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To follow this year's edition of the 11-20 Phoenix Suns is to enter a new realm of fandom that has not been tread by Suns fans in more than a decade.

While fans from a dozen other teams have been through big-time losing in recent seasons, many Suns fans are loathe to embrace the idea of a season whose brightest outcome might just be to lose the most games possible.

Fan suggestions to start Luke Zeller, Wes Johnson, Diante Garrett and Michael Beasley ahead of better players is to suggest we simply forfeit every game from here on out in an effort to qualify for the largest chance at the #1 pick in the draft.

As a 30-year Suns fan, that notion brings a wash of bile to my tastebuds. I can't stand the idea, and I don't believe it works.

But I do see the logic for those forward-thinking to next season and the season after, as long as you don't consider the people involved in the current season. Getting a high draft pick is a benefit from losing most of your 82 games. How high the draft pick is partly based on luck and partly on ineptitude. There are many bad teams in the league - to "out bad" all of them can be difficult and still "win" the top pick is a crap shoot.

Do you realize that, despite twin losing streaks of 7 and 5 games in the past 16, the Suns are still tied with or better than seven other teams? As bad as the losing has been, the Suns are still "only" in 8th position.

But there's another problem with tanking, in addition to the "fight for futility" and rolling the dice on the lottery.

The biggest problem is that a "lose on purpose" mentality flies in the face of competition.

Players and coaches alike have no idea how to lose on purpose and keep their self-respect at the same time. Luke Zeller could not reconcile in his own head how he's playing more minutes than, say, Marcin Gortat other than to admit he's a pawn. A rube. A loser who's only playing because he will help the team lose. Alvin Gentry could not reconcile with himself by doing such a thing either.

Once you tank, you stank. And once that foul stank gets on you, it never goes away.

As fans, we can sit there and pine for losses because we have the ability to tune out the season, change the channel and come back next year.

The coaches, players (and media, for that matter) don't have that luxury. They must play and coach every second of every day until the end of the season. To do so with a mentality to lose on purpose would be to go against everything in their soul that made them the best players and coaches in the nation.

The only way to accomplish a successful tanking season while players and coaches can sleep at night is for the front office to orchestrate a shift to "development" mode and completely remove the pressure from the coach to win games.

But as long as the coach is surrounded by veterans, he is not going to be able to pass that along to his players with any success. Jermaine O'Neal. Sebastian Telfair. Jared Dudley. Marcin Gortat. Luis Scola. Goran Dragic. None of those players is interested in losing games in order to improve draft position. None of them is going to play half-speed, or give up their minutes to a worse player. And Alvin Gentry will have no interest in trying to sell them on the concept. He wants to win games. It's in these guys' nature to win basketball games.

Nay, to take away the need to win games would require a gutting of the roster. That's a huge commitment to lose without guarantee (or even heavy odds) of success. And what message does that send to the remaining players? What message does that send to players from other teams who will be free agents?

This tactic works for a young/fresh front office and coaching staff at the beginning of their contracts, with an owner who has accepted losing for the next few years while the team rebuilds.

Such is not the case for the Suns.

Managing Partner Robert Sarver wants to win games while also controlling the budget. He would have to experience an "awakening" to accept that you cannot win games with journeymen players on middling contracts. You need a superstar. And the best way to get a superstar is to draft in the top 3. They don't come through free agency or trades. They are drafted.

Can Robert Sarver accept that you have to get a lot worse in order to get a lot better?

Fans are proving they need a superstar in order to buy tickets. The Suns are facing an all-time low attendance.

The team is proving they need a star as well, with failure after failure in the final minutes of close games. An 11-20 record, combined with the prospect of being favored in only a handful of the next 35 games, may help Robert reach that understanding.

He would have to relieve Lon Babby of the pressure to win games to keep his job, or the Suns will muddle through this frustrating season winning just enough games to make the draft pick underwhelming.

