Is this the last we will see of Grant Hill this season? Mandatory Credit: David Richard-US PRESSWIRE

Aaaaannd, there's the first bump in the road. After three seasons in which Grant Hill missed a grand total of three games to become the Suns' relative iron man, his run at health has ended.

A torn meniscus in his knee will require minor surgery today, according to Suns' beat writer Paul Coro of azcentral.com, knocking him out until at least mid-April if not the whole remainder of the season. That's quite a blow to a Suns team that just a few days ago tasted the playoffs on the tips of their tongues and started pushing off summer plans.

"He's our glue guy," Suns guard Jared Dudley said after the Suns lost to the Clippers without [Hill] Wednesday night (as posted in the azcentral article linked above). "He calms us defensively. He's the best defensive player. He's the one who guarded Chris Paul at home and slowed him down. Offensively, he is efficient and gets out on the break and that makes other people guard him and open up 3-pointers. He posts up and makes the extra pass."

After blowing out Cleveland last Sunday, the Suns were back on a roll that saw them win 11 of 15 games to get over .500 for only the second time all year. Then Grant Hill's knee didn't recover from a hard hit, one that didn't compare to the one he absorbed from LeBron James only a week before. Then, in a tight loss to the Spurs, Nash's back started to act up. And now the Suns must be asking themselves, what next?

Well, the Suns do have options.

The loss of Grant Hill is bigger than you would think by looking at his stats. Hill averaged 10.9 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists this season in just under 30 minutes a game. Those numbers can be reproduced by many a player in 30 minutes a game, including the Suns' own Shannon Brown.

But we all know his biggest contribution was guarding the other team's best perimeter player, whether it be a wing or a point guard. This role is vitally important to any team with Nash in the lineup so that 2-time can take the lesser offensive threat while biding his time for the next offensive possession. With Hill in the lineup, the Suns can be assured that their opponent's best offensive player will have to work especially hard for their points without needing to provide double-team help.

So what can the Suns do without Hill?

Option 1: Move Jared Dudley to starting SF, play Shannon Brown, Michael Redd and Ronnie Price more minutes at SG

As the Suns did on Tuesday and Wednesday with limited (little to no) success, they could bring Brown's scoring to the starting lineup. The problem is that leaves Michael Redd and Ronnie Price to team with Sebastian Telfair in the second unit. That second unit failed miserably in the Clipper game, and doesn't engender a lot of confidence in Suns fans going forward.

Those problems were compounded, though, by the loss of Markieff Morris to the flu bug which moved Hakim Warrick off the bench and into the second-unit rotation with Michael Redd. There are very few defensive pairings in the NBA that are a worse option than a Redd/Warrick one. I mean, that is just ridiculous. With Warrick and Redd out there against San Antonio in the fourth quarter on Tuesday night, the second unit allowed the Spurs to start the fourth on a 17-4 run. Ouch.

Option 2: Dust off Josh Childress to take at least half of Hill's minutes

The Suns have what used to be a helpful NBA rotation player in Josh Childress gathering dust on their bench. He seemed to lose a lot of his game in Greece, though, and now appears to be out of sync most of the time and unproductive even more often than that.

But if given a role for the rest of the season, it is possible that Childress could find his game again, which happens to look a lot like Grant Hill's except for the jump shot.

Option 3: Sign Aaron Brooks for the rest of the season

We talked about this before and we know it's best to keep Brooks' rights this summer, which wouldn't happen if the Suns sign him now. If the Suns give him a prorated one-year contract for a month, he would be unrestricted this summer.

However, Brooks would represent a nice scoring option off the bench as a shooting guard. Sure his defense would be deplorable, especially at the SG position next to even-littler Sebastian Telfair, but we could probably count on 12-15 much-needed points per game.

Is he better than Michael Redd? Yes.

Option 4: Sign free agent SF Rasual Butler to play Grant's minutes

Butler was waived by Toronto last week, but scored 11.9 and 11.2 points in 32-33 minutes a game the two previous years with the Clippers as their starting small forward. He is a career 36% shooter on 3-pointers (better than Michael Redd), with his best year coming in 2009-2010 at 39%. He has a quick trigger on 3s, averaging 4.4 and 5.3 attempts per game in 2009-10 and 2010-11.

Given this Suns team's need to make open 3-pointers and relative inability to do so (Butler's .358 career average is higher than all but three Suns are shooting this season), he could be a welcome surprise. Add in that Butler does have a reputation of being a passable defender, and just maybe it could work out.

However, Butler has been horribly inefficient on offense in his career, with a career PER of 10 (average NBA player PER is 15) and not even approaching that since the 2009-10 season.

None of these are sure-fire options, and none as good as having Grant Hill in the lineup.

