Chemistry and cohesion have been the themes for the Suns as they've vaulted themselves back into the Western Conference race by winning 11 of 14 games before a rough back to back in Florida produced two losses. Their opponent tonight, the Indiana Pacers are a model of the "whole being better than the sum of the parts."
Of their starting five, only Danny Granger has missed a start (he missed two), and they're a team that gets solid production up and down their roster. At 27-18, they sit in the 5th position in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The Suns, of course, acquitted themselves well in a loss to the Heat but were then embarrassed by the Magic, quickly ending their brief foray into the wonderful world of winning teams. If there was any good news to take from the demolition at the hands of the Magic it's that the Suns were able to give their starters some rest, as only Jared Dudley played as many as 30 minutes.
Only 19 games remain on the Suns schedule and we won't find a whole lot of confident "should win"s among them. The Suns spent much of the month of March digging themselves out of an early season hole. It's critical not to let this current road trip put them right back in the same hole.
When the Suns last played the Pacers in February of last year in Indianapolis, Grant Hill scored a season-high 34 points (he hasn't scored more than 21 in a game since) in an overtime thriller that was capped by this game-winner from Channing Frye. Ah, the memories. Frye's confidence soared and he went on to hit another game-winner in the Suns next game in New Jersey.
The Suns won both games against the Pacers last year, but Indy improved through the second half of last season under new coach Frank Vogel, made the playoffs (albeit with a losing record) and have carried that momentum into this season under Vogel. They boast an above average defense, an All-Star in center Roy Hibbert and go ten deep with quality players, including former Suns fan favorites Lou Amundson and Leandro Barbosa.
Hibbert's matchup with Marcin Gortat will be one of the keys to this game. Gortat has had a rough go of it lately. There's not much shame in getting worked over by Dwight Howard, but Howard completely destroyed Gortat on Wednesday and the Suns will need him to bounce back against another strong opponent tonight.
The recent improvement of the Suns bench will need to continue tonight as well to counter the great depth of the Pacers, though the Suns are helped somewhat by the fact that the Pacers played on the road in Washington last night.
Regardless, this is a tough matchup for the Suns, as the Pacers are 14-6 at home this season while the Suns are only 8-14 on the road. It might take some heroics like what Frye and Hill provided last season to pull this one out.
The Phoenix Suns resurgence and the trade deadline strangely coincided this season which left many of us wondering what the best course of action could be for Nash and the boys. There's no doubt the team could have used some extra pieces for the stretch run and perhaps beyond. But an unlikely 7-2 stretch from March 1-15 propelled the Suns back into the playoff mix, and perhaps clouded or decided the intentions of Sarver, Blanks, and Babby.
All season the Suns brass down to the players spoke of their disappointment in the team's collective performance. And with the cold starts of Jared Dudley and Channing Frye coupled with the the poor play of the bench, anything was possible for a Suns squad that was a lock for lotterytown.
Yet slowly, things began to take shape. As the All Star game approached both the Suns organization and Steve Nash made definitive comments about his future-there would be no Nash trade, period. Unless the FO wanted to, or if Nash wanted to leave. And both sides made clear they had no intentions of splitting up the family. The Suns also made clear they were not interested in extending Robin Lopez in the final year of his contract. Since the Suns were playing such awful ball, it was easy to asses the team's trade assets, and the possibilities of improving the team in 2012.
Trading their top scorer and rebuild centerpiece Marcin Gortat had to have been off the table along with Nash. Grant Hill wasn't going anywhere as he wasn't in normal Grant Hill shape, and well, Nash wouldn't have allowed it anyway. Channing Frye was shooting 20 something percent while attempting to learn the intricacies of playing big boy defense and big boy rebounding. He would have yielded (if anything) a future 2nd round pick or less; was worth more to the Suns than any other team in the league. And like most shooters, going cold and getting hot is part of the job. Like Frye, Jared Dudley was sure to start sinking shots and playing his normal junkyard dog game.
And the bench...well, they were worthless in terms of trade value. Big men always have some value, but Robin Lopez is a special case. A few pros, lots of cons, thus very questionable value.
So while the Suns were trying to form some sort rhythm and chemistry on the floor, or, consistently score, defend, and rebound all in one game, it was clear there were plenty of needs, and no clear way to meet those needs.
Why interrupt that if you don't have to? It is not to say the Suns couldn't have helped themselves with a piece or two, but at what expense? If you're enjoying your happy hour beer, why suddenly start taking shots of tequila?
I have been a very harsh critic of the Suns FO and ownership. But I have to hand it to the brass, regardless of how this season plays out, they probably made a good choice on not making a choice at all.
"...I did think I was going to be traded the whole time leading up to the trade deadline, and then I come to find out that Gerald gets traded. So I’m like, OK, there are three hours left in the deadline, they’re going to make some more moves. Then Marcus gets traded. Then I get a call from Chad Buchanan (Blazers Interim GM), saying we didn’t want to trade you, that the opt-out was the thing that had us nervous, because they didn’t know if I did leave, would they get something in return, but we talked about it and worked it out. And then 30 minutes later, I hear Nate McMillan’s fired. And then I’m like wow, this is crazy. Greg Oden’s released, Chris Johnson’s waived, and all of this was in the same day. It was unbelievable. "
That sucked for Blazer fans. We should feel lucky we didn't have to deal with that.