Mar, 7, 2012; Oklahoma City  OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) fights for position against Phoenix Suns small forward Grant Hill (33) during the fourth quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena Mandatory Credit: Richard Rowe-US PRESSWIRE

With five games to go and the Suns sitting in eighth place by virtue of a tiebreaker edge over the Rockets, every game left is hugely important. Wednesday's clash at home with one of the Western Conference favorites, the Oklahoma City Thunder, will go a long way towards determining whether the Suns will make it to the postseason.

Zorgon, the "proprietor and manager" of Thunder blog Welcome to Loud City, took some time to participate in a chat with me on a break from his studies in Austria as he was in Skopje, Macedonia, hoping to score tickets to their domestic league games. No, seriously, that is where he was and what he was doing. He asked questions of me about the Suns and I asked questions of him about the Thunder. We did not, however, discuss any Macedonian NBA prospects. Sorry to disappoint.

Jump it to learn more about the Suns next opponent before Wednesday's critical game.

We start with a question of Zorgon to me:

Zorgon: A lot has been made recently of Steve Nash's rumored departure to Miami after his contract with the Suns is up this season. With the future of the team in mind, would you like to see him go so the team can start a rebuild/retool, or would you like to see him stay because you believe the team still has a shot of going deep with him one or two years from now?

Ray: First of all, the Nash to Heat rumor is a fairly flimsy one. He was asked if he'd consider going there and simply didn't rule it out. The question of whether Nash should be allowed to walk has been haunting our blog for most of the past year, and I've been a proponent of keeping him, and seeing what the team can do with its cap space this coming offseason.

Zorgon: Ideally, who would you be eying with that potential cap space for a run with Nash?

Ray: Eric Gordon is a name that has been mentioned, but "ideally" is the key term because he's a restricted free agent and you'd have to guess the Hornets want to keep him. A premier power forward is what the team really needs, perhaps Josh Smith? But I don't like to speculate too much on specific players on other teams.

**********

Ray: The conventional wisdom is that young teams who haven't yet proven their championship mettle find home court advantage more valuable in the playoffs than veteran teams do. How important is it that the Thunder beat out the Spurs for the No. 1 seed in the West?

Zorgon: I'd say extremely important. Some of the Thunder's worst losses have come away from home, and, as anybody whose been to a Thunder playoff game will tell you, the support in there is fantastic. I wouldn't really chalk it up to them being young, because most of the "immature" moments I see from them come from how they play during crunch time, and things like stupid technicals come from players you'd expect it to come from, like Perkins and Westbrook. And those mistakes have come both at home and away.

**********

Zorgon: Robin Lopez has seen decreasing minutes and production since the 09-10 season. Would you say picking him ahead of guys like Roy Hibbert and J.J. Hickson was a total flop, or have we not seen the last of this guy?

Ray: Lopez has had an up and down career so far, but he's actually playing fairly well in a backup role this year. He'll be a restricted free agent this off-season and I'm sure he'll get offered a nice contract by someone, given the dearth of centers around the league. There are players the Suns could have picked otherwise, for sure. Wasn't Ibaka picked after him? And Hibbert, as you mentioned. Hickson has yet to make a contribution to a winning team and was cut by the Kings so the jury is still out on him. In summary, I think Lopez can be a capable, middling starting center in the league, just not sure it will be in Phoenix.

Zorgon: Ibaka and McGee were picked after him as well, yeah.

Ray: Not a McGee fan either. Amazingly low basketball IQ.

Zorgon: So, correct me if I'm wrong, are you insinuating that you'd rather have Lopez than JaVale McGee?

Ray: Haven't given this any thought until now, but I think yes. McGee will be in many more highlights, no doubt. Lopez is a big strong post defender who can run the floor. And make his FTs!

Zorgon: Oh, but the potential! The potential! Yeah, I understand.

Ray: I don't go for the sizzle as much as many fans do. DeAndre Jordan doesn't impress me as much for the same reason.