In turn, Babby would have to relieve Alvin Gentry of the pressure to win games to keep his job.

None of that is likely to happen with each in the last year of their contract.

And none of that happens if Robert Sarver wants to win as many games as possible this season.

The Phoenix Suns continue to invent new ways to lose thanks to poor late-game execution. In a shootout defined by dominant frontcourt play from Minnesota and Luis Scola’s best game as a Sun,...

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20121229_jrc_ah7_275

The injury-riddled Minnesota Timberwolves look to get their record above .500 against the struggling Phoenix Suns who have suffered their first major injury of the season.

The Phoenix Suns have lost 4 straight games, just after winning 4 straight which was just after losing 7 straight. Talk about an up-and-down team.

But the Suns are missing their best player, Goran Dragic, who leads the team in points, assists and steals while he recovers from a bruised bum after a hard fall against the Knicks and they are a paltry 2-12 on the road this season, including their last 6 in a row.

The Suns could sure use a steady hand against the Wolves, just in case the game is close at the end. Let's hope Dragic feels better.

Injuries

While the Phoenix Suns have had little to celebrate this season beyond good health, the Minnesota Timberwolves have to be wondering what it's like to field their best players all in the same game.

The Wolves have played 26 games so far, and only three players have taken the court in each: Luke Ridnour, Alexey Shved and Dante Cunningham. Only Ridnour is a regular starter.

The latest injury, just as Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio are rounding back to form, comes to their center position. Nikola Pekovic has battled an illness and is probable for tonight's game. Chase Budinger, Malcolm Lee and Brandon Roy (really? I am shocked!) are out indefinitely.

But the Wolves are pretty healthy at this time and should give the Suns a really hard time on their home court.

Offense...meh

The Wolves share the ball much the same way as the Suns, with only two guys averaging more than 15 points per game (Love and Pekovic). Both teams struggle to score. The Wolves rank only 23nd in offense (102.7 points per 100 possessions) while the Suns hover at 14th.

Surely, with Rubio and Love rounding into form, their offense will improve in time. But right now, it's hit and miss as they and their teammates figure each other out.

Defense first, for the Wolves anyway

Rick Adelman built an offense-oriented reputation after years with Sacramento and Houston, but this Wolves team hangs their hats on defense.

While the Suns languish at the bottom of the league on defense (26th overall), the Wolves are feasting. They rank 5th in the league, giving up just 101.6 points per 100 possessions.

Yet where the Suns are at their worst on defense (30th in 3-point % allowed), the Timberwolves are at their worst on offense (30th in 3-point % converted). This carries over to overall field goal percentage: Suns allow 29th-worst field goal percentage while the Wolves only rank 25th in field-goal conversions.

This game could be ugly, and low-scoring.

Explosions

The Suns are only 2-12 on the road, so don't get your hopes up against a good (and improving) Wolves team.

But the surest way to lose is to allow Kevin Love to go off on a 30-point, 20-rebound game as he is wont to do. Love is only shooting 35% this season while recovering from a broken hand, and had more turnovers than field goals in the 87-84 loss to Houston in their last game. But playing the Suns just might wake him up.

Andre Kirilenko has always been a Suns killer, it seems. Dating back to his Utah days, he was a pest on both ends of the court. Let's hope Michael Beasley can contain him. (sad chuckle)

Another Suns killer is Dante Cunningham, who quite possibly has made every single shot he's ever taken against the Suns as a Trailblazer and Rocket in previous seasons. The dude hits mid-range shots like nobody's business against the purple and gold.

Finally, I have this inclination that second-year player Derrick Williams will have a great game tonight. He's been in and out of their lineup, but will likely want to show up well against the only team from Arizona, where he starred in college.

Former Wolves growling back to prove themselves?

On the Suns side, is there a chance that Michael Beasley and Wesley Johnson will dominate this game to show their former employers up?

(chuckle, snigger, chuckle)

They probably won't get the chance, since the two players combine for about 12 minutes a game these days. In fact, if Johnson sees the floor you might as well turn off the TV since that would signal a blowout in the wrong direction.

