PHOENIX — Coming into Friday night’s contest, the Phoenix Suns and Toronto Raptors found themselves only a game out of the playoff race in their respective conferences. While not its...

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The preseason designation of the entire national TV schedule has resulted and will continue to result in some really bad games.

Last night was a glorious night in professional sports. Football fans tuned in for the always incredibly competitive and extremely well-played Thursday Night Football, featuring the Jacksonville Jaguars taking on the Houston Texans. For those that don't like oblong ball, there were some great match-ups on the roundball court as well, as TNT's first game of the night was an epic battle between the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets, with the night cap being a Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat face-off.

If you've been living under a rock, not a word of that lede was written with a straight face. Those were awful match-ups. I saw more competitive and competent play during the scrimmage at my eighth grade team's practice last night. There have been some truly awful games on national TV this year, and taking a look at the schedule, it doesn't look like it will get all that much better.

Look at the Christmas Day games. Chicago at Brooklyn? Oklahoma City at New York? Miami at the Lakers? Blech. The last two games (Houston at San Antonio, Clippers at Golden State) should be decent at least but the first three games are like three giant lumps of coal in all of our stockings.

The New York Knicks have 25 games left on national TV between the ESPN and Turner families of networks. The Brooklyn Nets have 20. The Los Angeles Lakers have 25. And even Chicago has 27. That doesn't even count the possible NBA TV Fan Night games on Tuesdays, which are usually dominated by teams like these because voters are dumb. Meanwhile, the young, fast and exciting Phoenix Suns have three games that can be seen by the masses.

The problem is that the TV schedule is set when the schedules are made: long before we actually learn who the good or at least entertaining teams are. Last year's success, expectations, the season's story lines and, most importantly (and unfortunately), market size are the determining factors for who gets to be seen on TV.

Judging by those factors, it makes sense why those four teams got as many TV games as they did. The Knicks were one of the top teams in the East last season, they feature a marquee player in Carmelo Anthony and they're in New York. The Nets were a playoff team last year and pulled off the biggest blockbuster trade of the summer, and they're in New York. The Bulls made the playoffs last year, without Derrick Rose, an this was supposed to be Rose's comeback tour. Finally, the Lakers are the stupid Lakers and are going to be put on TV no matter what.

However, here we are, more than a month into the season, and the four teams I mentioned above are a combined 26-45. Tyson Chandler has been hurt for the Knicks and the rest of the supporting cast around Anthony has sucked out loud. The Nets have been a complete disaster. Deron Williams has been hurt, Kevin Garnett appears to be done and Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson aren't too far behind him, and there is also the coaching dysfunction (great work Jason Kidd). The Lakers have been better than some expected and haven't been awful to watch, yet they're still only .500. For Chicago, Rose's return has been cut short and his season is over already, and the Bulls are one of the worst offensive teams in the league.

None of these teams are what we expected. Now, we're stuck watching them.

The NFL uses flex scheduling in the second half of their season. NBC can choose to flex out games in order to get a better match-up on their channel if one presents itself. That is how it should be in the NBA. I'm not even asking for very much more balance in terms of who makes the cut. There are plenty of bad teams that nobody wants to see. But the TV games should be awarded based on merit; not name. Schedules should be more flexible, with TV games being determined during the season.

The Suns were - rightfully - on the list of teams with minimal appearances. They were projected to be one of the worst teams in the league, and the initial roster looked to be a mess. But things have changed since then and the Suns are now plenty of fun to watch, scoring the most transition points in the league and featuring two dynamic point guards.

If the NBA wants to continue growing in popularity, it should put the best product forward for fans to enjoy. That means the best and most fun teams - not the biggest names - should be the ones on TV. Find the best match-ups and put them in prime time after we have a better feel for what those match-ups will be.

I'm choosing to ignore the logistics that go into scheduling TV games right now because, darn it, I'm a fan and I want good basketball. However, I doubt the only way to do things is to lock games in months ahead of when they will be played. There has to be a feasible way to include more flexibility in scheduling. I know a lot of these teams are chosen because of their name and market size, but frankly, I don't care. I'd rather not watch a mediocre Lakers or awful Knicks team 40 times this season just because they are in big cities. Let's go for quality over quantity here.

Give us the Thunder, the Warriors, the Clippers, the Heat and the Pacers. Give middle-of-the-pack-yet-young-and-entertaining squads like the Suns and a few others more of a chance to put on a show.

C'mon NBA. Give us good basketball.

The Dino's may be five games under .500 right now, but they have a young athletic team ready to pounce. After all, they are still in the playoff hunt out East....

