One of the most memorable dunks in Phoenix Suns history is being honored tonight at halftime of Suns/Rockets.

While I was brainstorming for topics the staff and I engaged in the timeless debate of crunchy peanut butter vs. smooth, but in the end I decided to discuss the cacophony of silence at the trade deadline and how the Suns are finally getting noticed.

No Big Deal

The trade deadline came and went and the Suns stone gargoyled their way through the theatrics. I, for one, was mildly disappointed by the lack of activity from Suns prodigy GM Ryan McDonough. The chimerical notions of another McMiracle windfall went by the wayside as there was no joy in Mudville Phoenix last Thursday.

Maybe I've become spoiled (in less than a year) by McGenius's foudroyant moves, educing talent out of nowhere at bargain basement prices. After all, he has basically changed the fortunes of a franchise in shambles in his first year on the job. The ignominious and incompetent nature of last season seem like a lifetime away.

But after doing so much with so little in his inchoate tenure McMidas failed to do something spectacular with what was regarded by some as an invaluable asset. Sorry if I keep hopscotching between nicknames. I like to mix it up. I have four different nicknames for my daughter. I'll stick with the last one for a bit.

And as I sat expectantly waiting for Ryan to touch Emeka Okafor and turn him into gold (like King Midas did to his daughter in some versions of the story) Emeka instead turned into cold, hard cash.

This was part of the idea from the start, however, as much of the appeal of Okafor's expiring deal is that insurance was picking up 80% of the bill. That meant another team could potentially swap expiring deals with the Suns and avoid a dilemma with respect to their cap situation (such as paying the luxury tax or entering repeater territory). One such trade that made the rounds was a potential trade with the Lakers where the Suns would receive Pau Gasol. Here's how that kind of scenario played out.

The Lakers were ~$5.7 million over the tax line. By trading Gasol's ~$19.3 million dollar contract for Okafor's ~$14.5 million dollar deal the Lakers would get ~$4.8 million closer to the tax line. They would even have been in a position to do another small salary dump to get under the tax line. Then they would collect the remaining ~$5.7 left to be paid by insurance on Okafor's contract.

The Lakers could save some serous coin (about $10.5 million dollars not even including the tax money) and get under the tax line. I never liked this deal much to be quite frank. There were several reasons why.

1. I'm not really sure how well Gasol would mesh with the way the Suns are playing.  Although he address some of the Suns most glaring issues in terms of halfcourt and post scoring and ball distribution from a big I'm not infatuated with his lack of intensity and overall demeanor. He would inject some soft and slow into a gritty explosive squad.

2. From reports the Lakers actually wanted a first round pick in return for an expiring rental.

3. The deal would reduce the Suns available money under the cap from ~$5.2 million to about $400K. That would hamper the Suns flexibility to make moves at the draft - a time that I wouldn't be surprised for the Suns to be very active.

So, like I alluded to earlier, McMidas did turn Emeka into gold in a way. Phoenix just kept it. The Pau deal would have cost Robert Sarver ~$10.5 million. Instead Sarver keeps the ~$5.7 million insurance payout... And I'm perfectly fine with that. There's no reason for him to be a spendthrift. He can reinvest that money in the team in another way.

I was just woolgathering over the prospect of McDonough fleecing another team in a deal that made the Suns better now and later while conserving that cap space for future deals. I was hoping he would turn Emeka into more than ~$5.7 million in savings and an expiring deal.

In the end, maybe it just shows how much confidence I have in the way the Suns are headed.

We're the Suns. Recognize.

Speaking of the way the Suns are headed... they have been kicking ass and taking names. I wasn't even particularly surprised by the outcome of the 106-85 laugher against the Spurs. They just added San Antonio to the list of teams they've run off the court recently.  Since January 22nd they have double digit wins against the Indiana Pacers, Golden St. Warriors and San Antonio. Phoenix is 11-4 in its last 15 games.

The team whose best player's name is mispronounced to a ridiculous degree, the team that has lacked notoriety to the nth degree, is finally shoving its way into relevancy. It's still not all the way there, though, as coming out of the All-Star break I heard a couple clowns on ESPN talking about Phoenix as a team that could fall out of the playoff race with the Denver Nuggets, yes Denver, being one of the teams that could supplant them. The same Nuggets that are eight games behind the Suns... But at least they were talking about the Suns. Baby steps. You have to forgive some of these national guys who cover NBA basketball for a living but don't know sh*& about it.

