PHOENIX — This one was tabbed as an important game in the preseason. After all, playing for lottery positioning is all the rage. But nope, the Phoenix Suns host the Philadelphia 76ers on...

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Going behind enemy lines for some insight on the game tonight...

With the help of Liberty Ballers Michael Levin we preview tonight's match-up between the Phoenix Suns (17-11) and the Philadelphia 76ers (8-20).

Projected Starters

PG -- Eric Bledsoe v. Michael Carter-Williams

SG -- Goran Dragic v. Evan Turner

SF -- P.J. Tucker v. Hollis Thompson

PF --Channing Frye v. Thaddeus Young

C --Miles Plumlee v. Spencer Hawes

Suns Injuries: OUT Emeka Okafor (Neck)

76ers Injuries: Evan Turner (Probable, Right Knee), OUT Jason Richardson (Left Knee), Nerlens Noel (Left Knee), Arnett Moultrie (Left Ankle)

When we talked at the beginning of the season we were both sold on the concept of Philly and Phoenix being very bad. Instead they each started 5-5 with quality play from new point guards in town. Since then the 76ers have taken a dip, but a lot of that has to do with Michael Carter-Williams. With, they are 7-10 and look like a competitive team. Without they look like a team that relies on Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes for wins. Which is the Dr. Jekyll and which is the Mr. Hyde?

They are a very fun team to watch with MCW might even be in the playoff picture if he didn't get hurt. Not a common sentiment in the pre-season... --Kris Habbas

That's more of a reflection on how bad the East is than the Sixers having any talent. MCW is great, sure, but he's also got lots and lots of areas to improve upon -- notably his shooting efficiency. There's no question that they held him out as a precaution (again, why rush?), but even mostly with him, they haven't won a regulation game in almost two months. Their last four wins have been in overtime. So not only are they bad, but they've gotten lucky. That's going to normalize.

Things are going great on our end. Trades are coming, they're 8-20, and the two teams ahead of them (Utah and Milwaukee) are getting better and healthier.  Hopefully a few teams in the East will turn into buyers and the Sixers can separate themselves a bit.

Think the Suns' success is gonna maintain? -- Michael Levin

The interesting thing about the Suns success, and I have talked about this before, is that it is being done with no experience. None of these players or coaches are used to playing at this level for 82 games. Channing Frye is, but that is about it. They have a good chance of maintaining their success if they keep doing what they are doing. Attacking, shooting well, and playing with great energy every night. They proved that is not a given with losses to Utah and Sacramento earlier this season before the winning streak.

What can we expect to see from the 76ers tonight? Personally I am excited to see MCW live, but what else should the Suns be worried about? -- KH

MCW on Bledsoe/Dragic should be fun. Expect the Suns to hit 45 threes. Sixers just cannot guard the perimeter. It's hysterical.

In terms of experience, the Sixers have yet to play anyone over the age of 25 for even a single minute this season. It's wildly impressive commitment. -- ML

That is an under-emphasized point of the NBA right now. Every given night there is another very good to great point guard coming to town. The Suns are going from Stephen Curry doing a little bit of everything with a triple-double to Michael Carter-Williams on back-to-back nights which posses a huge challenge.

The 76ers should at least be well rested, right? -- KH

Enjoy tonight!

Time: 7:00 pm MDT TV: FSAZ After suffering their worst loss of the season last night, the Phoenix Suns return home tonight to face a very beatable but very rested opponent in the Philadelphia 76ers....

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While the 29 point loss to Golden State on Friday night is a major blight on an otherwise surprisingly good season by the Phoenix Suns, every other Western Conference playoff contender has at least one stinker this season too.

The Phoenix Suns lost in big fashion on Friday night, by 29 points to the Golden State Warriors. After entering the season with what was widely regarding as some of the worst talent in the NBA only to surprise the league with a 17-10 record through Christmas, some might think the 29-point loss is a harbinger of bad things to come.

But if you look at the schedule across the league, most importantly in the West, you'll see a lot of blowouts up and down the line. Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said last week in Phoenix that, since the new CBA, there's a lot more turnover, less depth and, as a result, occasional lopsided wins and losses by every team in the league.

Let's look at the worst losses so far by the other Western Conference playoff contenders, in order of their current conference seeding:

  1. Oklahoma City Thunder (24-5) - lost to Minnesota by 19 points
  2. Portland Trailblazers (24-5) - lost to Houston by 15, Phoenix by 13 and 14
  3. San Antonio Spurs (23-7) - lost to LA Clippers by 23
  4. Houston Rockets (20-11) - lost to Indiana by 33, LA Clippers by 19, Phoenix by 9
  5. LA Clippers (20-11) - lost to LA Lakers by 13, OKC by 14
  6. Phoenix (17-11) - lost to Golden State by 29, Memphis by 19
  7. Golden State Warriors (18-13) - lost to Memphis by 18, OKC by 21, Houston by 22, Phoenix by 4
  8. Dallas Mavericks (16-13) - lost to Sacramento by 15, Phoenix by 15

While the Suns have the second worst loss now among Western playoff contenders, only the LA Clippers have not lost by at least 15 points so far this season.