Pray for a quick recovery!

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What to do in the wake of losing Grant Hill?

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Now what? Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

Only a few games were played in the NBA at all last night, and fewer still affected the Phoenix Suns' playoff hopes. With most teams having off-days, none of the teams directly above the Suns moved in the standings.

With 15 games to play, the Suns are two full games out of the 8th (or really 7th) spot in the Western Conference. Unfortunately, Kevin Love's Timberwolves and dysfunctional Trail Blazers are only 0.5 games and one game behind the Suns, fighting for spots as well.

With the news of Grant Hill's knee surgery and a two-game losing streak in their wake, the Suns players have a choice to make: hang their heads with a month to go, or fight harder than ever to make the playoffs. I expect the latter. The Suns have two more days of practice to figure out their non-Hill game plan, and figure one out they will.

Hit the jump for a bit more banter and a pretty pic of the standings.

Here's the standings as of March 30, 2012, thanks to nba.com.

Standings_medium

Before you get too bummed, just remember that the Suns played very well after the All-Star break to even get into this discussion. Let's enjoy the playoff hunt while it lasts (hopefully into May).


Steve Nash sent a message Thursday that Suns management must have heard loud and clear: he will only return next season if Phoenix improves. Nash spoke to everyone from Bill Simmons to Dan Patrick to...

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They may be down...but they haven't given up


Coming out of the NBA All-Star break, the Phoenix Suns were one of the hottest teams in the league going 9-2 over their first 11 games. The Suns who came into the All-Star break with a very underwhelming record of 14-20 over the first half of the season suddenly began playing very well together and clicking on both sides of the court.

For the first time all season, the Suns seemed to be figuring it out ... and they appeared poised to overtake some of the teams clustered at the bottom of the eight playoff spots.

This led many fans and even some analysts to begin taking the Suns seriously again as possible playoff contenders in the Western Conference and recognizing them as one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA who seemed to be peaking at just the right time.

However, since that time the Suns have seemingly crashed back down to Earth losing four of their last six games. The Suns had gone from a losing record to getting back to .500, to a winning record and then back to .500, and now back to a losing record once again.

So what happened?

Well, there are many possible explanations for what has taken place over the last six games, and I will attempt to identify some of the most logical causes ... as well as make some predictions about what could be in store for the Suns over the last 15 games of the season.

Read on after the jump for a breakdown

The Analysis:

First, let's look at the 11 teams the Suns faced after the All-Star break when they went 9-2:

Minnesota Thu 03/01 W 104 - 95
Los Angeles Clippers Fri 03/02 W 81 - 78
Sacramento Sun 03/04 W 96 - 88
@ Oklahoma City Wed 03/07 L 104 - 115
Dallas Thu 03/08 W 96 - 94
Memphis Sat 03/10 W 98 - 91
Minnesota Mon 03/12 L 124 - 127
Utah Wed 03/14 W 120 - 111
@ Los Angeles Clippers Thu 03/15 W 91 - 87
Detroit Fri 03/16 W 109 - 101
Houston Sun 03/18 W 99 - 86

Looking at these games the first thing I noticed is that seven of these games were against teams who are currently positioned to make the playoffs (L.A. Clippers twice, OKC Thunder, Dallas, Memphis, Utah, Houston). The Suns went 6-1 in these games ... pretty good. However, only one of these teams was considered a real top-tier team, and that was the OKC Thunder who they happened to lose to. Also, nine of these games were also played at home and only two were played on the road ... Hmmm. The Suns went 8-1 at home and went 1-1 on the road. This could be significant.

Now let's take a look at the last six games in which the Suns went 2-4:

@ Miami Tue 03/20 L 95 - 99
@ Orlando Wed 03/21 L 93 - 103
@ Indiana Fri 03/23 W 113 - 111
@ Cleveland Sun 03/25 W 108 - 83
San Antonio Tue 03/27 L 100 - 107
@ Los Angeles Clippers Wed 03/28 L 86 - 103

Looking at these last six games there are some noticeable differences from the first 11 games above. This time, five of the six teams are currently positioned to make the playoffs, and two of the six teams are top-tier (Heat, Spurs) of which the Suns lost both. And of course the most obvious difference is that all but one of these games was on the road, and that sole home game was against the 35-14 Spurs ... Not exactly a gimme.

The Explanations:

So by looking at the Suns' success in the first 11 games vs. their last six, it becomes obvious that these games in which the Suns have struggled lately were against not only tougher competition, but they were also nearly all on the road. This alone is probably sufficient reason for the recent struggles.

But could there be more to it than just that?

I believe so. Despite playing against some very tough competition over these last six games, the Suns have still been competitive even in most of their losses. For instance, the Suns should have won the game against the Miami Heat, but the Suns couldn't hold their 10 point 4th quarter lead with seven minutes to go. The Heat are a talented team and once they got some momentum they became energized by the home crows and were simply too much for the Suns to handle.

