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On the surface, the Oklahoma City Thunder are a clearly superior team to the Phoenix Suns. Currently #2 in the Western Conference, 1/2 game behind the Spurs for #1 with a 44-17 record, the Thunder defeated the Suns by 10 on New Year's Eve and then by 11 last month. Kevin Durant is a league MVP candidate, Russell Westbrook averages over 24PPG and the Thunder have the #1 offensive rating in the league.

But these teams aren't so mismatched when we look at how they've been playing recently. Chew on this, Suns fans: Phoenix has a better record since the All-Star break (18-9) than the Thunder do (17-10). At what point does the sample size become large enough to say that the Suns are a legitimately good team? A win tonight would certainly go a long way to proving the Suns belong as a playoff team, and that they might be one the contenders won't want to face.

US Airways Center had better be rocking tonight because the Suns have played so well over the last couple of months that they've earned this critically meaningful game in mid-April. All five teams remaining on the Suns schedule have winning records and two of them are championship contenders, but the Suns are capable of beating each of them, and it starts with this test tonight.



Of course, there is danger in thin-slicing results too much. When the Suns and Thunder last met March 7th in OKC, the Suns led 84-68 midway through the third quarter before an epic Suns collapse/Thunder run clinched a 115-104 Thunder win. As Alex explained in his recap:

The Suns built the lead back up in the third quarter to a full 16 points - an 84-68 lead! - before the wheels came off and the Thunder came to life, finishing the game on a 47-20 run. Phoenix countered MVP-candidate Kevin Durant and Sixth-Man candidate James Harden with the likes of Sebastian Telfair and Michael Redd. Ugh. Double ugh. How do the Suns expect to win with that matchup going on???

A six-point Suns 4th-quarter lead turned into an 8-point Thunder lead in the blink of an eye. Poof. The Suns chances were gone. All it took was a few minutes of Durant/Harden vs. Telfair/Redd.

What to take from that game? The big lead earned early, or the late collapse? Both, of course, and an explosive team like the Thunder will have runs in it. And it wasn't just the Suns defense that was the problem, as their offense went completely stagnant down the stretch when they simply couldn't make a shot.

Key for the Suns tonight will be to stem the tide if/when the Thunder start sizzling. Slow down the pace on offense and get good shots, take it inside and draw fouls. The Thunder will score a lot, there's probably no getting around that. It will be up to the Suns to execute smoothly on offense down the stretch and make key stops on the defensive end. They will probably have to do this without the services of Grant Hill:

Alvin Gentry said Grant Hill (sore right knee) probably will not play tonight in hopes he'll play Thursday vs. the Clippers.

— Paul Coro (@paulcoro) April 18, 2012

Apparently, the Suns would rather rest Hill tonight and let other players, primarily Dudley and Childress, deal with Durant, and have Hill back to guard Chris Paul tomorrow night. Note that the Suns struggled mightily with Hill out due to foul trouble in the previous meeting, so this is definitely cause for concern. They'll have to avoid Durant badly exploiting mismatches as he did in March.

In happier news:

OKC Coach Scott Brooks said Alvin Gentry is his pick for NBA Coach of the Year.

— Paul Coro (@paulcoro) April 18, 2012

It will be interesting to see what kind of support Gentry gets for COY. On the one hand, will voters give much consideration to a coach of a slightly above average, fringe playoff team? But then, all of these NBA "experts" who have been bloviating all season about how the Suns were a terrible team have to give credit for the coach who turned them around, right? A playoff berth would help his cause, that's for sure.

Get fired up for this one, Suns fans! This would be a landmark win for this season's Suns.