But someone at ESPN is paying attention. After being scheduled for one measly game on their network against the Pelicans (Friday 2/28) at the beginning of the season the Suns are being flexed in. In addition to the game against Houston tonight Phoenix was showcased on a January 8th thriller against the Minnesota Timberwolves and the pantsing of the Pacers January 22nd.

The Suns are averaging 15,981 per game through 28 games so far this season (which is an abysmal fourth worst in the NBA), but against San Antonio Friday night they drew 18,422 fans, their first sellout of the season. That's 2,441 more fans that got to witness a bloodbath. The players are cognizant of the shift, too. Channing Frye specifically mentioned how much the crowd support helps after the Spurs game. This increase in ticket sales is taking place at the same time that prices are rising. The Suns are are trending towards being a hot commodity once again.

I'm past the point of looking behind the Suns, though. The surprises of the early season have been displaced by expectations. The teams that are trailing Phoenix are of little concern. I'm focused on climbing in the standings. My cupidity is steering me towards coveting home court advantage in the first round.

Why not? Phoenix is only down by one game in the loss column to the Clippers. A home win against the Rockets tonight would put them within two games in the loss column of them. Portland has been faltering recently. I could realistically see the Suns catching any or all of these three. Give the Suns home court advantage against any of the teams (not named Memphis) that would be below them and Phoenix becomes the favorite in that series.

Once again, why not? Phoenix is 8-7 against the other seven teams currently in the playoffs.

Oklahoma City 0-1

San Antonio 1-2

Houston 1-1

LA Clippers 1-0

Portland 2-1

Golden St. 2-1

Dallas 1-1

Take the top two teams out of the equation and the Suns are 7-4 against the other teams. The Suns have proven they can hang with them. Are you trembling at the thought at being matched up against any of these guys? Besides the Thunder and Grizzlies I like any matchup.

The Great Debate

Oh yeah, the debate. It was rather contentious. We became entrenched on our respective sides. Insults were hurled. Some of us are emotionally scarred. After the dust had settled crunchy won the day. It was predestined from the very start, though, as I lean crunchy.

Possible discussion during next week includes, "Who would win a fight between Goran Dragic and Mr. Fantastic?"

G Twice out.

Time: 7 p.m. MST TV: ESPN / FSA When the Phoenix Suns throttled the San Antonio Spurs on Friday, they looked like a playoff team. They contested most every shot and made nothing easy for a...

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After splitting the first two games in Houston, the Phoenix Suns need to beat the visiting Rockets tonight maintain a tie-break advantage for playoff positioning.

Both the Phoenix Suns and Houston Rockets are on a roll.

The Phoenix Suns, winners of 12 of their last 17 games, face off against the Rockets who have won 16 of 21. Even more recently, the Suns have bagged three in a row while the Rockets have taken 8 of 9.

The Opponent

The Houston Rockets remain the league's poster child for taking the most efficient shots on the basketball court, with 86% of all of their shots being taken either in the paint or from behind the 3-point line. By doing this, the Rockets can overcome the fact that they shoot at or below league average from everywhere on the court but still have the league's 5th best offense in terms of points-per-possession.

*of note, the Rockets are only 25th in assists per game. With an offense built on your ball handlers being scorers (James Harden, Jeremy Lin), the assist rate goes down.

Shotchart_1393161982645_medium

The zones in yellow indicate that the Rockets shoot comparably to the rest of the league in those areas, while the zones in red show they shoot below league average.

  • 35% shooting on 3-pointer = 1.05 points per shot attempt
  • 45% shooting on 2-pointer = 0.9 points per shot attempt
  • 55% shooting on 2-pointer = 1.1 points per shot attempt

As you can see, unless you can shoot 50% or better on all of your midrange shots, it's better to take the higher value shots. Over the course of 100 shots, that's a 10-point swing in your favor if you can take higher-percentage shots over lower-percentage ones and it's why many NBA teams build their defense around rim protection and 3-shoot protection.

The Rockets are good at defending at the rim, thanks to Dwight Howard this year and Omer Asik last year, but are not so good at defending the 3-point line, allowing the league's 6th highest attempt rate from behind the arc.

The Suns

The Phoenix Suns offense this season has mirrored the Rockets in many ways, but is a little more balanced. The Suns only take 71% of their shots at the rim or from behind the arc, with the remaining 29% being in the mid- to long-2 range.

While the 71% mark pales in comparison to Houston, the Suns offense is still one of the league's best (8th in overall efficiency) and ranks as the third-highest 3-point rate, according to basketball-reference.com.

