The game starts in 2 hours, so let's just call this a combo preview AND first-half thread.
For those who want a little primer on the game, hit the jump.
Leave it to BSotS fans to stay more involved than former MVP Steve Nash after the Suns effectively eliminated themselves from playoff contention in the past week. Nash admitted a week ago that the Suns had written their own fate and were out of contention. The rest of the players have shared that sentiment as well, and their comments are forward-thinking already.
Since that moment, Gentry said he wanted to control Nash's minutes the rest of the way, yet proved once again he is completely incapable of playing Nash less than 34 minutes unless the Suns are up/down 20 points in the 4th. So now Nash has "the flu" and won't play at all.
This allows Gentry to evaluate players to a greater degree. So far, the coaching staff (and front office) are openly seeking answers to 2 questions:
1) What do PGs Aaron Brooks and Zabian Dowdell have to offer, on extended minutes? Each got 24 minutes on Friday night. Brooks played the 1st and 3rd quarters, while Dowdell played the 2nd and 4th. Thanks to the Clippers, the Suns ran away with it and Gentry didn't have to rethink his plan at all. Each got about the same gameline (12 and 6 vs. 14 and 5). Expect this trend to continue until Nash returns from illness.
2) What can Josh Childress really offer, after a season of minor injuries and re-adjustment to the NBA? Thanks to injury (Pietrus) and disinterest (Carter), Childress is back in the rotation. He's not "killing it" in any way, but he is showing his worth to a team. He still can't shoot, but he's making positive hustle plays on both end of the court. He does kill it on the baseline, getting layups and dunks by slipping behind his man and appearing at the rim from out of nowhere, a trick that helped Shawn Marion score a bunch of points in Phoenix.
One more question the Suns coaching staff SHOULD be asking openly:
3) Can Robin Lopez be effective again? We know what Gortat can do. He can play 30-35 minutes and give you 14 and 10. Every night. But what can Lopez bring? We have no idea. Gentry should give Lopez 24 minutes a game for the rest of the season, just like he did with the PGs on Friday. The kid is 22, over 7 feet tall, over 250 pounds, and was a revelation last season. You can see natural talent there, and you can see that Robin needs positive feedback to play well. A guaranteed set of minutes might do the trick, or will at least remove the "he didn't even get a chance" argument.
Otherwise, Alvin has no more questions to ask that redistribution of minutes can answer, aside from more Garret Siler cameos. But Robin Lopez' future is much more important than Garret Siler's, isn't it?
Today's Opponent: the suddenly reeling San Antonio Spurs
Unfortunately for the Suns, the Spurs need this win bad. They've lost 6 consecutive games, and now lead the West by only 1.5 games over the Lakers (and the league by 1). If the Spurs want one last Finals appearance / ring before fading away, they HAVE to get home court advantage. They simply HAVE to. Otherwise, their big start to the season will be for naught, and their apex will be no higher than the Western Conference Finals.
How did the Spurs get THIS good again anyway, after looking old and fading a year ago?
Richard Jefferson somehow reinvented himself into a perimeter sniper (too bad VC hasn't had the same revelation), 26-yr old rookie G Gary Neal became relevant, and the rest of the supporting cast did just what they were expected to do: support. No one outside the 3 stars averages more than 11.3 points a game, yet they are still winning big even though Duncan is giving them just 13 a game himself. Gregg Popovich somehow figured out how to play the right guys at the right time. Will that last when things get tougher in the playoffs? Probably not, but people thought that of the Suns a year ago too.
I thought all season the Spurs were playing with smoke and mirrors. Someone wrote an article on their defense in December, actually using the words "Spurs are defending faster then ever" as a compliment. All I thought when I read that is that the Spurs are allowing open jump shots and opponents are missing them. How else do you defend "faster" than being a passive defense?
But they rocketed up the standings nonetheless, having their best first-half in Popovich's long tenure. Surprising, huh? Yeah, because Popovich was notorious for intentionally limiting his starters' minutes until the playoffs approached. Clearly this season he changed that philosophy. Will it work out? Will the Spurs stars be rested and ready once the playoffs start?
Likely not. After the All-Star break, they've begun to slide back to the pack. This current 6-game losing streak began while Duncan was injured. Without him, the Spurs are woefully limited on the front line. DeJuan Blair is too short and can't stay out of foul trouble, while Antonio McDyess is a shadow of his former self. Heralded F/C Tiago Splitter is finally getting minutes (while Duncan was out), and producing a hefty 7 points and 6 rebounds in 16 minutes a game.
But now Tim Duncan is back from an injury siesta and the Suns - who mercilessly swept them a year ago - have come a-calling to the Alamo. The Spurs are definitely looking for blood here, and the water around the sinking Suns ship is deep, deep pink.
Who the heck knows?
If Nash were playing, I'd predict a prideful, hotly contested game in which the Suns lost by 4 (maybe even in overtime).
Without Nash (who is out today), this will either be a Spurs blowout or a close Suns win. The Suns have the advantage of being a wildcard - the Spurs have no idea what they're going to face today. If the Suns come out hard and take whatever the Spurs give them, then it's possible the Suns will stun the Spurs into a win.
But most likely this game will be a blowout. What we Suns fans can take away from are more answers for next season: Brooks, Dowdell, Childress and Lopez.
Coro's orange slices on azcentral.com
Childress making most of this opportunity, on azcentral.com