There is a small, teeny-tiny chance that Beasley will decide to engage himself and make a few shots while giving up fewer points than he scores. If that happens, hold your breath and sit perfectly still lest you break the spell. And hope Alvin Gentry knows when to pull the plug before it's too late.

Nay, the former T-wolf most likely to make his former fans a tiny bit wistful is Sebastian Telfair. He is a much better player than the one who donned a Minny jersey because he stays within himself and plays to his own strengths these days: on-ball defense and off-the-dribble shooting. Alvin Gentry loves Bassy and trusts him implicitly. And if Dragic is still hurt, Telfair will get about 43 minutes of playing time to show off.

But you really have to temper expectations with Bassy. Even the Suns, who love what Bassy brings, would never classify him as a starting NBA point guard. He's a great backup, but gets exposed in big minutes.

Notes

  • The Suns have won 10 of 11 against the Timberwolves, including the last 6 in Minnesota
  • The Wolves have lost 6 games this season after leading in the 4th quarter
  • The Suns have won 6 games this season after being down 10+ points in the second or third quarter
  • The Suns are making only 25% of their 3-pointers in their 4-game losing streak
  • The Suns are 0-6 on the second night of back-to-backs this season, losing on average by double-digits

Takeaways

If the Suns beat the T-wolves, then we can rest easy and bask in the glow of a great game.

If the T-wolves beat the Suns, then the Suns are one game closer to getting another first-round pick next spring.

No matter what happens, Suns fans win.

I finish off the preview with a breakdown of Wolves stats and a few links.


FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
Kevin Love 15 34.9 5.9 16.7 35.5 1.2 5.3 22.5 5.7 8.3 68.8 3.5 10.3 13.8 2.4 2.3 0.8 0.5 1.9 18.8
Nikola Pekovic 24 32.0 6.2 12.5 49.3 0.0 0.0 0.0 3.3 4.2 79.0 3.6 4.6 8.2 1.2 2.2 0.7 0.8 2.5 15.6
Andrei Kirilenko 22 35.1 4.8 9.6 50.0 0.5 1.9 26.8 2.9 3.8 75.0 2.1 4.9 7.0 3.1 2.4 1.7 1.5 1.5 13.0
Chase Budinger 6 23.3 4.0 8.3 48.0 1.2 3.8 30.4 2.7 3.3 80.0 0.7 2.8 3.5 1.5 2.0 1.0 0.5 1.5 11.8
Luke Ridnour 26 30.9 4.4 9.8 45.1 1.0 2.9 32.9 1.8 2.3 79.7 0.4 2.4 2.8 4.4 1.7 1.3 0.2 2.5 11.6
J.J. Barea 21 23.4 4.0 9.4 42.1 1.0 3.2 32.8 1.9 2.3 83.3 0.8 2.8 3.5 4.4 2.0 0.7 0.0 1.8 10.9
Alexey Shved 26 27.6 3.8 9.4 40.2 1.6 4.8 33.6 1.7 2.3 72.9 0.7 2.0 2.7 4.4 2.2 0.8 0.3 2.1 10.8
Derrick Williams 22 17.5 2.8 6.8 40.7 0.7 1.9 35.7 1.9 2.6 71.9 1.0 3.5 4.4 0.4 1.0 0.2 0.5 1.0 8.1
Dante Cunningham 26 22.5 3.4 6.9 49.4 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.6 0.8 68.2 1.8 3.2 5.0 0.7 0.5 0.9 0.5 2.0 7.4
Brandon Roy 5 24.2 2.2 7.0 31.4 0.0 1.8 0.0 1.4 2.0 70.0 0.6 2.2 2.8 4.6 1.4 0.6 0.0 1.0 5.8
Malcolm Lee 16 18.0 1.8 4.8 38.2 0.5 1.5 33.3 0.8 1.3 60.0 0.9 1.5 2.4 1.3 0.6 0.8 0.4 1.9 4.9
Ricky Rubio 5 18.2 1.0 4.2 23.8 0.0 1.2 0.0 2.2 2.8 78.6 0.6 1.4 2.0 4.0 2.4 1.2 0.0 2.2 4.2
Greg Stiemsma 23 11.0 1.0 2.7 37.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.6 0.8 72.2 0.4 1.5 1.9 0.3 0.8 0.3 1.3 1.9 2.6
Lou Amundson 11 8.5 0.5 1.4 33.3 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.3 1.2 23.1 1.0 1.4 2.4 0.1 0.5 0.5 0.5 1.1 1.2


