More photos » Kathy Willens - AP
STAT Man! Enjoy your new role as leader of the basketball mecca. But tonight's game won't be decided by you. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
I've thought this through and through.
Amare will get his. Nash will get his. Neither of them, alone, will win this game despite all the talk and hoopla before and during play.
What will decide the game is 3-point plays. This promises to be a very exciting, fan-oriented shoot-out. The Suns have no Power Forward. The Knicks have no real Center. While the teams play marginal (Suns) to passable (Knicks) defense, each team's calling card is offense.
Suns are 3rd overall in offensive efficiency (108.7 points per 100 possessions), despite the whining and moaning about how hard it's been this year to score. The Knicks are right behind them at 4th overall (108.5 p/p).
On the other hand, the Knicks are 1st in overall scoring per game (107.8 per game), ahead of the 3rd-place Suns (106.1). Why? Because the Knicks play faster than the Suns. Just a couple ticks faster, but faster nonetheless.
On the defensive side, both teams are in the league's bottom third in defense, no matter how you slice it. The Suns are worst, of course, but getting better lately. The Knicks are better, but getting worse lately. So its effectively a wash.
The difference will be 3-point plays.
The Suns need to limit, or match somehow, the Knicks' "and-1s". Amare will get his (>8 free throws/gm this season), but no other Knick averages more than 4 free throws per game. The Knicks as a team average only 1 more free throw per game than the Suns.
The other type of 3-pt play? The old-fashioned 23+ footer, of course. The Knicks get 9 a game on 36% shooting (24.4 attempts). The Suns get 8.6 a game on 37% shooting (22.8 per game).
Overall, these teams are surprisingly (or not suprisingly?) even steven. On offense. On defense. Shooting. Scoring efficiency.
Amare and Steve
Amare Stoudemire, barring major foul trouble, is going to finish this game with somewhere around 40 points and 10-15 rebounds. The Suns just don't have a good solution to defend this guy at all. Frye, Lopez or Gortat? Too slow afoot. Warrick? snigger. Hill? Maybe in spurts, to stop the initial burst in isolation, but once Amare gets moving there's no way Grant Hill can stop it. He doesn't have the length. So, 40+ points and, if he's really interested in responding to specific criticisms during his time here, 10-15 rebounds. I'm thinking he's really interested.
"(Suns analyst) Tom Chambers and Gambo and Ash (KTAR-AM hosts John Gambadoro and Mark Asher) did a great job of talking bad about me while I was there", Amare said to Paul Coro, of the Arizona Republic yesterday.
Steve Nash, for his part, has done a lot of talking already too. He misses Amare. He admits have no semblance of a PF in his absence. But he also is committed to making this work.
If Nash "goes off" tonight, it will be in assists. We all know Amare is not a good pick-n-roll defender. Felton is a good defender at PG, but Nash has played and beaten good defensive PGs over and over and over.
Nash will get his.
The question is everyone else. Will Nash's cohorts outplay Amare's cohorts?
Here's the Knicks rotation. Note the big minutes by a few, then the huge dropoff to the rest of the team. Look familiar? Gallinari is out tonight, so D'Antoni will likely start Turiaf. Then it's up to in-game adjustments to see if the lineups trend big or small from that point forward.
|Roger Mason Jr.||8||7.6||0.1||1.6||7.7||0.0||0.5||0.0||0.1||0.4||33.3||0.1||1.4||1.5||0.4||0.1||0.1||0.0||0.6||0.4|
The front lines
Will Gortat, Dudley, Hill, Lopez, Frye and Warrick (yes, Warrick! I predict a Warrick sighting!) collectively outplay the Knicks front line of Amare (biggest chunk), Turiaf, Chandler and Shawn Williams?
Collectively, probably not. Amare will tip the scales in the Knicks favor. But the comparison will likely be very close at the end of the night. The Suns will throw more fresh bodies into the mix as the situation warrants.
Oh yeah, the Hakim Warrick sighting. I predict more minutes for Hakim Warrick than Robin Lopez, and maybe even as many as Frye. The Knicks will go small (they play Wilson Chandler regularly at PF and sometimes at C in smaller lineups). Warrick will have space to move, and that's all he needs to get to the rim. And Nash will want to dish a couple bunnies to a roller.
The back courts
Will Nash, Carter, Pietrus and Dragic collectively outplay Felton, Fields, Douglas and (to a lesser extent) Bill Walker?
