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For the second game in a row, the Phoenix Suns are facing a road-weary team that's pretty bad on the road regardless of whether they are weary or not.

The Charlotte Bobcats just lost to the Los Angeles Lakers last night in a tight battle, and now must face a Phoenix Suns team that is rested and feeling good about themselves. Charlotte led for most of the game against a Laker team that can't figure out how to play Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard at the same time (they were alternating minutes last night while Metta World Peace took minutes at the 4-spot), but ended up losing by being unable to sink a shot in the closing seconds.

On this home stand, the Suns just beat two teams with winning records (Memphis and Utah) and then overcame a lazy 19-point deficit to beat the struggling Sacramento Kings. Their defense has come alive, allowing 80, 84 and 90 points on 40% shooting in those games.

The Charlotte Bobcats enjoyed 15 of their first 24 games at home but have been unable to take advantage of the early home schedule, losing their last 12 consecutive games after starting the season as good as 7-5.

One of those first early losses came at the hands of the Suns when Shannon Brown dropped 6 threes in the fourth and the Suns won one of their two road games on the season, 117-110. Brown had 24 points, but he wasn't the best player that night.

Michael Beasley had 21 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists and a steal. Easily still his best all-around game of the season. By far. He may not have tallied 15 rebounds in all the games since, but I'd have to check on that. Marcin Gortat tallied 23 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks - a career high. Goran Dragic had a good game as well, with 16 points and 8 assists to go with 3 rebounds.

Since then, Charlotte has gotten worse and worse. Even worse than the Suns at their worst - to the tune of 12 consecutive losses (7 of those at home).

Best Players

Kemba Walker is by far their best player at 18.1 points per game and 6.1 assists, along with 2 steals. He is explosive, having eight games of at least 20 points and has been game-high scorer four times. He scored 28 against the Lakers last night.

Gerald Henderson is back from injury to man the shooting guard spot. He averages about 14 points and 3.5 rebounds per night, dropped a huge dunk on Howard's head last night while scoring 19 with 9 rebounds and 4 assists. Henderson did not play in the teams' first meeting last month.

Ben Gordon can still be a microwave as well, with five games of at least 19 points (and three over 25 points). His season averages are pedestrian (ie. Suns-ian) though at 13.4 points per game. He is much more likely to score few points than he is to go off.

Their only other serious threat (besides Mullens going off on 3s) is backup PG Ramon Sessions. Sessions gets to the line nearly three times per game (5.8 FTAs per game). He averages 14.4 points and 4.2 assists. Against the Suns earlier this season, he had 17 points and 9 assists off the bench.

Unfortunately for the Bobcats, two of those best players don't even start for them. Rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has struggled, and the Bobcat bigs are nothing to blog about (unless you're a Bobcats blogger).

Offense

Neither offense is very prolific. The Bobcats have topped 100 points only thrice in the last 13 games, while the Suns have topped 100 only once in their last 11.

Charlotte has the league's 25th ranked offense in terms of points-per-100-possessions (98.5). The Suns have vacillated between 15th and 20th in efficiency, currently sitting at 15th (101.1).

One thing the Suns did really well against the Bobcats in their first meeting was to pull down an astounding 22 offensive rebounds, and convert that to 18 second-chance points. The Suns need to do that again to make life easier on themselves.

Defense

Worried about the Suns defense this season? Well, Charlotte can only dream of being as good.

While the Suns are only 26th in the league in defensive efficiency (105.2), the Bobcats are a solid 30th (107.3). Dead last. Does that mean the Bobcats will give up 107 points to the Suns? Heck no. It just means that they usually give up that many, or more, in a game.

Streaks

While the Suns have won three in a row after losing seven straight, the Bobcats are still mired in the muck. They have lost twelve consecutive games and counting.

Let's hope it's 13.


FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
Kemba Walker 23 35.3 6.6 15.3 42.8 1.0 3.4 30.4 3.9 4.8 81.1 0.6 2.5 3.1 6.1 2.2 2.0 0.4 2.0 18.1
Ramon Sessions 23 26.7 4.5 11.7 38.7 0.5 1.9 27.3 4.8 5.8 83.5 0.7 2.7 3.4 4.2 1.9 0.8 0.0 1.3 14.4
Gerald Henderson 10 25.0 4.5 10.3 43.7 0.7 1.4 50.0 3.5 4.4 79.5 0.5 2.5 3.0 1.5 1.5 1.1 0.5 2.3 13.2
Ben Gordon 21 22.6 4.7 10.8 43.4 2.0 4.7 43.9 1.8 2.0 86.0 0.3 1.7 2.0 2.5 1.8 0.5 0.4 1.7 13.1
Byron Mullens 23 30.5 4.5 11.8 38.0 1.3 4.5 28.8 1.6 2.1 73.5 1.5 5.7 7.3 1.2 1.4 0.9 0.7 2.2 11.8
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 23 27.6 4.0 8.4 47.9 0.0 0.1 50.0 2.4 3.1 76.4 1.9 4.4 6.3 1.8 1.6 0.8 1.4 2.6 10.5
Jeff Taylor 22 25.7 2.7 6.5 41.0 0.8 2.5 32.7 1.2 1.5 81.8 0.9 1.5 2.4 1.0 0.8 0.9 0.3 2.2 7.4
Tyrus Thomas 8 17.8 2.3 6.6 34.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 2.1 2.5 85.0 1.0 2.1 3.1 1.0 0.9 0.5 1.4 3.0 6.6
Brendan Haywood 22 23.2 2.4 4.6 52.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.5 0.9 50.0 2.5 3.4 5.9 0.5 1.1 0.2 0.8 2.1 5.3
Bismack Biyombo 21 24.6 2.0 4.0 49.4 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.6 1.4 44.8 2.1 4.3 6.4 0.3 1.0 0.3 1.7 2.3 4.6
Reggie Williams 16 8.9 1.5 3.4 44.4 0.6 1.8 34.5 0.1 0.3 40.0 0.3 0.8 1.1 0.6 0.4 0.5 0.0 0.6 3.8
Hakim Warrick 10 9.5 0.7 2.7 25.9 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.5 2.3 65.2 0.3 1.1 1.4 0.5 0.4 0.4 0.2 0.9 2.9
DeSagana Diop 12 10.1 0.4 1.3 33.3 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.1 0.0 0.4 2.0 2.4 0.5 0.3 0.3 0.5 1.0 0.8

Hey, Hakim Warrick is on the Bobcats! Think he'll take the court tonight against the Suns? He has appeared in 10 games this season, so it might happen. If he does step out there, cheer for him to do well (just not well enough to beat our home team, of course).

Bobcats vs Suns coverage

Check out Rufus on Fire for exclusive Bobcats coverage on SB Nation.

Phoenix Suns 121, Charlotte Bobcats 104 PHOENIX — The suddenly streaking Phoenix Suns will be aiming to win their fourth straight game after seven consecutive losses when the lowly Charlotte...

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This week we discuss some of the details of the Suns three game winning streak, take a victory lap to celebrate the Suns ascension from the worst defensive team in the league to just one of the worst (hey, it's progress) and look ahead at the coming week.

Podcasts will be available at the regular times (Wednesdays) over the holidays, but recording times (Tuesday night) may be different due to Christmas and New Year's. Kris and I plan on doing some themed topics and have other surprises in store in the near future, so check in as we try to keep fresh content coming on a regular basis.

Podcast #3 12.19.12

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Phoenix Suns assistant coach / Phoenix Mercury head coach is followed by Suns.com for 48 hours during the recent road trip. Gaines mixes both parts of his job, working with Suns young players and scouting potential first overall picks for the Mercury.
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Jared Dudley got off to a slow start this season. He couldn't hit the broad side of a barn from deep or anywhere else on the court really, and he also wasn't having much of an impact in any other area of the game. Many were ready for him to be benched, and some wanted to be rid of him entirely.