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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
Kevin Durant 61 38.4 9.7 19.4 50.1 1.9 5.2 37.5 6.3 7.4 85.2 0.6 7.2 7.9 3.5 3.7 1.4 1.2 2.0 27.8
Russell Westbrook 61 35.4 9.0 19.3 46.4 1.0 3.0 32.8 5.1 6.2 82.2 1.4 3.1 4.5 5.4 3.7 1.7 0.2 2.2 24.1
James Harden 59 31.6 4.8 10.1 48.2 1.8 4.7 38.4 4.9 5.9 83.7 0.5 3.6 4.1 3.7 2.2 0.9 0.3 2.5 16.4
Serge Ibaka 61 27.0 3.8 7.2 52.9 0.0 0.0 100.0 1.2 1.9 67.3 3.0 4.7 7.7 0.4 1.2 0.5 3.6 2.7 8.9
Derek Fisher 58 24.2 2.0 5.5 36.7 0.6 1.7 32.7 0.9 1.1 83.6 0.2 1.8 1.9 2.8 1.2 0.8 0.1 1.9 5.5
Daequan Cook 52 17.6 1.9 5.2 36.2 1.4 4.1 33.6 0.2 0.3 62.5 0.2 2.0 2.2 0.3 0.3 0.4 0.2 1.2 5.3
Thabo Sefolosha 37 21.0 1.6 3.7 44.2 0.8 1.6 45.9 0.9 1.0 89.5 0.5 2.4 2.9 1.0 0.8 0.9 0.4 1.8 5.0
Kendrick Perkins 60 26.7 1.9 3.9 48.5 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.2 1.8 64.2 1.8 4.7 6.5 1.2 1.8 0.4 1.1 2.9 4.9
Nick Collison 58 20.6 1.9 3.2 60.7 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.7 0.9 69.1 1.8 2.6 4.4 1.3 1.0 0.5 0.4 2.4 4.5
Eric Maynor 9 15.1 1.6 4.3 35.9 0.7 1.9 35.3 0.4 0.4 100.0 0.3 1.1 1.4 2.4 1.2 0.6 0.0 1.4 4.2
Reggie Jackson 45 11.1 1.1 3.5 32.1 0.3 1.4 21.0 0.6 0.6 86.2 0.3 0.9 1.2 1.6 0.8 0.6 0.0 0.7 3.1
Nazr Mohammed 58 11.1 1.3 2.8 46.6 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.2 0.4 56.5 0.9 1.8 2.7 0.2 0.4 0.3 0.6 1.6 2.8
Royal Ivey 31 10.6 0.8 2.1 37.9 0.6 1.6 36.7 0.0 0.3 12.5 0.0 0.7 0.7 0.3 0.3 0.4 0.0 1.0 2.2
Cole Aldrich 25 6.3 0.8 1.6 52.5 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.4 0.4 90.0 0.5 1.3 1.8 0.1 0.3 0.3 0.6 0.7 2.0
Lazar Hayward 25 5.4 0.5 1.5 34.2 0.2 0.6 28.6 0.3 0.5 58.3 0.1 0.6 0.6 0.2 0.4 0.1 0.0 0.7 1.5


"Hey guys!  Enjoy some links and stuff!".

Is the title too corny? Anyways - Did you have time today to scour the vast wilderness of the internet to find the best Phoenix Suns-pertinent news? No? Oh well no worries - I got your back.

Jump for important stuff like what Channing Frye had for breakfast yesterday. What did you have for breakfast?

Matts big breakfast. So legit instagr.am/p/Jh5gvPrXdE/

— Channing Frye (@Channing_Frye) April 17, 2012

Let's get into it -

From our Own SBNation homies -

Enormous Consequences: Utah Jazz, Houston Rockets Hoping To Make Moves - From Our Editors - SBNation.com
The NBA Playoff picture could be cleared up on Wednesday night if the Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns both suffer losses, hence the "enormous consequences."

Steve Nash, Stepping Back And The Brilliance That's Hard To Understand - SBNation.com
Nash has always been a play ahead of everyone on the court. This season, as his role has started to diminish with age, his on-court intelligence and off-court demeanor has kept him and his team going strong. I may not be able to understand why he makes it work, but I sure as hell will be rooting for him to keep it going in the playoffs.

Phoenix Suns vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Pre-Game Chat - Bright Side Of The Sun
Ray: Over the last 10 games, the Thunder are only 5-5. While the losses have been to quality opponents (Clippers twice, Pacers, Heat and Grizzlies), are there any weaknesses they've exposed among the Thunder that particularly concern you?

Zorgon: Yes, there has been a lot of concern. Thunder fans are (or should be) noted as eternal optimists, always seeing the silver lining in every cloud. But with these recent losses, I've seen the same guys who were really excited about our 23 win season start having musings about our ability to finish well in the playoffs. The main problem I see is perfectly highlighted by what happened against the Clippers last night. Over the last couple of years, our offense has regressed to a 2-4 man game. Guys like Collison, Sefolosha, and Perkins don't even have plays drawn up for them anymore....

CLICK THE LINK FOR MORE FROM THIS CONVO!

NBA Western Conference Playoff Standings Update: Suns Still In Eighth Place! - Bright Side Of The Sun
The Suns are still the No. 8 seed after a quiet Tuesday for the teams at the bottom of the Western Conference playoffs.