Suns vs Timberwolves coverage

Canis Hoopus




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It was a back and forth battle in the fourth until the final seconds, despite the Phoenix Suns missing 6 open 3s off good penetration in the quarter (all 9 in the second half) and once again missing an game-leading layup at a critical time with a minute left.

Broken record.

The Suns had good shots on every possession but just could not knock them down while the Wolves kept pounding it inside.

Luis Scola had a heckuva game (33 and 10) but missed a critical bunny with seconds left and then missed the first and made the second free throw with 8 seconds left. Why didn't he intentionally miss that second shot?

Goran Dragic had a great game with 16 points and 12 assists but missed his five three-point attempts both three-point attempts and five free throws.

P.J. Tucker played his butt off and helped the Suns stay respectable on the boards, but missed a critical layup that would have given the Suns the lead with a minute left.

And once again the Suns couldn't even get off a shot on their final possession (failing to get the ball in twice).

Kevin Love had 23 and 18, Nikola Pekovic had 28 and 11 and Andre Kirilenko had 20 and 5, with 4 assists.

Former Wolf Michael Beasley floated, was jeered, and ultimately gave separation to the Wolves by missing three straight shots on consecutive possessions in the beginning of the fourth (and 1-8 overall for the game) to give them a late 5-point lead the Suns couldn't overcome.

The missed open 3s. The missed last-minute layup that could have given the Suns a lead.

Sound familiar? The Suns just can't make critical shots.

Nikola Pekovic killed the Suns to start the game (9 pts in the first quarter). Kevin Love became Kevin Love again with 13 points, 5 rebounds in the first quarter on 5-8 shooting after hitting only 35% coming in. Kirilenko had 10, 3, 2. The three of them went 14 for 18 in that first quarter.

As predicted in the preview, by the way.

The Suns played hard and kept the game close. Jared Dudley was 4-4 for 9 points. Goran Dragic had 6 assists. Luis Scola 8 pts and 4 rebounds. and the Suns only trailed by 3 at the end of the quarter.

In the second, Derrick Williams came out on fire (as predicted) getting 10 points on 3-4 shooting and making both 3s. Think he wants to be a Sun? Michael Beasley tried too hard and made only 1 of his first 5 shots.

After tying the game at 54-54, the Wolves finished on on 10-4 run by outworking the Suns on the glass. Gortat and Scola could not pull down the defensive board on dribble penetration by little Barea, whose misses turned into layups by Pekovic, Love and Kirilenko. The Wolves finished the half with a 12-board advantage.

The 25th-best shooting team in the league finished the half shooting 58%.

58%.

Kirilenko, Love and Pekovic finished with 44 of the Wolves 64 points on 20 of 29 shooting. Love had 12 boards by himself. Love with 15 and 12 is halfway to that dreaded 30/20 game I was worried about. That ain't gonna get it done, folks.The Suns played hard, but ineffectively on defense. As always.

Scola finished the half with 16 points and 4 rebounds, Dragic with 11 points, 7 assists and 3 rebounds.

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The Phoenix Suns have lost 4 straight games, just after winning 4 straight which was just after losing 7 straight. Talk about an up-and-down team.

