An in depth look at what the Suns are to expect when they face the Knicks Monday night. The contest isn't what was expected a short time ago.

An 82-game NBA schedule is a complicated journey. While over the course of the season the better teams will win more than they lose there is a reason even the best teams typically lose at least a ¼ of their games.

Injuries, peaks and lows, and timing with schedule all have an impact on individual games. If the Knicks and Suns Monday night meeting at Madison Square Garden took place two weeks ago it would have been a completely different game. New York was struggling and the Suns were thriving. Not only was Phoenix playing better than New York, but the team's strengths matched up well with the weaknesses of the opponent.

Fast breaks to attack NY's poor transition defense and a deadly two-headed pick and roll combo with Goran Dragic/Eric Bledsoe initiating the offense had the potential to lead to a victory by a significant margin. It was setting up to be a blood bath.

Monday, January 13th has arrived and the game isn't what it looked like it would be two short weeks ago.

Here are five things to watch for in tonight's game from New York's perspective:

1. Since the New Year has hit the Knicks have won five out of six, including victories against the Spurs and Heat. The one loss came against the Rockets, a game they probably should have won.

On the season, NY has an offensive rating of 102.2 and defensive rating of 104, which come in at 17th and 22nd in the NBA, respectively. During the month of January, those numbers have improved dramatically. The Knicks ORtg comes in at 107.5 and a DRtg of 100.3. If those were extrapolated through the entire season NY would have the fourth best offense and eighth best defense.

2. The Knicks defense has mainly improved because opponents have struggled shooting threes against them. During this six game stretch teams have shot 31.5% from three in 23 attempts compared to the 36.3% on 22.8 attempts on the season. Some of this is luck and missing open shots, part is the Knicks defense is a little more sound. They are defending the pick and roll smarter, fighting through screens instead of switching and the rotations are cleaner as a whole. There are still lapses to take advantage of.

3. The Suns need to create easy baskets out of Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani's off ball defense. Players have tendencies to try to attack both in post ups and isos, but that's not the smart way to go at their weaknesses. Simply running your normal sets and putting them in situations where they have to guard in space will cause more problems and break the Knicks defensive scheme.

4. The one constant this season has been the fantastic play of Carmelo Anthony. Melo is hitting the boards better than he has his entire career along with carrying New York's offense on his back. While still at times prone to settling into old habits, he's making smart passes out double teams creating good shots for his teammates and been automatic in catch and shoot situations. Since December 1st Melo is hitting 46.3% of his three pointers. His shooting percentages in their entirety look like this -- 47.3%/46.3%/86.3% (FG%/3P%/FT%)

5. Finally, the biggest reason for the Knicks turn around is the rise of Anthony's supporting cast. Iman Shumpert decided to join this NBA season and has knocked down 19 of his last 34 attempts from behind the arc. The above-mentioned Bargnani and STAT have gone from being huge negatives to positive contributors. Ray Felton's return to the offense allowed the Knicks to get back to their pick and roll attack that was so successful the previous season. Backup, unknown point guard Toure Murry has brought defense and energy to the second unit. Kenyon Martin filled in tremendously for Tyson Chandler and when healthy Chandler was rounding into top-notch form. J.R. Smith even found his shot in New York's last win against the 76ers. Instead of Melo playing well and every other player being garbage, everything is starting click. The Knicks look like an actual NBA level basketball team, one the Suns are running into 6 games too late.

Ed note: This marks the Bright Side debut of new writer Bryan Gibberman. Suns fans should recognize Bryan from his work on local radio, SB Nation Arizona, and arizonasports.com in recent years. Now, we get a piece of Bryan as well. Bryan will provide features as well as write regular Practice Reports throughout the season when the Suns are in town. Welcome Bryan!

A Gerald Green jumper with 4.0 to go goes down smooth, like water. The Suns had a glass of that. On the other hand a Josh Smith lay-up with 1.0 to go is like a glass of five day old milk sitting outside on a hot summer day. The Suns had a big glass of that as well...