The answer here is yes, at least in points and assists. Rebounding and steals might be tighter. Landry Fields, at the SG spot, is averaging 7.4 rebounds per game all by himself, and this group gets 4.3 steals a game collectively. The Suns need to protect the ball, and they haven't done so very well this year.
As I mentioned above, the teams are astonishingly close in 3-point attempts and makes this season. 8.6 makes a game at 37.5% shooting for the Suns. 9 a game at 36% shooting for the Knicks.
I'm thinking that, given the sheer volume of 3-pointers likely to be hoisted tonight, that one stat will tell the tale of the game.
More makes = a big win.
It's a toss-up.
The teams are evenly matched, despite the difference in their records.
But Alex, the Knicks are 20-14 while the Suns are 14-19. How is that "evenly matched"?
Why thanks for asking. I'll tell you why. I've already shown above that they are nearly even in every single statistical category.
The difference is in the opponents.
The Knicks have played the league's 6th easiest schedule to date (guess who's had the easiest??? hint: they play in an arena named after an office supply chain). The Suns, on the other hand, have played the 4th toughest schedule to date. That's no lie, despite the recent laying of eggs against bottom feeders.
Check it here, and sort by the column called SOS
The Knicks have all the positive mojo, while the Suns have home court.
This game can go either way.
I predict 115-110 Suns.
Friday, Jan 7, 2011, 8:30 PM MST
US Airways Center
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One more pre-preview now just to chew on, then the REAL preview later on after the quotes are posted and digested. Just about when we start wringing our hands.
Oh what a game we got tonight!
Right now, boys and girls, let's talk about the coaches.
Mike D vs. Alvin Gentry.
From firsthand knowledge, I think we've got a good handle on these guys.
Mike's biggest PLUS as a coach is his singular philosophy. Given enough talent to make it work, he can get a team playing at a high level for a sustained amount of time. His system breeds success, for those lucky enough to be on the wagon.
I'm thinking of the Chorus Line ditty...
One singular sensation
Every little step they take
One thrilling combination
Every move that they make!
Of course, it takes talent to make his system work. He had terrible results in his first stint in Denver, and in his first half-season coaching the Suns in 2003-04. Plus, he had terrible results for 2 years in NY, 2008-10.
Conversely, give him an All-Star and he can find success. Give him 2-3 all-stars, and you get wild success. Imagine if he had a whole team of all-stars. Maybe they'd win a gold medal or something...
But those teams have always come up short in the playoffs, for one reason or another. Sure, there were injuries and suspensions. And those missing players proved too tough to overcome, in some part because the strain was too great on the remaining players and/or deeper bench guys couldn't / didn't step up. But just think, if the rotation had been deeper, could the Suns have maybe weathered the storm of missing players a bit better?
A couple years ago, Dwight Howard was suspended for Game 6 of a playoff series. A very pivotal game and DPOY was out. What happened? Orlando inserted Marcin Gortat as starter, who pulled down 16 rebounds, and won the damn game.
Last year, Nash was hurting in the first round against Portland. He had 7 turnovers in the first quarter alone in Game 6. What happened? Dragic played a bigger role than usual, and led the team through the rough patch to help close out the series.
Another "con" on Mike's resume is his in-game coaching. The man is stubborn as a mule. We fans routinely lamented the fact that the Suns lost games to lesser teams in the playoffs because of gimmicks or strategies (hack-a-shaq, Bowen on Nash, etc). Mike D never changed his ways, regardless of the opponent and what they were doing on the court.
We all know Alvin is a great people-person and really can connect with his players. He knows how to make them accountable and keep them engaged. Its thanks to Alvin that 10-man rotation actually worked last year, and that they (the two units) worked so well together and rooted for each other.
He also is a great in-game strategist and made a huge difference for the Suns in last year's playoffs. For once, the Suns got the better of the team in terms of strategy and coaching. Putting Grant Hill on Miller full-court in the first round basically killed any momentum the Blazers had from the game 1 win. Switching and isolating Dragic and LB on the San Antonio bigs in the second round. Playing girlie zone in the Conference Finals to tie the series after 2 early, ugly losses. All this was Alvin.
Alvin's cons, though, are that sometimes he tries too hard to play all the guys. And of course, he doesn't have the singular vision that D'Antonio, Popovich, Sloan and Jackson have.
Who's the better coach?