Tonight the Phoenix Suns (10-9) put on their international hosting hats for the Toronto Raptors (6-11), our norther neighbors. This season the international hosting committee was gracious to the Polish with Polish Appreciation Night to open the season, five days before the season opener they traded their Polish star center.

Looking at the roster there does not seem to be any Canadian, or more specific Toronto natives to trade, so this one should go over a little smoother.

This is another cross conference game for the Suns, which they have had very few so far this season, but in the four games they are 2-2 early on. They have matched up well against the Eastern Conference beating quality opponents and hanging tough in losses.

The Raptors are a young athletic team with DeMarr DeRozan, and Jonas Valanciunas, as well as veterans in their prime with Kyle Lowry and Rudy Gay.

"I think it is just consistency," Coach Jeff Hornacek on DeRozan's leap this year. "I think in the past he was up-and-down, have some big nights, and then some not, but he seems to be pretty consistent with all his play. He can shoot the three now and when you can add something to your game it makes you a better player."

From a strength perspective the Raptors are tops in the league with 17.7 second chance points rebounding the ball on the offensive end and effectively scoring inside after. The Suns are 26th in that same category and give up the up the third most points to their opponents on second chance attempts.

"We are not a huge team," Coach Jeff Hornacek in pre-game on the teams play in the paint. "Especially if Miles (Plumlee) is not in the game you have Markieff  and Channing. He has the size (Channing), but he does not have the bulky size of a lot of the guys in this league."

Athletically this is not your typical Raptors team with the way they get up-and-down the floor trying to push the tempo. They, like the Suns, are going to try and run out to get easy buckets in transition.

We are undersized so we really have to fight for those rebounds, then we can get out in the open court -Coach Hornacek

So far this season the Suns have been the best fast-break team in the league averaging 20.0 points in transition. They are getting out early and often, while the Raptors, for all their athleticism are near the bottom of the league (28th overall) in transition points at 9.6 per game.

(Recent) History Lesson

These two have not tangled this season to date. This is the first of two match-ups with the final affair coming Sunday, March 16th in Toronto. On the season the Suns are 5-4 at home and the Raptors are 3-5 on the road.

Head-to-Head (past four seasons including Playoffs)

S: 101.2 PPG (4 wins)

R: 98.5 PPG (3 wins)

In recent years the teams have traded winning streaks with each other. The Suns won four in a row (109.5-98.0) before the Raptors took control as of late winning three in a row (99.3-88.0) muting the once potent offense. Right now the Suns are playing better, but the Raptors seem to have their number over the past few seasons.

Head-to-Head (This Season)

Rudy Gay: 20.1 PPG 5.6 RPG 1.6 APG 47.0 FG% (25 games)

P.J. Tucker: 4.0 PPG 3.5 RPG 1.5 SPG 57.1 FG% (2 games)

Gay is remarkable efficient against the Suns, by his standards, more on that in a moment. He has only played more games against the Houston Rockets and scores his fourth highest per game number in points against the Suns. His second and third highest individual scoring outbursts came against Phoenix (in Memphis) with 36 points on two separate occasions. He is also 9-16 career against the Suns...

On the other hand Tucker has had two humble games against the team that drafted him. That is largely irrelevant at this point with the new Tucker that is a much different role averaging 6.2 PPG 4.7 RPG in 31.2 minutes as a starter on a winning team.

Starting Line-Ups

PG - Goran Dragic v. Kyle Lowry

SG - Gerald Green v. DeMarr DeRozan

SF - P.J. Tucker v. Rudy Gay

PF - Channing Frye v. Amir Johnson

C - Miles Plumlee v. Jonas Valanciunas

Potential Suns Inactives: Alex Len (Left Ankle, Game-to-Game) and Emeka Okafor (Neck, Out Indefinitely)

Potential Raptors Inactives: N/A

Key Match-Up

Suns Bench vs. Raptors Bench

Statistically the Raptors have one of the least productive benches in the NBA, mainly because they play sparingly (15.5 minutes per game), but also because they just not effective. As a unit they are averaging 24.1 points per game (25th in the NBA), 40.1% shooting (25th), 30.4% from three (27th), and 3.9 assists per game (30th) making it one of the least impactful benches in the league.

On the other hand the Suns are Top 15 in points (17.2) and overall shooting (43.8%) in 17.2 minutes per game. They have brought the team back on numerous occasions with their shooting, energy, and scoring. Good be a game changing element.