The game against Orlando was an aberration as Marcin Gortat had a horrible game against his former team and the Suns just never stood a chance. But other than that, the Suns were in a position to win all three of the other losses.

So why couldn't they pull out these wins like they had been doing in the first 11 games?

Well, in addition to playing against tougher teams in mostly hostile environments, the Suns have been without their defensive leader in two of the four losses -- missing Grant Hill in the last two games against the Spurs and the Clippers. I'm sure those of you reading this already know how important Grant Hill's defense is to the success of this team, so I won't go into the details here, but in these last two games without Hill we have struggled to get stops when we needed them most, and I believe that was a big part of why the Suns lost.

Not only that, but Steve Nash was playing with a bad back against the Clippers and throughout half the game against the Spurs as well. With Nash limited offensively he was unable to carry the team as he sometimes must, and coupled with the absence of Hill this made it even more difficult for the Suns to compete at their highest level possible.

Don't get me wrong though, there were other factors that contributed to the losses that were certainly within the Suns control, specifically in last night's game against the Clippers. These explanations are only intended to give possible reasons as to why these losses occurred, not to make excuses for anyone. In my opinion, the bench was lacking in energy and hustle and the team as a whole didn't seem to be playing with much intensity or a sense of urgency. It's hard to say if this was because of fatigue from a hard fought game against the Spurs before having to travel to L.A. to play the Clippers last night, or if it was something mental ... but either way, the Suns have to play with more energy and hustle if they want to win these types of games.

The Future:

So what does this mean? What can we look forward to in the next 15 games?

Well let's take a look at all the remaining games on our schedule:

New Orleans Sun 04/01 7:00 PM MDT
@ Sacramento Tue 04/03 8:00 PM MDT
@ Utah Wed 04/04 7:00 PM MDT
@ Denver Fri 04/06 7:00 PM MDT
Los Angeles Lakers Sat 04/07 8:00 PM MDT
@ Minnesota Mon 04/09 7:00 PM MDT
@ Memphis Wed 04/11 6:00 PM MDT
@ Houston Fri 04/13 6:00 PM MDT
@ San Antonio Sat 04/14 7:00 PM MDT
Portland Mon 04/16 8:00 PM MDT
Oklahoma City Wed 04/18 8:00 PM MDT
Los Angeles Clippers Thu 04/19 8:30 PM MDT
Denver Sat 04/21 3:30 PM MDT
@ Utah Tue 04/24 7:00 PM MDT
San Antonio Wed 04/25 8:30 PM MDT

The good news is that the Suns have a larger mix of home games going forward than we've had over our last six matches. The bad news is the road games still outnumber the home games 8-7. On the other hand, while 11 of these last 15 games are against currently positioned playoff teams, only four of these games will be against top-tier teams (Spurs twice, Thunder, Lakers), and of those four games only one of them is on the road.

Also, the Suns will probably see the return of Grant Hill and their defense as early as this Sunday against the New Orleans Hornets, and hopefully this three-day rest will also give Nash a chance to rest and heal his back. Even after these last four losses, the Suns are still currently sitting in the 10th spot and only two games behind the 7th and 8th seeds. On top of that, the Suns will play each of the three teams currently ahead of them in the standings before the end of the season (Utah twice, Denver, Houston), and they are all winnable games.

With both of their veteran stars back and healthy, and assuming they can remain that way throughout the duration of the season, the Suns should still have one more playoff push left in them and will be looking to finish the season strong. So don't give up Suns fans. These last six games may have seemed like the wheels had fallen off the bus, but the way I see it, they just took an almost unavoidable detour and are now getting right back on the road to victory. Sure, the road may get bumpy along the way but the Suns are still on the right track and remain very capable of making the playoffs.

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Steve Nash was on the Dan Patrick Show Thursday morning and also made an appearance on the B.S. Report with Bill Simmons. Steve didn't say anything we hadn't heard before, but sometimes those of us too close to the situation take for granted that everyone has heard all this before.

It's also good to hear it all in one place and while I'm not the biggest Simmons fan, he's a fantastic interviewer and the conversation is very good. Check it out.

B.S. Report: Steve Nash - The Triangle Blog - Grantland
Steve Nash swings by to discuss Phoenix's improbable playoff run, being in so many trade rumors, the current point guard boon, how the lockout-shortened schedule has affected him, Mike D'Antoni's legacy (and whether it worked), his favorite Suns team, Dirk's first title, the time he played pickup hoops in a Scottsdale health club and got his butt kicked, and why Lionel Messi is the greatest athlete on God's green earth.

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


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