The Phoenix Suns have already beaten four of the other top seeds in the West, going 5-5 overall even including last night's stinker.

Over the first 28 games, the Suns have played the league's 6th toughest schedule to date. Only five teams have played a harder schedule, based on their opponents current collective records.

And, even after that 29 point loss to Golden State, the Suns are still 10th in ESPN's (Hollinger's) automated daily Power Rankings based on statistical analysis focusing strength of schedule, performance in last 10 games and overall offensive and defensive efficiency.

Sure, last night's loss might be a harbinger of bad things to come. But the odds are in favor of last night being an aberration. Golden State is a good team, was shooting very well, and playing in front of their home crowd.

It happens.

Summing it Up

The Suns came out flat from the opening tip, struggling to hit shots from everywhere on the court and not putting up much of a fight defensively. The Splash Brothers definitely won the battle of the backcourts as Stephen Curry starred with a triple double, while the Suns only had one player in double figures in scoring. The Warriors shot 52.9 percent from the field and hit eight 3-pointers, while the Suns shot 36 percent with four 3-pointers. That right there pretty much tells you everything you need to know.

Telling the Story

The two teams went back and forth early on. The Suns were scoring points, but the defense continued to be a problem as Golden State got far too many easy looks. Two of the best 3-point shooting teams in the NBA combined to go 1-11 from deep in the quarter, but the Warriors scored 18 points in the paint and jumped ahead 28-22 by the end of the first period.

Eric Bledsoe, who scored five points in the first but struggled both defensively and offensively in the first quarter, picked up his third foul early in the second and had to take a seat with zero assists and three turnovers.

The second quarter was nearly identical to the second, with the Warriors getting every shot they wanted and the Suns struggling to convert anything. Steph Curry was doing some of everything for the Warriors, finishing the half with a near triple-double with 14 points, nine assists and nine rebounds.

P.J. Tucker played hard and pulled down six boards in the first quarter, while Miles Plumlee snagged five himself in the second. The two combined for 12 points and 14 rebounds as one of the few bright spots for the Suns.

Splash Brothers Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 25, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, while the Suns' Slash Borthers of Goran Dragic and Bledsoe had 13, one and one. The match-up, which was so competitive and so thrilling in the previous meeting, was dominated from the start by the Golden State backcourt and was over by halftime.

Little changed after halftime, as the Warriors continued to roll and the Suns continued to sputter. Curry completed his triple-double two minutes into the quarter and continued to rack up numbers. The 3-ball began to fall for the Warriors (6-9 in the second half) but not for the Suns, and the Suns' offense completely devolved into isolation play. The lead swelled to 29 at one point, and Jeff Hornacek waived the white flag a couple minutes into the fourth by sending out an Ish Smith, Dionte Christmas, Archie Goodwin, Gerald Green and Slava Kravtsov line-up.

Smith gave the team a bit of a spark by getting to the basket and scoring, finishing with eight points, three rebounds and two assists, but even the Warriors bench group outplayed the Suns and the final margin was 29.

Stand-out Performers

  • Stephen Curry: Even without his shot falling (5-17 from the field, 1-6 from deep) Curry was the best player on the floor all night. He secured a triple-double a couple minutes into the second half and finished with 14 points, 16 assists and 13 rebounds.
  • Klay Thompson: The second Splash Brother benefited from his partner's playmaking to the tune of 21 points on 9-11 shooting.
  • P.J. Tucker: Tucker was the only regular rotation player (honorable mention to Plumlee) who really showed up and gave it his all. He led the Suns in points and rebounds with an 11-12 double-double. He didn't hit a three but did some damage in the paint and at the charity stripe to get to double digits.

Final Thoughts

  • This was the Suns' first game back after the extended holiday break, and they certainly played like it. This is one of those games that you just throw out and move on from.
  • This tweet by Paul Coro sums things up pretty well:

FINAL: Ws 115, #Suns 86. Most points surrendered, least points scored, worst deficit (29), worst loss (29), worst shooting (36%) this season

— Paul Coro (@paulcoro) December 28, 2013

  • The Suns did not bring an offense tonight. Turnovers, bricked shots, an inability to finish even when they got in the paint, and finally it reverted to whoever had the ball just going one-on-five. Ugly.
  • Eric Bledsoe had a real problem handling the ball tonight, turning it over or mishandling it several times, sometimes even without any pressure. His defense was far from inspired as well. Dragic wasn't much better outside of a fast break Euro-step layup. He's been struggling a bit lately. Hopefully Jeff Hornacek can get him going early tomorrow.
  • The streak of consecutive games of 10 or more rebounds by both Andrew Bogut and David Lee came to an end tonight, as Bogut finished with six and Lee with seven. Curry was hogging all the rebounds.
  • Round one of Slash Vs. Splash went to the Suns, and round two went emphatically in favor of the Warriors. We're going to have to wait a while for the rubber match, as the next meeting isn't until February 8.

That's all I've got Suns fans. Let's wipe this game from our memories and move on to the 76ers. These are the times when a back-to-back is a good thing. I'm sure the Suns are happy to get right back out there as soon as possible to make up for this mess of a performance.

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