Shotchart_1393162067648_medium

The only area the Suns shoot poorly is from the right corner, while from the left corner the Suns shoot it well. Marcus Morris and P.J. Tucker are the primary corner-3 shooters in the Suns' offense.

The Stats


Screen_shot_2014-02-23_at_7

The Lineups

Screen_shot_2014-02-23_at_7

Patrick Beverly has been starting lately in place of Jeremy Lin, who provides scoring off the Rockets bench. Beverly brings much-needed on-ball defense into the starting lineup next to James Harden.

The Key Matchup

In this game, the key matchup is the Suns defense vs. the Rockets offense. The two prior games, both in Houston, could not have been much different for Houston despite playing the same lineup both times.

In the first matchup, the Rockets made only 35% of their shots and scored just 88 points. In the second, the Rockets made 55% of their shots and scored 122. Over 55 games, that represents the third-lowest points allowed to a Suns opponent (1st meeting) vs. a season-high in points allowed (2nd meeting).

The Suns defense allows the league's fewest 3-point shots made and allows the second-lowest opponent 3-point shooting percentage when they are taken. The defense is designed to run teams off the line and, hopefully, make them shoot midrange jumpers. That's what makes Miles Plumlee so important. If he can stay out of foul trouble and defend the rim, the Suns have a good chance of winning any game.

While Dwight Howard might go nuts under the basket, the key for the Suns will be to continue to defend the 3-point line against the likes of Harden, Lin and Parsons.

*note: James Harden (hyperextended elbow in loss to GS) is questionable for this game

The Prediction

Playing at home and on national television (ESPN), expect the Suns to come out focused and strong. They are playing the entire year with a chip on their shoulder that no one gives them credit, and national TV games have been their showcase.

Add in the embarrassment of the recent blowout at the hands of the Rockets, I really expect the Suns to play the best they can tonight. That might not be enough, since the Rockets are so good and on such a roll, but I think the Suns do win this one in a high-scoring affair.

115-105 Suns.

The Suns are on a 3-0 win streak since the all-star break, and although a few of those games were a little too close for comfort, the "W" is all that matters. Although every player seemingly had an off game this week, Gerald Green was one of the biggest difference makers.

The NBA is all about which player and team can rule the court in the most epic fashion and Bright Side of the Sun has teamed up with Crown Royal to rank the best of the best Phoenix Suns players each and every week. Which player(s) ruled the court this week? #ReignOn


Gerald Green aka "Gr33n Light"

Weekly Stat Averages:

Points: 22   FG%: .429   Rebounds: 5

On a team full of surprises, Gerald Green has to be one of, if not the biggest surprise of them all this season.  When Green was initially traded to the Suns along with Miles Plumlee and a first round pick for Luis Scola, most fans and analysts, including yours truly, thought he was basically just a throw in to make the deal work.

Whether or not Ryan McDonough and Coach Hornacek knew what they were really getting, or if they were just as surprised as everyone else is debatable, but one thing we know for sure is that Gerald Green has finally figured it out, and he is proving to be not only a productive player, but a game changer as well.

It seems as though Gerald has finally found a home in Phoenix, after playing for seven different teams in just as many years in the league.  His athleticism, hustle, and deadly three-point shooting have been a perfect fit for the Suns' high-powered offense.

While Green has already posted season highs with the Suns in nearly every category up to this point, it seems only fitting that he finally topped his old career high of 34 points this week as well, scoring 36 points and being the main reason the Suns were able to get an overtime win against the Denver Nuggets.

Not only has Green found a way to contribute to the Suns and help them win by doing what he does best, knocking down quick-release three's, he has also found a way to contribute even when those shots aren't falling.  This is something he was never able to do in the past.

Green had an off-shooting night against the Spurs on Friday, going 0-5 from three and even missing a couple of shots from the free throw line.  Still, he found a way to get inside and score on mostly mid-range baskets to eventually chip in with 13 points in his 26 minutes of play.

Although the Suns have been without their other star guard, Eric Bledsoe, for most of the season now, Gerald Green has helped to keep the Suns' playoff hopes alive.  He and Goran Dragic have created a new back-court tandem, The G-Force, that has been almost as scary for the opponents as the Slash Brothers were.

While Goran Dragic is without a doubt the leader, and the driving force of the team, Gerald Green has been a key part of the Suns' success.  He is having his best stretch of games in his career, and is giving both the fans and the front office another reason to feel optimistic about the future.

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