But the Suns are missing their best player, Goran Dragic, who leads the team in points, assists and steals while he recovers from a bruised bum after a hard fall against the Knicks and they are a paltry 2-12 on the road this season, including their last 6 in a row.

The Suns could sure use a steady hand against the Wolves, just in case the game is close at the end. Let's hope Dragic feels better.

Injuries

While the Phoenix Suns have had little to celebrate this season beyond good health, the Minnesota Timberwolves have to be wondering what it's like to field their best players all in the same game.

The Wolves have played 26 games so far, and only three players have taken the court in each: Luke Ridnour, Alexey Shved and Dante Cunningham. Only Ridnour is a regular starter.

The latest injury, just as Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio are rounding back to form, comes to their center position. Nikola Pekovic has battled an illness and is probable for tonight's game. Chase Budinger, Malcolm Lee and Brandon Roy (really? I am shocked!) are out indefinitely.

But the Wolves are pretty healthy at this time and should give the Suns a really hard time on their home court.

Offense...meh

The Wolves share the ball much the same way as the Suns, with only two guys averaging more than 15 points per game (Love and Pekovic). Both teams struggle to score. The Wolves rank only 23nd in offense (102.7 points per 100 possessions) while the Suns hover at 14th.

Surely, with Rubio and Love rounding into form, their offense will improve in time. But right now, it's hit and miss as they and their teammates figure each other out.

Defense first, for the Wolves anyway

Rick Adelman built an offense-oriented reputation after years with Sacramento and Houston, but this Wolves team hangs their hats on defense.

While the Suns languish at the bottom of the league on defense (26th overall), the Wolves are feasting. They rank 5th in the league, giving up just 101.6 points per 100 possessions.

Yet where the Suns are at their worst on defense (30th in 3-point % allowed), the Timberwolves are at their worst on offense (30th in 3-point % converted). This carries over to overall field goal percentage: Suns allow 29th-worst field goal percentage while the Wolves only rank 25th in field-goal conversions.

This game could be ugly, and low-scoring.

Explosions

The Suns are only 2-12 on the road, so don't get your hopes up against a good (and improving) Wolves team.

But the surest way to lose is to allow Kevin Love to go off on a 30-point, 20-rebound game as he is wont to do. Love is only shooting 35% this season while recovering from a broken hand, and had more turnovers than field goals in the 87-84 loss to Houston in their last game. But playing the Suns just might wake him up.

Andre Kirilenko has always been a Suns killer, it seems. Dating back to his Utah days, he was a pest on both ends of the court. Let's hope Michael Beasley can contain him. (sad chuckle)

Another Suns killer is Dante Cunningham, who quite possibly has made every single shot he's ever taken against the Suns as a Trailblazer and Rocket in previous seasons. The dude hits mid-range shots like nobody's business against the purple and gold.

Finally, I have this inclination that second-year player Derrick Williams will have a great game tonight. He's been in and out of their lineup, but will likely want to show up well against the only team from Arizona, where he starred in college.

Former Wolves growling back to prove themselves?

On the Suns side, is there a chance that Michael Beasley and Wesley Johnson will dominate this game to show their former employers up?

(chuckle, snigger, chuckle)

They probably won't get the chance, since the two players combine for about 12 minutes a game these days. In fact, if Johnson sees the floor you might as well turn off the TV since that would signal a blowout in the wrong direction.

There is a small, teeny-tiny chance that Beasley will decide to engage himself and make a few shots while giving up fewer points than he scores. If that happens, hold your breath and sit perfectly still lest you break the spell. And hope Alvin Gentry knows when to pull the plug before it's too late.

Nay, the former T-wolf most likely to make his former fans a tiny bit wistful is Sebastian Telfair. He is a much better player than the one who donned a Minny jersey because he stays within himself and plays to his own strengths these days: on-ball defense and off-the-dribble shooting. Alvin Gentry loves Bassy and trusts him implicitly. And if Dragic is still hurt, Telfair will get about 43 minutes of playing time to show off.