Thunder vs. Suns: The Young Stars vs. The Ragtag Gang of Old Men (2011-2012 Game 62 Preview) - Welcome to Loud City
5-5 over the past 10 games. The record stings, doesn't it? If the Thunder would have merely won one of their past 5 games against playoff teams, they would be the number one seed right now. Tonight, they get a chance to redeem themselves against a borderline playoff team that has gone 20-10 over the past 30 games: the Phoenix Suns.

Some Suns-related News from other places around the web

Houston Rockets' fizzle helps hot Phoenix Suns
The Suns have won seven of their past 10 games to get above that bold, black line in the Western Conference standings.

Phoenix Suns to add John MacLeod to their Ring of Honor
Young: MacLeod brought class, grace, and a professorial knowledge of the game to more than 13 seasons on the Suns bench.

SUNS-THUNDER GAME PREVIEW: APRIL 18 | THE OFFICIAL SITE OF THE PHOENIX SUNS
"People had us for dead beginning of the season, middle of the season, All-Star break," forward Jared Dudley said. "And we've worked our butts off, we've played through it, guys have learned their roles and I think we're ready to do it."

Would win restore Phoenix Suns fans' thunder?
The Suns are trying. Is anyone buying? At the All-Star break, they were a sorry lot. Their coach was muttering under his breath, cussing in postgame news conferences. The organization seemed lost in a credibility crisis.

San Antonio Spurs maintain top spot in NBA Power Rankings - Britt Robson - SI.com
The Suns are 7-3 in April and would be in the playoffs if the season ended today after entering the All-Star break with a 14-20 record. Such a dramatic reversal requires improvement from multiple players, and one of the recent unsung heroes is backup point guard Sebastian Telfair.

NBA Playoff Tiebreaker System | Fanster.com - All Sports. All Phoenix.
As this is being typed, there are five teams with three games of each other for the final three playoff spots in the Western Conference. It’s not unlikely that two or more of the teams vying for a playoff berth end up with identical records when the final whistle is blown this season.

Suns must face harsh reality of rebuilding | ASU News | The State Press | Arizona State University

Nash deserves the opportunity to win the NBA championship, and Suns fans deserve to see their team back in deep playoff series.

Sports Radio Interviews " Blog Archive " Steve Nash: "It’s going to be a big project for me to really get to the bottom of what is the best thing for me."

Steve Nash joined KTAR in Phoenix with Burns and Gambo to discuss what the Phoenix Suns need to do in order to keep him next year, family playing a factor in his free agency decision, how close the Phoenix Suns are from being the team he wants to stay with in the future, recruiting free agents to play in Phoenix and taking less money to sign with a contender that can win an NBA championship.

VOTE NOW FOR 2012 MAJERLE HUSTLE AWARD | THE OFFICIAL SITE OF THE PHOENIX SUNS

Suns fans once again have an opportunity to help select the winner of the Dan Majerle Hustle Award by casting their vote on Suns.com/hustle. Fan balloting is open now through Tuesday, April 24 at 5 p.m.

AND just for kicks and giggles - Suckers he he.

Jim Buss of Los Angeles Lakers says new CBA cuts heavily into team's profits - ESPN Los Angeles
The NBA's new collective bargaining agreement, as well as the new revenue-sharing arrangement amongst the league's 30 teams, has drastically changed things for the Lakers, according to Jim Buss.

For more exclusive content, follow us on Twitter @Brightsidesun and "Like" us on Facebook.


Oklahoma City Thunder 109, Phoenix Suns 97 PHOENIX — If the Suns make the playoffs they are really going to deserve it. That’s because their Murderers’ Row of a finishing schedule...

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]

{Editor's Note: This excellent Mike Lisboa piece, originally posted on August 17, 2011, is re-published today in recognition of John MacLeod's induction in the Suns Ring of Honor, the ceremony for which will be held at tonight's game.}

The question of John MacLeod’s absence from the Phoenix Suns’ Ring of Honor first occurred to me when Jerry Sloan announced his retirement. While he didn’t enjoy quite the same success as Jerry Sloan, John MacLeod is the longest tenured coach in Phoenix Suns history. "What gives?" I wondered.

This article is not written from an unbiased place. I grew up in Phoenix, having been born there in 1974. My parents had Phoenix Suns season tickets. In junior high, I twice attended the John MacLeod Basketball Camp at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott. While I didn’t know MacLeod personally by any stretch of the imagination, figuratively speaking, he was the face of basketball authority for the first 14 years of my life. That makes an impression.

