20121205_pjc_al2_416

When: Saturday, December 8, 2012, 1:30 PM local time (3:30 EST)

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

Watch/Listen: TV: FSAZ, Radio: 620 KTAR

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Last Meeting:

First meeting this season. The teams last played April 19, 2012 with Phoenix winning at home 93-90. Jared Dudley led the way with 18 points (including 4-7 from three) and Marcin Gortat had a double-double with 14/14. I can't quite remember, but it seems like there might have been a notable altercation between Dudley and Blake Griffin. It was the Suns last victory of the 2011-12 season, which put them at 33-30, before they lost their last three games.

Team Bios:

LA Clippers: 12-6

Points per game: 101.5 (6th) Points allowed: 94.9 (9th)

Offensive Efficiency: 106.5 (4th) Defensive Efficiency: 99.2 (7th)

The Clippers come into the game riding a four game win streak, the last of which was a 22 point blowout of the same Dallas Mavericks team that just beat the Suns on Thursday night. Strangely enough, the Clippers had dropped four straight prior to the current win streak. LA is 8-3 at home this season, but has lost games at home to the Cleveland Cavaliers and New Orleans Hornets.

The Clippers are a well-rounded team that is near the top of the league on both offense and defense. In addition to the impressive numbers above, LA shoots 48.0% from the field (3rd), averages 22.4 assists per game (8th), and limits opponents to 43.5% shooting (9th). One of the Clippers only areas of weakness is rebounding, where they rank only 24th in the league.

The Clippers are led by the inimitable Chris Paul (16.1 ppg, 9.5 apg, 2.7 spg) and that dude that got punked by Jared Dudley (17.6 ppg and 9.1 rpg). Paul's totals in assists and steals are good for second and first in the league, respectively. Surprisingly, Jamal Crawford, who comes off the bench, leads the team in scoring with 17.8 ppg.

Despite moderate recent success, they are still the Clippers... which still makes me warm and fuzzy inside about being a Suns fan.

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Phoenix Suns: 7-13

Points per game: 98.2 (14th) Points allowed: 102.7 (30th)

Offensive Efficiency: 100.8 (17th) Defensive Efficiency: 106.2 (28th)

The Phoenix Suns are pathetic wretches.

That's not to say the team has a terminal illness and can't shed their opprobrious title, but the stark reality is that right now this is not a good basketball team. After a loss on "satisfaction guaranteed night" (also known as look at as employing an embarrassing bush league promotional tactic), the Suns travel to LA for a quick stint against the formidable Clippers. Remember when the Suns use to be good and the Clippers sucked? Yeah, that was fun.

Despite the underwhelming nature of the season to date, the Suns have received a solid contribution from.... Pretty much nobody.

Quick notes:

The Suns are 2-9 on the road. Only the Sacramento Kings have a worse road winning percentage among teams in the Western Conference.

The Suns 13 losses overall are tied for most in the Western Conference.

The Suns haven't had the high scorer in a game they've played since the beginning of time November 12th (12 games ago).

Over his last 11 games, the amazing disappearing Gortat has averaged 10.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. He has one double-double over that stretch. It's good to see that Gortat seems to have completely checked out and is trashing his trade value while wanting to be traded (somewhat counterintuitive). At least this means that when (yes, when not if) the Suns trade him the likely return is some expired coupons and a tootsie roll.

Michael Beasley (that is all).

The Suns are 30th in points allowed (dead last), 28th in defensive efficiency, 28th in opponent field goal percentage, 30th in opponent three point percentage and 27th in opponent effective field goal percentage.

While the Suns fail epically in any imaginable defensive metric, at least they are first in the league in missed layups during crunch time....

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What To Watch For:

Dudley/Griffin: With Grant Hill gone and Tucker out, perhaps Dudley will get some bonding time with his bosom buddy. The last couple weeks have been mostly devoid of basketball with any real entertainment value, so some pyrotechnics in this matchup could increase the jollification factor. It would be nice for someone else besides the Suns to look stultified for a change and Griffin is an easy mark.

Defense: Ha! Not really the defense. I just wrote that because you were probably expecting it. This is about rebounding. The Clippers aren't very good at it. I don't see a path to victory that doesn't include the Suns winning this battle, and if the Suns are unrelenting in this task they should.

Pride: Will this actually kick in at some point? Can the Suns actually play engaged basketball for 48 minutes? That should actually be the team's slogan instead of "All for Orange" - "48 Minutes." Except they never play basketball with palpable desire for that long, so everyone would laugh at the tag with derisive mockery.

Paul/Goran Dragic: Goran has had trouble with smaller, quicker point guards this year, so part of me is cringing at the thought of how this matchup might play out today. If Dragic can win this matchup which he can't, it would go a long way toward a Suns upset.

30: Will this finally be the game a Suns goes berserk? I set the over/under at 27 and took the under. That only gives me six more games before my prediction blows up in my face. Kinda like this season so far...

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The Final Word(s):

The Clippers should win this game. Comfortably. They are a much better team and are currently playing much better basketball.