Zorgon: Nah, having seen him four times this year, I get the impression that he's the guy who benefits from all of the pressure put on Blake Griffin.

**********

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.

Recently we've been relying so much on Westbrook and Durant to score that our offense becomes predictable, and it's easy to put pressure on them and totally destroy the Thunder. There's minor concerns too, like Fisher throwing up too many threes, Cook getting no playing time, Harden looking malaised, but those are nothing compared to how predictable our offense has become.

Ray: Harden looking malaised? Can you elaborate?

Zorgon: Two games ago he was out with a "sore knee". The Thunder faced an outmatched Kings team that night, so it seemed like it was mainly precautionary. But when he returned the night after, he went 1-11 from the floor. Last night, he completely disappeared after the first half. It's a relatively recent problem, so I'm not making too much of it yet, but he hasn't broken 20 since March.

Ray: Wow, hadn't realized that. Harden has great support among many Phoenix fans who remember him from his time at Arizona St.

**********

Zorgon: The Suns have a lot of players who used to be the talk of the town, but have dropped off of the NBA map. Sebastian Telfair, Michael Redd, Josh Childress, Hakim Warrick ... Are there any of these guys that have surprised you in their stints this year or shown flashes of their former ability?

Ray: Both Telfair and Redd have been primary reasons for the Suns improved bench play and that improved bench play is a key reason for the team's second half resurgence. Redd had the health concerns but the Suns training staff is known as the best in the league for good reason, and he's continued to improve as instant offense off the bench.

Telfair, meanwhile, started the season terribly. He dominated the ball when in the game and took forever to get the offense going. Plus, he couldn't make a shot. Now he looks much more comfortable and confident playing with his teammates, hitting shots and playing intense defense. He might be worth keeping around as Nash's backup after this season.

Zorgon: Who would you rather have, him or Brooks? Or both?

Ray: All things being equal, I'd rather have Brooks but Telfair is making a measly $1.5M. Brooks might command a big salary this offseason.

Zorgon: So, would you pay Brooks and risk losing a big fish in the off-season, or go cheap with Telfair and aim high?

Ray: Go cheap with Telfair and aim high.

**********

Ray: Currently, the Thunder have major contributors James Harden and Serge Ibaka on rookie contracts, so not paid at market value, while Durant, Westbrook and Perkins are making large salaries. It appears it will be difficult to hold onto them all long-term given salary cap constraints. What do you see as the pecking order of players the team would like to keep long-term?

Zorgon: Obviously, Durant and Westbrook are at the top of the heap. Perkins seems the likely candidate for the bottom, given that his production looks terrible on paper, and he hasn't produced offensively. But in the middle, Harden and Ibaka is a toughie. Harden still has the potential to be one of the league's greatest scorers, but Ibaka has done worlds to improve over the past few seasons.

I'd go with Ibaka as 3rd, just because it's a lot easier to find a poor man's Harden than it is a poor man's Ibaka, and I don't ever see his defense getting to the point where having him and Durant on the floor together consistently would be feasible.

Ray: Well then, you can add James Harden to the list of players the Suns would like to spend their cap space on!

Zorgon: Hahahaha, don't count your chickens before they hatch. We have our ways ... (sobs quietly in a corner)

**********
Zorgon: Can the Suns be the next coming of Z-Bo's Grizzlies or the We Believe Warriors? In what scenario (if any) could you see the Suns pushing the Spurs, Thunder, Lakers, or even Clippers to 7 games or a victory?

Ray: It will take a total team contribution for the Suns to do that: Nash and Hill at full health, Channing Frye hitting his 3s, Shannon Brown continuing his recent scoring, Telfair, Redd and the bench providing not just relief but extending the leads. Frankly, it's not likely but the Suns have gone 20-10 since starting 12-19. If they make the playoffs, it won't be like they're backing in.