The Phoenix Suns entered the National Basketball Association in 1968. John MacLeod became the Phoenix Suns’ head coach at the beginning of the 1973-74 season. Prior to hiring MacLeod, the Suns had seen five different head coaches in 5 seasons: Johnny "Red" Kerr (1968-69), Lowell "Cotton" Fitzsimmons (1970-72), Butch Van Breda Kolff (7 games of the 1972-73 season) and two stints by Jerry Colangelo (1970, 1972-73). The young franchise was in dire need of a steady presence on the sidelines. Enter John MacLeod.

Plenty of John MacLeod goodness after the jump.

Coming off a six year stint as head coach at Oklahoma, MacLeod was hired at the beginning of the 1973 season to completely overhaul the franchise’s on-court presence. MacLeod’s first two seasons were disappointing, featuring a combined record of 62-102, but there was a bigger picture to consider.


From Suns.com:

MacLeod, handpicked off the Oklahoma University campus by General Manager Jerry Colangelo two years earlier to oversee a thorough rebuilding of the Suns, was in the midst of laying the foundation for a team they hoped would be a perennial contender. The year before, center Neal Walk and a second-round draft pick had been traded to the New Orleans Jazz in exchange for center Dennis Awtrey, forward Curtis Perry, guard Nate Hawthorne, and the Jazz' first round pick in 1975. The Suns had drafted Notre Dame forward John Shumate with the fourth overall pick in the 1974 NBA Draft. Popular forward Connie Hawkins had been traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for swingman Keith Erickson.

Prior to the '75-76 season, the final pieces, and the biggest, were put into place. Prior the 1975 Draft, talented guard Charlie Scott was dealt to Boston for guard Paul Westphal and second-round picks in the '75 and '76. In the draft, the Suns, holders again of the fourth-overall pick, selected 6-9 center Alvan Adams, who was recruited to Oklahoma by MacLeod before the coach departed for Phoenix. MacLeod clearly was staking his reputation, not to mention his future in Phoenix, on the lanky Adams. MacLeod's based his pick on Adams' mobility, coupled with his outstanding passing skills.With the pick they had acquired from the Jazz, the 16th pick overall, Phoenix selected guard Ricky Sobers from Nevada-Las Vegas. Like most players who were tutored by Rebels coach Jerry Tarkanian, Sobers was an outstanding defender and could easily adapt to the open-court style MacLeod was aiming for.

In addition, the Suns picked up guards Phil Lumpkin (trade with Portland), John Wetzel (waivers from Atlanta three weeks into the season) and Pat Riley (trade with the Lakers in early November). Coupled with Team Captain Dick Van Arsdale, the Suns unveiled a vastly different group in the fall of 1975.

In his third season, he would make Phoenix Suns (and NBA) history by leading the team to its first NBA Finals berth against the Boston Celtics. The Suns, of course, would go on to lose in six games, with game five being the historic "Greatest Game Ever Played."

After reaching the NBA Finals, the Suns disappointed the following year with a 34-48 record and no playoff appearance. In the ensuing decade however, MacLeod would become the first head coach to make success the expectation, not the exception, for a generation of Suns fans. From 1977 to 1985, the Phoenix Suns made 8 consecutive trips to the playoffs including 5 appearances in the Western Conference semi-finals and 2 appearances in the WC Finals. During this stretch, Coach MacLeod and the Suns amassed a record of 387-269 (.590) and set the benchmark for what would be considered success for the franchise going forward. Unfortunately for MacLeod and Suns fans, it was a benchmark he would not reach again. In the 1985-86 and 1986-87 seasons, the Suns would go on to win only 32 and 22 games respectively.

When he was fired at the end of the 1987 season, John MacLeod was in his 14th season as head coach of the Phoenix Suns. At the time, he was the longest active tenured coach and the 2nd longest in NBA history behind Red Auerbach’s 16 seasons with the Boston Celtics. A few months after his termination, a massive drug scandal would consume the Suns resulting in a blown-up roster and setting the stage for the Suns’ 1990s renaissance.

MacLeod would go on to brief head NBA head coaching stints with the Dallas Mavericks and the New York Knicks and then log another 8 years as head coach of Notre Dame University's men's basketball program. He has since served as and assistant coach for the Denver Nuggets and Golden State Warriors. In 2005, he was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.