All that aside, for some reason this feels like a game the Suns can win. Maybe just a sense that they're due? The Suns have found ways to lose games recently. I swear to God Gentry is running practice drills where the Suns intentionally miss layups in preparation for late game situations. Eventually the results of these games will countervail the scales of karma. Right?

Then again, a 20+ point humiliating defeat wouldn't surprise me, either.

Oh yeah, also this...

Jared Dudley Punks Blake Griffin (via Ray Anthony)


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20121206_ajl_as8_109

"You play and do the best job that you can," head coach Alvin Gentry said after the team's fifth straight loss.

"No is going to quit."

Those are the words of a desperate leader searching for hope, and in the absence of a clear winning formula he resorts to platitudes and promises designed to engender faith.

But faith is dwindling. At the moment, the Phoenix Suns sit at 7-13 on the young season after 20 games. You get an idea of your team after 20 games, and my idea is that these Suns are not on an upward trajectory.

Is there a sense of frustration in the clubhouse?

"There's not a sense," Luis Scola said after the Dallas loss. "It's frustration. Pure frustration. Its not a sense. We are losing. We lost five games in a row. We are just playing bad. There's frustration."

In those five consecutive losses, the Suns had a chance to tie or take the lead in the final seconds of four of them. Three of those shot attempts were layups. One could take those missed layups as evidence that the team is okay, and that shots like those even out over the course of a season.

The Suns have played 11 of their first 20 on the road, a tough task for a young team with a lot of new faces. One could point to the road-heavy schedule as evidence that the team could turn it around with more home games.

But let's pull back the layers a little further.

The Suns have played what amounts to the second-easiest schedule in the league, in terms of opponents' winning percentage to date. Against teams who currently have a winning record (won more than they lost), the Suns are 0-8. Against teams who currently have a losing record, the Suns are 7-5.

During this second-easiest slate of games, the Suns have managed to find themselves down by at least 10 points in 16 of 20 games. I have not done the research to compare to other teams in other seasons, but on the surface this appears to be a bad trend.

"When you are down 15, 16, 19, 27 points, you are going to lose the majority of those games," Scola says wisely (paraphrased from several post-game comments on the topic).

The Suns are 29th in the league in defensive efficiency (points allowed per possession) and dead last in total points allowed per game. They allow a league-leading 3-point shooting percentage against them.

That the Suns have only played eight winning teams in 20 games is fortunate and unusual, and about to end. The Suns are entering a very tough stretch of games in December and January - a whopping 19 of their next 26 opponents could have a winning record when they face the Suns.

Oy.

"No is going to quit."

Of course, the coach says this. What choice does Alvin Gentry have here? His job is to win games, so he is going to prod and poke his guys into playing the best basketball they can possibly play.

His job is to get them to ignore the results and play each minute like it's their last. And if guys do quit, they lose their spot in the rotation. Wake up, Marcin. This is your career in the balance here. Same to you, Michael.

The Suns players cannot be worried about winning records, losing records and playoff positioning. They can only worry about today's game, and how can they win their individual matchup.

Gentry can only coach the players he has and try to get them to do the right thing at the right time.

"Disappointed in our ball movement," he said regarding the offense. "When we passed it 1-2 times, shooting was 33%, more than that = 68%."

What about defense, Alvin?

"We gotta do a better job of controlling the dribble penetration."

The Suns have to focus on a few things they can correct with better scheming and coaching. These guys are not going to win games by themselves. The coaching staff has to play matchups and schemes.

Starting today, on the road in Los Angeles against the Clippers, start focusing on small improvements. Focus on player development, but not to the detriment of the team.

But don't lambast Gentry for trying to win games. That's his job, and it's the only job he has.

Don't tell him to play his youngest players the most minutes - that's career suicide for him and morale killing to the team. As long as he has veterans playing better than his kids, he is going to play those veterans. It's up to the kids to win those rotation minutes.

"As quickly as things are going poorly," he said, trying to stay positive. "You can also turn it around. Right now, our goal is to keep playing and turn our season around."

Keep the faith, Alvin.

Los Angeles Clippers 117, Phoenix Suns 99 As Sam Cooke famously sang in 1963, “A Change is Gonna Come.” Those five words are rather fitting for the Phoenix Suns as they take to the road...

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PHOENIX — The third quarter of the Suns’ loss to the Dallas Mavericks Thursday could arguably have been one of the more abysmal stretches for the Phoenix offense this season. The 1-for-14...

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20121202_ter_af2_056

When I was young I used to love Choose Your Own Adventure books. Bantam Books printed 185 of them between 1979 and 1998 by a panoply of different authors and I must have read damn near every one of the 108 published by 1990. The books would allow the reader to make choices as he read them and the eventual outcome would be dictated by the choices the reader made.