Did I scare you with that? You shaking in your boots over the thought of playing the Suns?

Zorgon: Hahahaha, I'm sorry to say that I'm not afraid of the Suns. I do have many memories of Steve Nash spoiling parties in the Ford Center's past though, so I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the Suns steal two from us in the first round. If the Suns take it to seven, then my eyes start opening.

**********

Ray: Beyond the obvious choice of Steve Nash, are there any Suns players who have particularly impressed or surprised you this season?

Zorgon: Aside from the comeback performances of Redd and Telfair, everyone on the Suns has their card pretty well marked. I'll go with the cop out answer and say Marcin Gortat. I was a big Adonal Foyle fan, so I winced when I saw Gortat replace him at backup center for the Magic. But ever since then, I've enjoyed watching his game grow and evolve from a guy who's game wasn't much better than Foyle's to being the third best PPG center in the league. I'd take him over Perkins any day.

Ray: A big Adonal Foyle fan? I didn't realize there was such a thing!

Zorgon: Oh, it's a long story. Long story short, he was one of the most charitable players of all time. But I'd be lying if I said it wasn't an "adventure" every time he touched the ball. Really fun to watch though.

**********

Ray: One last from me: what's gonna happen Wednesday night?

Zorgon: Once again, the Thunder will see their stagnant offense rise from the ashes, and Westbrook and Durant will both score at least 25, if it's not a total blowout. Should be fun for at least three quarters before the Suns fire a few too many threes and bury themselves on a hole. Final score 109-98.

Your prediction?

Ray: I see there being points, lots and lots of points. And it will come down to late-game execution, where the Suns have struggled at times. But not in this game. Clutch shots go down and Suns win 115-111.

**********

My sincere thanks to Zorgon for his time and expertise. If you have any questions you'd like to ask him, he says he might pop into the comment thread and field some from you.


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We can do this, guys!  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Phoenix Suns just finished a really tough 15-game stretch in which 12 of those games were on the road, a paltry three of 15 were against teams with losing records and only one of those "easy" games was at home.

In fact, going into that 15-game stretch, the 23-22 9th-place Suns were projected by www.basketball-reference.com to drop to 12th place, winning only eight more games the rest of the way to finish 31-35, with only an 11 percent chance of making the playoffs in 5,000 simulations. And that was assuming a healthy Steve Nash and Grant Hill in their lineup the whole time. Alas, Grant Hill needed knee surgery and missed nine of those 15 games. Then Nash tweaked a hip and struggled through the last three, barely playing against San Antonio.

Uh-oh. So much for that optimistic 11 percent chance of making the playoffs, right?

But these are Alvin Gentry's Suns, who always play better in the second half. These are the Suns who fight and claw and craft their way to wins they weren't supposed to get. These are the Suns with only two guys in their entire rotation who was a starter on his team immediately preceding his stint with the Suns (Nash and Redd), and one of those had a "career ending" injury.

What ACTUALLY happened in that 15-game gauntlet was a Suns renaissance. Despite injuries to Nash and Hill, the Suns pulled out eight big wins out of 15 (18-9 since the All-Star break overall) and now have the playoffs in their hands after a beat-down of the once-scary-but-now-tanking Trailblazers.

These Suns, with a 39-year old All-Star and 10 role players, own the 8th seed in the West with four of their last five games at home. Given the tiebreakers and ending schedules for all relevant teams, all it takes is a 3-2 finish (with one of those over Utah) to claim a playoff spot.

Let's take a closer look at how we got here, because in retrospect it is a special story.

This brutal 15-game stretch began inauspiciously on March 20 after the Suns had surged from a 14-20 All-Star break funk to win nine of 11 during a long home stretch that gave them a 23-22 record.

I wrote an article at that time about the schedule getting much tougher for the Suns

Playing only the odds, the Suns could comfortably be expected to win just 4 of those 15 games (Cavaliers, Hornets, Kings and Jazz). But really, that's even a stretch since only 1 of those games (Hornets) is a home game. The other teams will likely be tanking though, enhancing the Suns' chances for a needed W.