As the Phoenix Suns (21-15) found out this past week, there are two sides to every NBA coin with no exceptions. The elation and excitement of a game-winner on the road is there is always tails, which is a devastating and lung sucking feeling of being the victim of a game-winner. This past week the Suns were culprits and casualties to game winners.

Game Recaps

@ Chicago Bulls - L (87-92) Full Recap

@ Minnesota Timberwolves - W (104-103) Full Recap

@ Memphis Grizzlies - L (99-104) Full Recap

@ Detroit Pistons - L (108-110) Full Recap

I couldn't tell or remember the last time a team had a single week where they won a game with a game winner and then lost on a game winner like the Suns did this, but I am sure it has happened. Probably a lot.

That does not take away the fact that the Suns ended this week 1-3, their second worst stretch this season, and might have plateaued without Eric Bledsoe in the line-up.

Before Bledsoe went down this time the team was 3-4 without him and struggled to make up for his production. Channing Frye, Marcus Morris, and Gerald Green step up noticeable in most cases, but not enough to give the Suns the type of impact they need to win games. The impact of Bledsoe is not simply measured by numbers and stats, but his ability to create offense, take pressure off Goran Dragic, and create offense in tough, time sensitive situations.

Now they are without him "indefinitely" which could be mean months or longer. They are 5-7 without him now and could play as many as 22-46 games sans Bledsoe making the playoff chase that much more difficult.

Key Stat

Closing Quarter

In this four game trip the Suns knew that closing quarter was going to be very important to their success. Even before they jumped on a plane Head Coach Jeff Hornacek discussed a trend in the teams lack of urgency late in quarters. For this trip in the 16 quarters played the Suns closed out the final five minutes of 10 by out-scoring opponents, tied one, and were out-scored in five. Not bad.

The problem was the rest of the quarter giving up big runs to the Grizzlies to allow them to comeback, digging a large hole against the Pistons, and just not being ready for the Bulls to start the trip.

That is a improvement in the overall quarter closing category out-scoring opponents on average 44.75-41.75 in the final five minutes of games collectively.

Quote of the Week

"Those were two tough shots that Josh (Smith) made," Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. "We let him get to the basket at the end, but he was going in the wrong direction and still knocked that down. Before that, we play great defense, they lose the ball and they manage to bat it out to him and he hits the 3. That's just a bad break for us."

2014 NBA Draft Update

Surrogate Watch continues and the Suns have three first round picks with the current projections, none of which are in the lottery. A slight change of pace from pre-season projections. Here is the update on how the three picks look right now:

Minnesota Timberwolves (18-19) -- No. 13 Overall (Pick stays in Minnesota based on Protections) James Young, freshman wing Kentucky

Washington Wizards (16-19) -- No. 17 Overall (Pick goes to Phoenix based on Protections) Dario Saric, Croatian forward -- Saric has bounced around from No. 1 Overall Pick option a few years ago to fringe lottery pick. That means the talent has never left, but rather adjusted from elite to very high potential. Good point-forward for the Suns to progress.

Phoenix Suns (21-15) -- No. 22 Overall (Pick stays in Phoenix based on Protections) Zach LaVine, freshman guard UCLA -- After a flash of his overall potential against ASU this weekend the intrigue for LaVine is back to "lottery talent."

Indiana Pacers (29-7) -- No. 30 Overall (Pick goes to Phoenix based on Protections) Troy Williams, freshman forward Indiana -- There has been a lot said about over the past few months. In conference play (3-games) Williams has tailed off averaging 6.6 points 4 rebounds, and shooting 42.1% from the field.

Keep following along here to get updates and information on the 2014 NBA Draft Class and more.

