekend.
Bright Side of the Sun wants to thank the team at Crown Royal for a magnificent weekend in New Orleans for the 2014 All-Star Game. What a treat to be whiskeyed (we drank responsibly!) and dined like a VIP for the entire weekend.
Along the way, I met some great bloggers from around the country and even got a chance to meet a living legend: Dr. J himself, Mr. Julius Erving.
They put the tall people in the back (cover photo), so all you can see of me is my head above Dr. J's. But I didn't need to insist on a closer picture in the crowd since I got a selfie with the Dr. anyway.
Not as crystal clear as the the group photo, but proof enough for me!
Erving was a great host who shared some thoughts about today's NBA, how he got his nickname and what he thinks of advanced stats.
Erving also helped us learn something about whiskey, but I have to admit after a few glasses I didn't remember (and couldn't tell) the difference between one and another (though I think I'm partial to the XO).
To show what a good sport Dr. J is, take a look at this 2012 clip of him taking 'Three Ridiculous Questions' from Jimmy Kimmel.
On Friday, we were invited as VIP guests to Kenny Smith's TNT All-Star party. I saw several retired ball players there, including the ever-dapper Grant Hill. The party was being held at the Metropolitan, a trendy bar in NOLA.
As the old guy in the group, I didn't make it as late as most did. This place was hopping!
As great as Friday was, Saturday was even better. I'll cover basketball later in this post, but for now let's stick with the party theme. Saturday was the early Dr. J. meeting, then a multi-course dinner with various Crown Royal cocktails, then back to the Metropolitan for comedian Kevin Hart's All-Star party. This time, I stayed out with everyone till nearly 4am (and paid for it on Sunday).
That's me on the right, along with three other SB Nation bloggers: Nate Timmons, Denver Stiffs; Tom Lorenzo, Nets Daily, and Rebecca Larson, Mavs Money Ball. Another SB Nation blogger who joined us but is not shown here is Jason Walker, PeachTree Hoops. (Jason is in the sport jacket and red shirt in the first Dr. J group photo above).
I had a great time with these fine folks drinking cocktails on the house all weekend. As you can tell, we were the envy of the whole bar.
Here's everyone at the bar mobbing Kevin Hart as he came in. Needless to say, we didn't get any close-ups with Kevin.
Sorry. That's the best I could do, folks. I believe that's him with his back to the camera against the far wall. LOL. It was a crush of humanity and too much tight leopard-skin for my taste. I realized at this point (well, much earlier I guess) I might not be Kevin Hart's target audience, at least at All-Star parties.
Now let's get back to basketball.
Between all the parties, I was able to partake a bit in the basketball side of All-Star weekend with a media pass to the NBA Jam Fest, which lots of games and interactive activities for kids (and kids at heart) but also included the D-League skills competitions and All-Star game.
We got to see some of the best D-League players doing All-Star things:
Was good to see a couple of guys who tried out for the Suns in recent seasons - hope they get their shot soon enough. Onuaku just signed a 10-day deal with Cleveland this week. Supposedly, the Knicks are looking at signing Diogu this week as well.
Pierre Jackson was the marquee player at the event, scoring 33 points along with 10 assists, but has not gotten a call-up to the NBA and recently signed a deal overseas.
The basketball highlight of the weekend, besides meeting Dr. J., was the All-Star game.
The pregame show, with Farrell and his all-star band of 40 year old rappers, was a rocking experience. Seemed like it was a concert where a basketball game broke out during intermissions.
Sure, it's a total showcase where no one plays team ball and it's all about the biggest star-power plays, but I have to say the ASG was fun to see live - especially with the great NBA bloggers around me to enjoy it with.
I won't soon forget Jason Walker (Hawks blog, Peachtree Hoops) bringing up every possible connection to "The ATL" during the game, and throughout the weekend for that matter. He reminded Dr. J. on Saturday about the Doctor's short experience with the Atlanta Hawks. Erving laughed and said they should catch up sometime later to discuss in detail. I had no idea what Jason was talking about, so googled this. LOL. Dr. J. and Zelmo Beatty had a lot more in common than I ever guessed.
Anyway, it was a fun time despite not being able to see the Suns' very own Goran Dragic at all over the weekend. Being out with Crown Royal, we didn't get to attend the Skills Challenge, but I didn't end up missing much anyway.
"I didn't like [the format]," Dragic said afterward, with a laugh. "If you're doing well but somebody else is not doing well you're kind of screwed."
He wouldn't name who was not doing well, but didn't ascribe to the notion floated on twitter that his partner Jackson didn't even realize is was a team event. He said they talked beforehand about it.
The big thing was that, like me, Dragic spent a great deal of his weekend time away from the basketball court. Miles Plumlee had a similar experience to Goran in that his basketball portion was very brief while the media and community service schedule was heavy.
"In the off days, it was a lot of work," Dragic said afterward of his experience in town for the Skills Challenge. "Media, meeting new people, building benches for NBA Cares. It was fun, but I didn't have that much of a break."
Goran had planned to bring Maya and Mateo, but once Maya saw the schedule she said no way.
I am really grateful to the Crown Royal team for hosting me and the other bloggers this weekend the first ever Crown’s Center Court influencer program comprised of NBA specific team writers from across the nation.
The Crown team isn't done yet!
Coming soon are giveaways to you guys, including NBA.com gift cards and other quality prizes. Stay tuned for those giveaways in March and April.
For Crown Royal, to Reign On is to win, and we want you to Reign On responsibly this NBA season.