But what of the other 11 games in that 15-game stretch? Which of those can the Suns hope to win? Maybe Orlando, the NBA's best impression of Jekyll and Hyde. Maybe Indiana, who just got smoked by an energized Knicks team twice in a row. Maybe the Timberwolves, sans Rubio. And maybe Houston, who the Suns seem to be able to beat fairly often.

So, if all goes really well, then the Suns might take 7 or 8 wins out of this 15-game stretch. But you can't put those 7 or 8 wins in your back pocket. Just thinking reasonably, the Suns will lose at least 2 of those "winnable" games. To offset those losses, the Suns would have to pull off a couple of upsets against better teams just to come out of this 15-game stretch with a .500 record.

And that was when I assumed the Jazz would fade from relevancy. Unfortunately, they have not -- even beating the Mavericks last night in triple overtime to stay within 1/2 game of the Suns.

In fact, the Suns won eight of those 15 and now sit in 8th place in the West for their troubles.

Look at these juicy stats since the All-Star break for the Suns:

  • 4th in the NBA in points-per-game at 103.1
  • 6th in offensive efficiency
  • 5th in assists per game
  • 2nd in shooting percentage (.475)
  • 3rd fewest turnovers per game
  • 6th in blocks per game
  • 13th in rebounding (historically a terrible number for the Suns)
  • 15th in defensive efficiency

The Phoenix Suns are considered "deep" again. National commentators are touting the play of the bench unit. Opposing bloggers (Dave, from BEdge) mention the Suns depth in game previews. Alvin Gentry called this one of his favorite teams ever, in terms of the collection of guys in that locker room.

Now the Suns need to close the deal. Five games left against playoff-caliber competition: 2nd-seeded Thunder, 4th-seeded Clippers, 6th-seeded Nuggets, 9th-seeded Jazz and finally the top-seeded Spurs. Another gauntlet, but certainly doable. Three wins is all the Suns need.

This is a special 2nd-half, folks. Don't blink or you'll miss it.


Would Jamal Crawford be enough to keep Steve Nash in Phoenix?

Though this rosterbation may be a bit premature since the Phoenix Suns find themselves smack-dab in the middle of an intense run to claim a spot in the Playoffs, this post is deserving given Jamal Crawford's comments during the final quarter of last night's game against the Portland Trailblazers

Here's ALL that we know for sure (*remember that bold word), from Arizona Sports 620's Jon Bloom last nigh:

Jamal Crawford just told EJ on press row and Alvin Gentry on the sidelines that he "needs to be here in Phoenix" w/ Blazer teammates nearby

— Jon Bloom (@Azbloom) April 17, 2012

Let's get into this after the jump.

My first thought was almost one of relief. For years the Phoenix Suns front office has been telling it's fan-base that they are positioning the organization to make big moves next year and to primarily improve the roster through Free Agency. I'm not sure if it's just a reigning sentiment here among Bright Siders or if it is a common feeling among all Suns fans, but for many of us, that promise didn't (or doesn't) compute.

It would seem that under the nebulous shadow of volatility that is the reputation of Robert Sarver, grouped with the aged aging centerpiece of Steve Nash, the lack of the 'player-friendly practices' hosted by D'Antoni (a selling-point years ago) and the absence of an innovative style (the 'Run and Gun' catches no one by surprise anymore - and in fact it is used by many younger and faster teams around the league more effectively than the Suns nowadays), why would any All-Star quality players elect to come to the Valley of Mediocrity?