News & Notes

  • Eric Bledsoe had successful knee surgery to remove his meniscus in the right knee, could return this season
  • Leandro Barbosa signed a 10-Contract on January 5th, expires on January 10th
  • Both Kevin Love and Joakim Noah were traded to the Suns in fake internet reports this past week. Nice front-court

Previewing the Week Ahead:

Monday, January 13th @ New York Knicks (13-22)

Wednesday, January 15th vs. Los Angeles Lakers (14-22)

Friday, January 17th vs. Dallas Mavericks (20-16)

Sunday, January 19th vs. Denver Nuggets (18-17)

Despite the NBA season being a marathon, unlike the every moment importance of the NFL season sprint, it seems like every single week has importance for the Suns for different reasons. One week it is a test with tough playoff caliber teams. The next is a challenge with lottery teams that are easy to sleep on. After that is a road trip sans a star guard, which leads to this week.

The first two games come against teams that have struggled on the season as a whole, but have played well as of late (Knicks, 5-6) while the Lakers are still struggling losing 11/12 recently.

This weeks challenge is the rear view mirror.

With the Dallas Mavericks only 1.0 games back and the Nuggets 2.5 games back the heat behind them is palpable. A saving grace is that they are at home for a long stretch after this rough road trip ends in New York tonight. Having the home crowd (last in the NBA in attendance) behind them has helped the Suns this season. They are small in numbers, but loud when it counts. Right now the Suns are 12-5 at home (9-10 on the road) showing the advantage they have in the friendly confines of U.S. Airways Center.

Dropping games to the Mavericks and Nuggets effect the playoff race, the direction for the remainder of the season, and the high that was a chase for the Pacific Division, which was in full swing just two weeks ago.

Welcome to the Madhouse! Bright Side of the Sun is an amazing and diverse community and it deserves a place where the tyranny of topicality does not rule. And that's what The Madhouse is. It's Bright Side of the Sun's place to talk about whatever you want, whenever you want: trade ideas, new from around the league or who wore what at the Golden Globes last night. It's all fair game here. Get crazy, y'all.

The Suns are now 5-7 in games that Eric Bledsoe has missed and face tribulations in the coming days. These problems aren't specific to the Suns, though, as the mangled players problem is a league-wide pandemic. This injury insect is really starting to bug me.

Two weeks ago everything was sanguine in Suns' basketball. The team had proved their mettle as one of the better teams in the league. Now, a major loss threatens to undermine the work that had the team poised for a stretch run in a playoff positioning battle.

Let's project, for the sake of argument, that Bledsoe returns from his surgery to remove a torn meniscus in his right knee in six weeks. That would put his return to action on February 21st against the San Antonio Spurs, which gives the Suns 17 more games without their prolific pacesetter at the point.

17 games. That seems like an eternity considering the team's discord in Bledsoe's absence. The Suns future over this stretch appears capricious and their lead over the teams directly behind them seems precarious. Will the team stabilize and be able to attain at least a 9-8 record over this pivotal period? A 7-10 mark could see them on the outside looking in as opposed to possibly making a push for a fourth or fifth seed...

Here is the Suns upcoming schedule:

1/13 at New York Knicks

1/15 vs Los Angeles Lakers

1/17 vs Dallas Mavericks

1/19 vs Denver Nuggets

1/22 vs Indiana Pacers

1/24 vs Washington Wizards

1/26 at Cleveland Cavaliers

1/27 at Philadelphia 76ers

1/29 at Milwaukee Bucks

1/30 at Indiana Pacers

2/1 vs Charlotte Bobcats

2/4 vs Chicago Bulls

2/5 at Houston Rockets

2/8 vs Golden St. Warriors

2/11 vs Miami Heat

2/18 at Denver Nuggets

2/19 vs Boston Celtics

But the Suns aren't on an island in terms of dealing with injury setbacks. Significant attrition of talent has spread across the league like wildfire. Ailments have discouraged fans of individual teams and robbed us of enjoyment of the most entertaining basketball possible through dilution of the talent pool.