Figuring you can open the trap door easily enough later, you continue down into the basement of the house. The staircase is rickety; its wooden supports are rotted. Proceeding carefully, you reach the dirt floor of the basement. A little light comes in through several windows high above. The windows are slits, too narrow to climb through, even if you could reach them. Except for a few pieces of old furniture, a furnace, and overhead pipes and wires, the basement seems bare. Then from somewhere in the shadows, you hear the meowing of a cat.

If you try to find the cat, go to page 53

If you head back up the stairs, go to page 62

There would be multiple endings based on the decisions made throughout the course of the book. Usually there were several desirable outcomes, to varying degrees, and several undesirable outcomes, up to (and including) death. I would take an initial run through the book and see where it led me. After this incipient stage I would proceed to go through every different decision in the book to learn all possible outcomes. Sometimes it was really hard not to peek ahead and control my kismet. Other times I would "die" and simply go back to the previous decision, like a reset button for a revisionist history. Some of the titles of this series included The Cave of Time, The Mystery of Chimney Rock, The Case of the Silk King, and How to Rebuild the Floundering Suns.

I'm giving a boxed set of these timeless classics to my eleven year old daughter for Christmas this year. I'm sure she will be more engrossed by them than the new Galaxy S3 I'm giving her... The last title is for someone else, though (I will leave you to surmise who that could possibly be).

Here are some excerpts from this titillating adventure in franchise building...

Contract negotiations have bogged down and it is apparent that a team fresh off a Western Conference finals appearance must be broken up to save the fans from multiple years of missing the playoffs in the coming seasons. Despite a very fair contract offer, Amar'e Stoudemire has just left the franchise for the guarantee of $100 million dollars from the New York Knicks.

If you panic and bring in Turkoglu, Childress and Warrick, you are an idiot - go to the 13th pick on pg. 5

If you choose a plan that isn't destined for catastrophic failure, go to a playoff appearance on pg. 6

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Pg. 5

On your way to the 13th pick, you are struck by an afflatus that the mental lapse which made Turkoglu a Sun was a scourge upon humanity that must be corrected. Not only does he look like a pizza delivery guy, but he plays like one too.

If you trade him and Jason Richardson for Marcin Gortat and a body bag with a cadaver that resembles former NBA player Vince Carter, proceed to the 13th pick on pg. 7

If you find another team to take Hedon't without giving up the team's best scorer, that is not possible; no one else is that stupid - choose the other selection.

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Pg. 7

The team is struggling during the lockout shortened season. The same cast of characters that failed to make the playoffs the previous year are struggling to do so again. It is painfully obvious (as it has been for some time) that a full rebuild is necessary.

If you stay on the treadmill of mediocrity and keep Steve Nash (who should have been traded the previous year), while losing both the ability to work out a more mutually beneficial situation for Nash and the franchise which doesn't result in him becoming a Laker AND screwing yourself in the draft order to prevent the team from taking a player (Lillard, Rivers, etc.) you really want, proceed to the 13th pick and take Kendall Marshall on pg. 9

If you trade Nash and quite possibly put the franchise in a better situation than it now stands, go to pg. 13

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Pg. 9

The highly anticipated offseason has finally arrived. The virtue of patience stands ready to be rewarded. Visions of superstars are dancing in your head. Promises of the vast improvements that will be facilitated by the flexibility and cap space the team has created gambol to and fro. One sided trades traipse through your dreams at night.

If you make a farce of an attempt to sign Eric Gordon and trade Nash to the Lakers, go to pg. 24

If you attempt to make moves that don't make your fans cringe, cry, laugh and stab things, go to pg. 33

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Pg. 24

There is still cap space burning a hole in your pocket and a salary floor to consider. The team's most glaring need is at the shooting guard position. Plan A failed spectacularly. People in the front office can't agree on the direction of the team, but plan B must be enacted anyway (even though there really isn't a plan B [or a plan A for that matter]).

If you claim Luis Scola on amnesty waivers and sign Michael Beasley, go to a 7-13 start on pg. 34

If you entered the offseason with a plan that would actually work and wasn't completely reactionary, go to pg. 42

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Pg. 34

The culmination of a series of negligently inept moves have led to the team being 7-13 to start the season. The team can't get good and refuses to be bad (although further evidence of your inadequate job performance suggests the team might be headed there anyway). Claims of "more talent" have shockingly resulted in "less wins." Pundits predict ineluctable doom. To the chagrin of some, and mockery of others, the team has resorted to gimmicks one would expect from a AA farm league team to promote the "quality" of the product. It has been a long time since the future appeared this tenebrous.

If you stay the course, you are fired - go to pg. 44

If you try to atone for your transgressions, go to ......

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The Suns front office must choose what to do next. Dwelling on the past does them no good. There is no revisionist history. They can't flip back the pages of time in an effort to produce more positive outcomes. They can't peek ahead to find something that will actually work for a change. Have all many of the recent choices been bad? Yes. Is there still a chance that future choices can be better? That's the adventure yet to be seen.

And that's where the hope of Suns fans must lie, because the pattern of previous choices leads to only one outcome....

Cosmodna1_medium

*Not an actual Choose Your Own Adventure book

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