The comments of Crawford should help to somewhat dispel these types of sentiments - or at least water them down. Why? Because there is appeal in coming to Phoenix. Let's list the obvious:

  • The magical training staff
  • A player-friendly coaching staff
  • Steve Nash (still a boss)
  • The great weather
  • Opportunity
  • Scottsdale
  • Gun Laws
If there is anything else you can think of, let me know in the comments section. But I have a sneaking suspicion that the main thing that free agents see in Phoenix (and this is in large part because of Steve Nash and Grant Hill), is the consistent ability to build and maintain team-chemistry. Our own Seth Pollack tweeted last night,

If I ever write a sports book it would be about the science of team chemistry

— Seth Pollack (@sethpo) April 17, 2012

Why would he tweet something like this? Because year after year here in Arizona this mystical 'team chemistry' thing builds and pushes unlikely teams to do great things. Kurt Warner, the STAT-less Western Conference Finals run also known as 'The Last Time Boris Diaw Ever Did Anything-run' (Sorry Seth, had to go there), the recent playoff runs of the Arizona Diamondbacks and their "Grit-Chemistry-Philosophy," the Phoenix Coyotes led by the best captain in the NHL Shane Doan and their playoff runs, the championships of the Phoenix Mercury, the Suns' improbable sweep of the Spurs and WCF run at the Lakers of two years ago ... and I'm sure the list could go on.

There is something about Phoenix.

Well, back to the present and at least there is enough about Phoenix going on to draw the attention of Jamal Crawford. Here are the details: Crawford signed a two-year deal, but next year he has a player option (5M). The feeling expressed by many (and we can add Jamal to that) is that he will indeed opt out of that 2nd year and test free agency.

Crawford is a legitimate option for the Phoenix Suns at the two-guard and would be a great fit for a Steve Nash-centric offense. He can spread the floor with his range and he can occasionally (or TOO frequently if asked Blazer fans this year) relieve Nash of his play-making load by creating his own shot.

He is a bit on the older side at 32 - and has suffered some nagging injuries this year (knee, groin) - but I'm sure that plays in his plea to come to Phoenix where Grant and Steve and Michael Redd have all provided an inspired example of what our training staff here can do for players.

And what - if anything - is there to make of the last part of Bloom's tweet, that Crawford openly said this with his current teammates close by?

What do you think Bright Siders? Is Crawford worth it? Is a two-guard combo of Shannon Brown and Jamal Crawford a step in the right direction?

Here's what's popping up in the news today after Jon Bloom's tweet last night.

Jamal Crawford has eyes for Phoenix? - ArizonaSports.com
While it's impossible to determine what Crawford really meant with this statement, it's worth noting that the well-traveled scorer would probably be a solid fit in Phoenix, especially if Steve Nash departs via free agency.

Jamal Crawford Wants To Be On Phoenix Suns? - Desert Dirt - SB Nation Arizona
Was it a reaction to the team situation or is it something more? Was it a joke? After all, he might not even have meant being here to play for the Suns. Maybe it was lamenting the Oregon weather and wishing he lived here. It is an awfully nice place to live right now. We like the sun. We all know that the ladies here are something else. Maybe it was that.

AND THEN YOU HAVE THIS SPIN ON THE STORY - So apparently after Jon Bloom's tweet, CSNNW's Chris Haynes (Blazer beat writer) reportedly has a "source" with the Suns that says it is the SUNS who are after Crawford and have him number one (after Steve Nash) on their wish-list ... I don't know, but if you ask me, this sounds like an agent trying to cover up the careless comments of his client in an attempt to regain Jamal's market leverage.

Source: Suns will pursue G Jamal Crawford
Chris Haynes, CSNNW.com Trail Blazers Insider (@ChrisBHaynes) Portland Trail Blazers guard Jamal Crawford will be courted intensely by the Phoenix Suns, a source within the organization tells CSNNW.com.

Source: Suns to Pursue Jamal Crawford | HOOPSWORLD | Basketball News & NBA Rumors
Portland Trail Blazers guard Jamal Crawford will be courted intensely by the Phoenix Suns, a source within the organization tells CSNNW.com. "Aside from Steve (Nash), he’s (Crawford) high if not the top free agent priority on their list," the source said. "He would fill a need at the two-guard position and he knows they want him."