Here's a stroll around the league to examine the extent of the carnage:

Atlanta Hawks - Al Horford torn right pectoral muscle

Boston Celtics - Rajon Rondo ACL tear in right knee

Brooklyn Nets - Brook Lopez broken right foot (second time), Deron Williams litany of injuries to both ankles

Chicago Bulls - Derrick Rose meniscus tear in right knee (ACL tear in right knee last season)

Denver Nuggets - Danilo Gallinari partial ACL tear in left knee, Javale McGee stress fracture of left tibia

Golden St. Warriors - Andre Iguodala right hamstring

Los Angeles Clippers - Chris Paul grade three AC joint separation of right shoulder

Los Angeles Lakers - Kobe Bryant torn ACL in left knee, left knee fracture

Memphis Grizzlies - Marc Gasol MCL sprain in left knee

Milwaukee Bucks - Larry Sanders torn ligament in right thumb

New Orleans Pelicans - Jrue Holiday stress fracture of right tibia, Ryan Anderson right toe fracture, herniated disk

New York Knicks - Tyson Chandler broken left fibula

Oklahoma City Thunder - Russell Westbrook third surgery since meniscus tear in right knee last season

Phoenix Suns - Eric Bledsoe meniscus tear in right knee (second time)

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Then there are injuries to young phenoms Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (broken left hand) and Nerlens Noel (torn ACL left knee) that rob us of being able to enjoy their development.

This list doesn't even include players like Goran Dagic, Dwyane Wade and Michael Carter-Williams who haven't missed as much time but have been dealing with their own injury issues.

To emphasize the totality of these afflictions I put together a chimerical collection of these players that would compose a nightmarish team.

Injury All-Stars

Point Guard - Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Eric Bledsoe, Jrue Holiday, Deron Williams

Shooting Guard - Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook

Small Forward - Andre Iguodala, Danilo Gallinari

Power Forward - Ryan Anderson, Al Horford

Center - Marc Gasol, Brook Lopez, Tyson Chandler, Larry Sanders, JaVale McGee

*Alternates in italics

This would be a hell of a team. So much so that they might even rival one of the actual teams that will take the floor in New Orleans for the annual superstar scrimmage. Let's look at the team constructed by Jacob Padilla with his possible reserves...

Eastern Conference All-Stars

Point Guard - Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Kyle Lowry

Shooting Guard - Dwyane Wade, Arron Afflalo

Small Forward - Paul George, Paul Millsap

Power Forward - LeBron James, Chris Bosh

Center - Carmelo Anthony, Roy Hibbert, Joakim Noah

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Now here is my team from last week's Going Gorilla:

Western Conference All-Stars

Point Guard - Stephen Curry, Tony Parker, Damian Lillard

Shooting Guard - James Harden, Goran Dragic (this will likely be Kobe... but let's pretend)

Small Forward - Dirk Nowitzki, Anthony Davis

Power Forward - Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin

Center - Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan (honorable mention to DeMarcus Cousins)

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Steering the Conversation

Given this information it's your turn to discuss a few relevant topics:

1. What will the Suns record be over the next 17 games if there are no other personnel changes over this period?

2. Did I miss any other significant injuries that you think should be included?

3. How would the injury All-Stars fare against the healthy teams?

4. Should any of these beleaguered teams make moves (buying or selling)?  Suggest some realistic propositions of your own. As far as trade scenarios (#4) go, here are two to start you off:

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Chicago Bulls get Emeka Okafor, Alex Len and 1-2 first round picks (Phoenix's own and/or Indiana's)

Phoenix Suns get Kirk Hinrich and Joakim Noah

This instantly shores up salient weaknesses - rebounding, defense and distributing (Noah would be the team's best frontcourt passer) without subtracting from Phoenix's regular rotation, but is Len's upside too great to sacrifice him in this deal? Can the Suns build a contender around Bledsoe (24), Dragic (27) and Noah (28)? Would this hamstring their financial flexibility and take away assets needed to go after more of a unicorn type player?

