The Phoenix Suns start the second half of their season after a week long break, facing a Minnesota Timberwolves team that will be playing its third game in three nights, having beaten the Clippers on Tuesday night and losing to the Lakers last night. Kevin Love, the Wolves' leading scorer and rebounder, missed last night's game with "flu-like symptoms" and his status for tonight is uncertain.
The 14-20 Suns have little time left to go on a run if they hope to contend for a playoff spot, as they sit in the 13th spot in the West. Their best chance to make up ground will be in their next 11 games, 9 of which are at home, and tonight provides an opportunity for the Suns to gain a game on a team ahead of them in the standings, as the Wolves are currently 10th in the West at 18-18.
A rested Suns team at home facing an improved but still mediocre Wolves squad which has played the two previous nights and might be missing its best player? Talk about being set up for success!
Will the Suns be able to take advantage of this opportunity?
The Timberwolves starting unit struggled to score without Love last night, as the Lakers starters buried them in the 1st and 3rd quarters to win easily 105-84. Michael Beasley and Martell Webster were their leading scorers with 14 each. Beasley and rookie UofA product Derrick Williams figure to get the most additional playing time and scoring opportunities should Love not be able to play tonight. J.J. Barea is also a question mark after he played only 10 minutes due to a strained calf last night.
Love and Ricky Rubio are the emerging players featured by the Wolves who have been most responsible for the team's improvement from league doormat to team in the playoff hunt, but second year Montenegrin center Nikola Pekovic has been a revelation for the Wolves as well. He's started the last 13 games, averaging a double-double and pushing former Pistons draft bust Darko Milicic further into irrelevancy. The Gortat-Pekovic matchup isn't as glamorous as the Nash-Rubio matchup, but will be about as important to the outcome of the game.
Last season, the Suns swept their three games against Minnesota, scoring over 100 in each including outputs of 135 and 128, but the Wolves have improved from 27th to 14th in defensive rating under their new head coach Rick Adelman, now higher than the Suns (D'OH!). Love or no Love, this won't be an easy game.
When we last saw the Suns, they lost a very winnable game to the Golden State Warriors, getting off to a slow start behind an unusually poor outing from Steve Nash (5 TOs to go with only 7 points and 9 assists) and losing a heartbreaker in the end. Head coach Alvin Gentry voiced his displeasure with the Suns performance in a rant that seemed to represent the frustrations of a half-season of lost opportunities and uneven Suns effort.
Whether Gentry's outburst or the All-Star break will have any impact on the Suns performance as they start play again this week remains to be seen. The clock is ticking on the Suns' chances for this season. Getting off to a fast start with a win tonight after their hiatus will be critical.
The Steve Nash trade rumor stuff will continue until the March 15 NBA trade deadline has come and gone. The latest bit of total silliness involves Lamar Odom. Yawn. And of course, the Orlando Magic noise is still out there but we've already covered that ground.
Suns President of Basketball Operations, Lon Babby, was on the Doug and Wolf Show Wednesday and once again said the same thing he's been saying along about Nash. He answered the "Why not trade Nash?" question and gave totally reasonable answers to all the other reasonable Nash questions.
A more interesting response came to the question about the Suns making other moves at the trade deadline. Here's what Babby had to say about that:
"There could be opportunities to do something now."
"I don't predict that there will be."
"I mean, we're in a position of having some flexibility beginning in 2012. We don't have a whole lot of flexibility now but because we have flexibility in 2012 that could conceivably open up opportunities."
"I think I said to you guys last week, we're not going to do anything that has a short term vista on it. It's going to have to have to be something that makes us better, or creates an opportunity to make us better in the long term and in the future. And so, I don't predict anything dramatic like that would happen but I'm not going to tell you it's impossible."
Ah, I see. So you're saying there's a chance of a trade but only if it's a good deal for the future and not a "win now" deal like the Aaron Brooks trade was last season. Das ist sehr klar. dànké
Do you think the Suns will make a trade at or before the deadline this year?
Oh, also here's some video from Wednesday's practice. There's not a ton of good stuff in here outside the Nash response to the Shaq thing, but Steve did also talk about comparisons between himself and Ricky Rubio and Alvin Gentry talked about rebounding better and turnovers...again.
Also, Markieff talked about his visit back to Kansas over the weekend for the big rivalry game with Missouri that turned out to be quite a thriller.