But you really have to temper expectations with Bassy. Even the Suns, who love what Bassy brings, would never classify him as a starting NBA point guard. He's a great backup, but gets exposed in big minutes.

Notes

  • The Suns have won 10 of 11 against the Timberwolves, including the last 6 in Minnesota
  • The Wolves have lost 6 games this season after leading in the 4th quarter
  • The Suns have won 6 games this season after being down 10+ points in the second or third quarter
  • The Suns are making only 25% of their 3-pointers in their 4-game losing streak
  • The Suns are 0-6 on the second night of back-to-backs this season, losing on average by double-digits

Takeaways

If the Suns beat the T-wolves, then we can rest easy and bask in the glow of a great game.

If the T-wolves beat the Suns, then the Suns are one game closer to getting another first-round pick next spring.

No matter what happens, Suns fans win.

I finish off the preview with a breakdown of Wolves stats and a few links.


FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
Kevin Love 15 34.9 5.9 16.7 35.5 1.2 5.3 22.5 5.7 8.3 68.8 3.5 10.3 13.8 2.4 2.3 0.8 0.5 1.9 18.8
Nikola Pekovic 24 32.0 6.2 12.5 49.3 0.0 0.0 0.0 3.3 4.2 79.0 3.6 4.6 8.2 1.2 2.2 0.7 0.8 2.5 15.6
Andrei Kirilenko 22 35.1 4.8 9.6 50.0 0.5 1.9 26.8 2.9 3.8 75.0 2.1 4.9 7.0 3.1 2.4 1.7 1.5 1.5 13.0
Chase Budinger 6 23.3 4.0 8.3 48.0 1.2 3.8 30.4 2.7 3.3 80.0 0.7 2.8 3.5 1.5 2.0 1.0 0.5 1.5 11.8
Luke Ridnour 26 30.9 4.4 9.8 45.1 1.0 2.9 32.9 1.8 2.3 79.7 0.4 2.4 2.8 4.4 1.7 1.3 0.2 2.5 11.6
J.J. Barea 21 23.4 4.0 9.4 42.1 1.0 3.2 32.8 1.9 2.3 83.3 0.8 2.8 3.5 4.4 2.0 0.7 0.0 1.8 10.9
Alexey Shved 26 27.6 3.8 9.4 40.2 1.6 4.8 33.6 1.7 2.3 72.9 0.7 2.0 2.7 4.4 2.2 0.8 0.3 2.1 10.8
Derrick Williams 22 17.5 2.8 6.8 40.7 0.7 1.9 35.7 1.9 2.6 71.9 1.0 3.5 4.4 0.4 1.0 0.2 0.5 1.0 8.1
Dante Cunningham 26 22.5 3.4 6.9 49.4 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.6 0.8 68.2 1.8 3.2 5.0 0.7 0.5 0.9 0.5 2.0 7.4
Brandon Roy 5 24.2 2.2 7.0 31.4 0.0 1.8 0.0 1.4 2.0 70.0 0.6 2.2 2.8 4.6 1.4 0.6 0.0 1.0 5.8
Malcolm Lee 16 18.0 1.8 4.8 38.2 0.5 1.5 33.3 0.8 1.3 60.0 0.9 1.5 2.4 1.3 0.6 0.8 0.4 1.9 4.9
Ricky Rubio 5 18.2 1.0 4.2 23.8 0.0 1.2 0.0 2.2 2.8 78.6 0.6 1.4 2.0 4.0 2.4 1.2 0.0 2.2 4.2
Greg Stiemsma 23 11.0 1.0 2.7 37.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.6 0.8 72.2 0.4 1.5 1.9 0.3 0.8 0.3 1.3 1.9 2.6
Lou Amundson 11 8.5 0.5 1.4 33.3 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.3 1.2 23.1 1.0 1.4 2.4 0.1 0.5 0.5 0.5 1.1 1.2


Suns vs Timberwolves coverage

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