The Bulls clear salary and get pieces to rebuild after their window has been boarded up due to the zombie apocalypse.

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Orlando Magic get Thabo Seflosha, Steven Adams and PJ3

Oklahoma City Thunder get Arron Afflalo

OKC gets a premiere SG/SF in an attempt to push them over the top. The Thunder are (is) 21-4 with Westbrook and 7-5 without him, so this also helps keep them in the running with the Spurs and Trail Blazers for a top seed until they are healthy.

Orlando gets rid of their best player to help them pass the Bucks in their quest for the most lottery combinations and acquires young prospects in the process.

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Go!

This was a rough stretch for the Suns, who have struggled to replace one half of their dynamic duo with Eric Bledsoe out after meniscus surgery. The Suns went only 1-3 this week. However, in the midst of these losses, the players are still fighting and are never giving up. So, who deserves to be named the player of the week?

The Finalists


Goran Dragic aka "One Man Fast Break"

Weekly Stat Averages:

Points: 20.75  FG%: .491  Assists: 6.75   Rebounds: 3.75

Dragic had another very good week.  In fact, he is the biggest reason the Suns remain competitive at this point. Goran is doing all that he can to lead the team without his other half, but it is becoming more and more difficult it seems for him to maintain his level of play.

One noticeable difference this week was his lack of steals.  Dragic has been averaging nearly two steals a game, which is one of the main reasons the Suns are so effective at scoring on turnovers and fast breaks.  This week, however, he only recorded one steal in four games.  If the Suns are going to survive this stretch without Bledsoe without falling out of playoff contention, they will need to find a way for Dragic to remain as active on both ends of the court as we saw early on.

Channing Frye aka "ICMF"

Weekly Stat Averages:

Points: 16.0   FG%: .423   3PT%: .383  Rebounds: 4.75

Channing Frye is providing the spacing and three-point shooting that the Suns need to operate, even if they currently don't seem to be taking full advantage of it.  Not only that, but he is providing some quality interior defense and helping in various ways.

Frye was the second leading scorer this week...and while that seems like a good thing for Channing, it's not necessarily good news for the Suns.  However, to his credit, he is stepping up his game and doing all that he can to help the Suns get through this, and I expect Channing to continue to do so.

Miles Plumlee aka "Plumdunk"

Weekly Stat Averages:

Points: 10.5   FG%: .513   Rebounds: 7.25   Blocks: 1.0   Steals: 1.25

Miles Plumlee is quietly having some very solid games.  He is making the most of his offensive opportunities and continues to alter shots defensively with his ability to move his feet and time his blocks.  He is still a very raw player, but he makes the most of his natural ability, and seems to have a pretty good understanding of the game as well.

The biggest knock on Plumlee is his positioning on rebounds.  While there's no doubt he needs to improve in this regard, a big factor in this is that he is  going after blocks and challenging shots, so he is often times not in position to make that second jump for the rebound. If he is going to continue to challenge shots, which he should, the Suns need to give him help in the post to corral the rebounds.

The Player of the Week

Goran Dragic

Let's be honest, this wasn't a great week for the Suns.  But where would they be without Dragic?  He was the only player to average over 20 points per game this week, and also controlled the offense dishing out nearly seven assists per game.

The fact of the matter is, the Suns can't rely on Goran to do it all, yet that seems to be what's happening on most nights.  Sure, they are getting quality contributions from various players in different games, but who else can the Suns really count on game in and game out to fill up the stat sheet?

With Dragic, you know what you're going to get each and every game.  Sure he'll  have better and worse games, but he's by far the most consistent player on the team.  Dragic is doing everything he can on a consistent basis to help the Suns survive the absence of Bledsoe.  The questions is, who else will step up and join him?

Poll
Who do you think deserves to be named Phoenix Suns' Player of the Week?

  178 votes | Results

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