Report: Suns to go hard after Jamal Crawford this summer | ProBasketballTalk
Would the addition of Jamal Crawford be enough to keep Steve Nash in Phoenix? We may find out as acquiring Crawford seems to be high on the Suns priority list

What do you guys make of all this?

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Poll
Would You Like to See Jamal Crawford in a Suns Uniform?

  492 votes | Results


Everything is okay...mmmkay?

Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE.

After weeks of bouncing between the 9th and 10th spots in the NBA Western Conference standings, and getting oh-so-close to the playoff seeding yet never reaching the summit, the Phoenix Suns have finally done it. Thanks to a much needed win against the Portland Trail Blazers last night, as well as some help from the Denver Nuggets who knocked off the Houston Rockets, the Suns are officially in the 8th and final playoff spot ... at least for now.

But this is no time to rest easy.

The Suns now have five important games left during the regular season, with which they are in full control of their own destiny. However, they must continue to play each and every game like it is their last, as they are in a statistical dead heat with the Houston Rockets who the Suns merely have a tie-breaker over. Not only that, they also remain only a half-game ahead of the pesky Utah Jazz who also defeated the Dallas Mavericks last night in a triple overtime thriller.

Here are the five games remaining for the Suns to close out the regular season:

Oklahoma City Wed 04/18 7:00 PM MST
Los Angeles Clippers Thu 04/19 7:30 PM MST
Denver Sat 04/21 2:30 PM MST
@ Utah Tue 04/24 7:30 PM MST
San Antonio Wed 04/25 7:30 PM MST

Ouch.

As you can see, a Suns playoff berth is still anything but a sure thing. But for now, the Suns have reached their goal and should feel very proud of what they've accomplished ...They just can't get complacent.

Read on after the jump for a look at the current standings, a quick recap of last night's action and what to keep an eye on tonight.

Here are the most up to date NBA Western Conference standings:

Wc_standings_04-17-2012_medium

Key Games Last Night:

Phoenix Suns BEAT Portland Trail Blazers 125-107

Suns Trounce Trail Blazers, End the Night Tied for 8th in the Western Conference -- Bright Side of the Sun

Los Suns jumped out to a 35-24 first quarter lead. After some Luke Babbitt and Nolan Smith nonsense, the Suns restored order, going on an 11--2 second quarter run. Channing Frye scored 11 quick points, and the Suns played a modicum of defense to slow the Blazers and exit the half with a 66-53 lead. Steve Nash dished 10 assists in his first 17 minutes of play, and every Suns starter save Nash scored in double figures.

Houston Rockets LOST to Denver Nuggets 105-102

Rockets Fall To Nuggets, Out of Playoffs in 105-102 Loss -- The Dream Shake

This time, it really seemed like they had them. Yet, as has become an unbreakable habit, the Rockets were unable to get stops when they needed them late in the game and fell, 105-102.

Utah Jazz BEAT Dallas Mavericks in Triple OT 123-121

Mavericks Vs. Jazz Post Game Thread: Utah Wins in Triple OT 123-121 -- SLC Dunk

Jazz needed to win this game, and they held on strong after all the threes Dallas took, and held on to win this game. Al Jefferson finished with 28 points (off of 25 shots), and had 26 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 1 steal and assist.


Games to watch tonight:

The only game that is remotely in the Suns' interest tonight would be the Memphis Grizzlies at the Minnesota Timberwolves. However since the Grizzlies currently have a three game lead on the Phoenix, there is very little hope of the Suns catching them at this point.

Stay Tuned ...


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It is a good morning, whether you are slowly dying in a cubicle or stuck in traffic, or lounging by the pool...The Suns won last night, and if the season ended right this very second, they'd be playing the playoffs.


Suns vs. Blazers Full Game Highlights - 4-16-2012 NBA Game Recap (via AllDayNBAhighlights)




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