Interesting Stat: 18.8

This season Rudy Gay is averaging 19.6 points per game. He is taking 18.8 field goal attempts per game to get there. At this point he is shooting more times a game than 80% of the Top 10 scorers in the NBA, takes the 5th most shots per game in the league, and he has only 13 more points than shot attempts on the season. Enjoy those...

Meaningless Stat: 2-2

The Suns are 2-2 against the Eastern Conference this year, but could/should be 3-1 (Nets OT debacle) and that means nothing. The entire Western Conference is something like 11,527-5 against the East this year...

Time: 7:00 pm MDT TV: FSAZ The Suns have blown away their critics this year with big wins over big teams like the Portland Trail Blazers (twice) and Houston Rockets. But the reason the Suns aren’t...

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A look at Suns-related news floating around the internet from the last week. Also an open thread to discuss anything and everything.

In the last seven days (11/28-12/5), the Phoenix Suns played four games - splitting a pair against Utah, losing in Memphis and taking down the Rockets in Houston. It's still incredibly hard to get a firm handle of this team, as they've developed a tendency to be inconsistent enough to make fans wonder if they're a legitimate playoff team one day and question where they'll land in the draft lottery the next day.

Phoenix only has two games on its slate for the next seven days - a game against the Raptors at home on Friday, 12/6 and a visit to LA to face the Lakers on Tuesday, 12/10, when Kobe Bryant might grace the Suns with his return to NBA basketball.

Let's now take a look at some random Suns-related content that floated around various parts of the internet this last week.

Power Rankings

Most of these power rankings were published earlier in the week, so keep in mind that they haven't accounted for the two losses to Sacramento.

CBS Sports (Dec. 2) - #13:

Still hanging in there despite all reason and logic. Jeff Hornacek is doing some work in the Valley.

Sports Illustrated (Dec. 2) - #11:

Markieff and Marcus Morris are thriving after being reunited in Phoenix, with both averaging career bests in points, rebounds and minutes. It's too bad Eric Bledsoe doesn't have a twin brother.

ESPN (Dec. 2) - #10:

Last Monday's 15-point loss in Miami was the first (and only) double-digit defeat of the season for Jeff Hornacek's scrappers. Suns fans will surely learn to live with Saturday's home L to the Jazz once someone reminds them that Portland is 0-2 in Phoenix thus far and 14-1 everywhere else.

USA Today (Dec. 1) - #13:

Playing one Morris at a time is like saving a Twix bar for later: It makes sense, but you wont do it.

NBC Sports (Dec. 2) - #14

I’m as stunned as anyone to see them crack the Top 10, but they are outscoring opponents by 6.6 points per 100 possessions. Channing Frye has shaken off the rust and his shooting from three is spacing the floor and sparking the offense.

Preposterously Premature Playoff Picture

Wc_standings_12-5_medium

Suns sit at 9th in the west, just a game behind the 8th-seeded Warriors. Somehow, someway, the Suns are managing to stay in the playoff picture in the rugged western conference.

Link of the Week

ESPN Insider ranked the NBA's rookie head coaches and the Suns' Jeff Hornacek deservedly came in at #1:

1. Jeff Hornacek, Phoenix Suns
Plus-6.1 (Expected wins: 3.4 through 18 games / Pythagorean wins: 9.5 through 18 games)

The early reviews on Hornacek have been universally positive. ATH projected the Suns as the worst team in the league. After winning at Houston on Wednesday, the Suns stand at 10-9. Phoenix has leaped from 29th to ninth in offensive efficiency and has improved four spots in the defensive rankings. Hornacek has ridden excellent shot selection to the NBA's sixth-best effective field goal percentage. The preseason Suns were angling for the top spot in the 2014 draft, so maybe Hornacek is doing too good of a job.

Plays of the Week

Bledsoe's steal and slam against the Jazz:


PJ Tucker shutting down James Harden:


Tweets of the Week

This hilarious exchange between the Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns' Twitter accounts:

@trailblazers We asked you to keep that on the down low. That eager to get rid of us already?

— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) December 4, 2013

@Suns Well played

— Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) December 4, 2013

Bright Sider of the Week

Bright Sider of the Week goes to.............Mike Lisboa! He always posts great comments, but one in particular was fantastic - his analysis (and defense) of Channing Frye in this game recap was one of the most well thought-out and articulated comments I've ever seen on this site and really deserved to be its own post. Thanks, Mike!

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Any other news you'd like to share? Any suggestions for what else you'd like me to do/include in these weekly segments (I'm open to anything!)? As always, feel free to discuss below!

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