Salient bullet points:

  • Longest tenured coach in Suns history
  • Laid the foundation for the 1975-76 Sunderella roster
  • Led Suns to their first NBA Finals after only 3 seasons/
  • Led Suns to playoffs in 9 of his 14 seasons, including 8 straight from 1977-1985
  • Led Suns to 3 Western Conference Finals and 1 NBA Finals
  • Cumulative .516 regular season win-loss record
  • Cumulative .465 playoff record


So, what say you, Bright Siders? Is this a Ring of Honor resume? The final numbers may not be as gaudy as Mike D'Antoni's comparatively brief brilliance (.650 regular season win percentage), but I think in this case, the numbers only tell part of the story. Coach MacLeod was a chief architect in engineering a winning foundation that this franchise has sought to maintain since his tenure. For that, a trip back to Phoenix to add his name to the Ring of Honor is the least we can do.

Win-loss numbers obtained from basketball-reference.com.

[Note by Mike Lisboa, 08/17/11 1:23 PM PDT ]

Due to SBNation's photo policy, I can't post any non-cleared photos in this story. However I can link to this great photo from Life Magazine of John MacLeod (and his sweet gray-fro) giving some guidance to an impossibly young-looking Jeff Hornacek.


Well, after a fierce night of intense basketball with huge implications in the Western Conference playoffs race, the Suns miraculously are still clinging to the No. 8 seed.

What's that you say? None of the teams the Suns are fighting for a spot with played last night? Oh. So what did happen last night?

Well, there were some games that mattered.

Make the jump for updated standings, my attempt to connect Tuesday night's games to the Suns and a primer for what to watch for tonight.

Western Conference Standings as of Tuesday, April 17 via NBA.com:

4-18_wc_playoff_standings_medium

There were not any games that directly affected the Suns, but three playoff teams in the Western Conference did take the floor last night.

(1) San Antonio Spurs BEAT (3) Los Angeles Lakers, 112-91

Spurs 112, Lakers 91: One Good Outlier Deserves Another

Tonight was rough for the Lakers, and for us, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't expected. The Spurs came out ready to play and vindicate the previous contest, and enough shitty things happened to the purple and gold as to ensure the result. This says no more about the state of these two teams heading into the postseason than the previous contest did.

Unfortunately, one of these teams had to win. Fortunately, that also meant one of them had to lose, and even more fortunately, it was the Lakers that did so.

The win put San Antonio half a game ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder for first place in the Western Conference. If the Suns can manage to upset the Thunder tonight, that would give the Spurs even more of a cushion, thereby increasing the chances Gregg Popovich rests his starters in the final game of the season against the Suns. Laker misery and help for the Suns? Not a bad result.

(5) Memphis Grizzlies BEAT Minnesota Timberwolves, 91-84

Grizzlies 91, Timberwolves 84: Business Taken Care Of

It was a nondescript game, yes, but it's just the kind that can sometimes be tough to properly focus in on. The Memphis Grizzlies topped the Minnesota Timberwolves, now shells of their early season selves, in Minneapolis, getting what they needed out of the night -- a win however it came -- with a little extra on the side in the quick return of All-Star Marc Gasol.

The Grizzlies find themselves pretty solidly in the No. 5 seed, two games behind the No. 4 seed Los Angeles Clippers and two games ahead of the No. 6 seed Denver Nuggets.

Marc Gasol is back for the Grizzlies a day after being diagnosed with a bone bruise and listed as day-to-day just yesterday in the Grizzlies' loss to the New Orleans Hornets. Gasol is a key part of the team, and Memphis fans are surely breathing big sighs of relief after the big man did not miss any time with his injury.

Games to watch Wednesday, April 18:

  • OKC@PHX -- This is obviously the most important game of the day. While a loss wouldn't kill the Suns' hopes, a win sure would be nice.
  • HOU@DAL -- The Suns are tied with the Rockets and 1.5 games behind the Mavericks. While a Dallas victory would be preferable in this situation, a Houston win wouldn't be the end of the world as Dallas is in danger of falling even farther than the 7th spot they are currently sitting in.
  • LAC@DEN -- With their sweep of the Rockets, the Nuggets separated themselves from the scrum at the bottom of the playoff standings, although they are just two games ahead of the Suns and are not uncatchable. Another reason to root for the Clippers is they are just half a game behind the Lakers in the race for the Pacific Division crown.
  • SAS@SAC -- This should be an easy win for San Antonio. That's good for the Suns.
  • UTA@POR -- Utah is just half a game behind Phoenix and Houston, so it would be much appreciated 'round these parts if the Blazers were to actually show up for this one.
  • LAL@GSW -- Well, it looks like the Clippers won't be catching the Lakers on this night. Oh well.

It is going to be a busy night in the NBA, and an important one for the Western Conference playoff race.


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