However, after a brief nine-game stretch coming off the bench, Dudley is back in the starting five and is absolutely killing it. Dudley's return to form did begin when he was replaced by Shannon Brown in the starting line-up, as he shot .508 from the field and .538 from deep as a sub, but I think that had more to do with his shot finally falling than anything else. Once the shot started to fall, the rest of his game quickly followed.

However, even with Dudley's improved play from the bench, the Suns were still losing. In fact, they had lost five games in a row by the time Gentry finally decided starting Michael Beasley was not the right move for the team, and it was Dudley who got the call to replace him.

The losing streak continued with Dudley back in the starting five and ultimately reached seven games, but the first of those final two losses was against the Los Angeles Clippers (one of the best teams in the West) and Dudley only played 18 minutes, while the second was against the lowly Orlando Magic but without Suns' starting point guard Goran Dragic. Even in those two losses, Dudley was certainly not the problem.

The Suns broke the losing streak against the mighty Memphis Grizzlies, and for my money, Dudley was the player of the game in that one, even with Dragic scoring the game-winning layup. Dudley followed up that performance with back-to-back 20-point games, and the Suns are now riding a three-game win streak. In the last five games (since he rejoined the starting line-up), Dudley is shooting .555 from the field and .435 from deep. So it appears as if the hot shooting as a sub had more to do with him just rediscovering his stroke and reverting to his career averages and less to do with him coming off the bench.

Here's a table of Dudley's stat-lines in the last five games.

Opponent MIN +/- PTS FG 3FG REB AST STL TO
LAC 18:17 +3 8 3-4 2-2 1 3 1 2
ORL 37:56 +5 15 6-13 1-4 3 4 1 1
MEM 43:18 +11 15 7-14 1-5 9 5 3 1
UTA 43:04 +26 22 9-12 2-4 4 5 3 2
SAC 36:51 +18 20 5-11 4-8 3 1 1 1

Dudley is the only Sun to record a positive in +/- in all five of those games, and led the team in +/- in three of them. Using +/- as a stand-alone stat isn't the best way to prove a point, but when you combine it with the rest of his stats and what you've seen from him on the court recently, it's pretty obvious that he is balling right now. Some might even say he's killing it.

As Dudley's minutes increased (and conversely, Michael Beasley's decreased), the Suns started to win. He has led the team in minutes played over the last four games, and with good reason. Atrocious wing play was one of if not the biggest problem for the Suns, and since Dudley has returned to the starting line-up and begun playing the majority of the wing minutes, that position has been stabilized and the Suns have played much better.

Not only has he been knocking down jumpers (and providing much more reliable floor spacing than Beasley did), but he's been stuffing the box score as well. He's hauling down five boards per game over the last five, and has racked up 18 assists to just seven turnovers. He's also recorded nine steals during that span.

He's impacting the game on and off the ball, making plays for himself and others and, most importantly, he's showcasing the hustle that earned him the JunkYard Dog moniker.

Some might suggest that it's been a return to playing at the small forward position that has revitalized Dudley, and while I think there is some validity to that claim (specifically defensively), I don't believe that is the main reason. I just think it finally clicked for him. I maintained throughout his struggles that he would snap out of it at some point. This isn't the first time he has gotten off to a slow start. The truth was he was just too good of a player not to bounce back closer to his career averages. And that is exactly what has happened. Shots started to fall, and it has snowballed from there.

Even in the spite of this terrific play, some will never be convinced of Dudley's viability as a starter in the NBA. However, that doesn't change the fact that he is indeed a starting-caliber player. He'll never be a star or a team's leader in any category (except maybe 3-point percentage), but his efficiency, energy and overall effectiveness despite his limitations make him the perfect complementary starter on a talented team. Jared Dudley having to start is not the problem for the Phoenix Suns, nor is his status as a starter an indictment on the team's talent. Shannon Brown on the other hand...

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