Game on, folks. The game is now on.


That's exactly how I feel about this game.

The goal for the Phoenix Suns when they face the Miami Heat for the first and only time this season should be to keep the game close and wait for LeBron James to choke in the fourth quarter. Everyone knows that LeBron, who is having one of the best statistical seasons in the history of the NBA, is "unclutch" which is why his Miami team has "only" won 33 games while losing a massive 11.

James is averaging a ridiculous 27.4 points per game, along with 8.5 rebounds and 6.6 assists. He's shooting 54.3% from the field and 40% from three. He's a beast on defense and a terror in the open court.

A HOLY TERROR

As for the clutchiness of King James, he does seem to take a slight knee. With five minutes or less in games within five points, he's 16-41 from the field (39%) this season. So keep the game close and you might have a chance (as long as Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have fouled out of the game).

The Heat are 3-2 over their last five games with losses coming on the road to the Bulls and Magic. They are 19-2 at home this season. They are second in the league in offensive efficiency (109 pts/100 poss) and sixth in defensive efficiency (100 pts/100 poss).

The Suns are ranked...well, let's not go there since those numbers include the first half of the season which we are all better off pretending everything before the All-Star break never happened. In March, the Suns are scoring 108 points per 100 possessions and giving up 102.7 and that's FIFTH and TENTH respectively.

That's right, the Suns have had the 5th best offense and 10th best defense in the league in the month of March. Now that's how you build a 9-2 record.

The defensive rebounding has even improved from 26th to 20th while the offensive rebounding has gone from 25th in January to seventh best in March.

WHOA!!! I had no idea!!

Ed note: At this point I broke off the preview and did a separate story on rebounding and turnovers. Read it here.

So yeah, the Suns are playing well. They are as hot as any team in the league and now they get a real test against the best. Are they up to the challenge? We'll see, but don't give up hope if they can't beat the team many expect to be this year's NBA champs. As the wise man said, be patient like old bull.

Game time is 4:30 p.m. Arizona Time (the only time that matters other than Beer Time). The game is on Fox Sports Arizona.

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Miami Heat 99, Phoenix Suns 95 PHOENIX — Only 15 minutes had passed since the final buzzer sounded and the Phoenix Suns capped off a 48-minute slaughtering of the Houston Rockets. Five minutes...

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Rebounds abound!

The Phoenix Suns are playing better. They are 9-2 in the month of March and the offense has been given a lot of the credit. But in doing some research for Tuesday's game against the Miami Heat, I came across two very telling statistics: In March the Suns were the 7th best offensive rebounding team in the NBA and had the 8th best turnover ratio according to NBA.com stats.

Rebounding and turnovers...that sounds familiar. Let's go back to February 29th and watch what Alvin Gentry had to say:

"The two things that I think have hurt us the most this year has been the offensive rebounding and obviously our turnovers."

Honestly, I could find at least 10 different times when Gentry talked about not turning the ball over and rebounding better as keys to the Suns season.

Well, turns out he's right even if he's not talked about it much during this winning stretch.

The Suns turnover ratio was 12.55 in January and fell to 9.91 in March whle the offensive rebounding rate improved from 23.4% to 28.6%. In real numbers that's a drop from 15.7 to 12.9 turnovers per game and an increase of 9.9 to 11.5 offensive rebounds per game.

As a result, second chance points up from 9.1 per game to 14.1 in March. That focus on offensive rebounding does come with a price as the Suns have also allowed an additional 2.8 fast break points per game but as you can see, that's obviously still a net win when you combine the additional put-backs with fewer turnovers.

Where are those extra offensive rebounds coming from?

An extra 1.6 OReb per game which doesn't sound like much, but offensive rebounds often lead to high percentage shots and have the added effect of taking a possession away from the opponent. And there's no denying five extra second-chance points per game. That's huge.

Here's who's stepped up:

  • Channing Frye accounts for .7 more ORebs per game in March (.9) vs. January (1.6).
  • Marcin Gortat added an additional .2 per game (2.3 in Jan vs. 2.5 in Mar).
  • Robin Lopez (who's playing an extra 3.4 minutes per game) is also up from .9 OReb in Jan to 1.7 in March.
  • Jared Dudley has added an additional .7 ORebs per game as well, up to 2.1 per game from 1.4.

Those four "bigs" have combined for an additional 2.4 of the Suns 1.6 additional offensive rebounds!

Consider also that the Suns shooting percentage increased from 44.7% to 47.4% which means on average .9 fewer missed shots per game.

That's how you go from the 26th best (total) rebounding team to the 8th best. Impressive.

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A young bull and an old bull are standing on the hill. The young bull says to the old bull "Look! Farmer Brown left the gate open! Let's run down and nail one of the cows!"

The old bull, chewing his cud, looks up and says "Nah. Let's walk down and nail them all."

I've repeated this tired old joke because it illustrates a concept in short supply here on the Bright Side - Patience.

Some of the more "experienced" (read "Old") members of BSotS understand what I'm talking about. But since we seem to have a lot of new members and especially younger members, I thought I would share some tips to watching basketball during a playoff run to help mitigate the inevitable roller coaster ride that we are about to embark on. In our culture of instant gratification, social media, 24 hour sports networks, rumor mills, and the growth of SB Nation as a major force, things have a tendency to be amplified to the point where all control is lost, creating spirals of frenzy that feed on themselves.

So here's the deal - the key to surviving the next 23 regular season games, and, hopefully, a playoff run is - you guessed it - Patience.

Rule #1 - It's always darkest before the Dawn.

We have a brutal schedule. It's the second toughest schedule amongst all of the NBA teams, eclipsed only by Dallas. Of the 23 games left, we have to play elite division leaders 7 times - Miami once, Lakers once, OKC once, Philly once, and the Spurs three times. We will probably not win all of those games. That doesn't make us a bad team. Seasons have an ebb and flow to them - even this lockout shortened season. Relax - 3-4 or even 2-5 will probably be OK in this stretch.

We have 7 back to back series left.

Miami then Orlando (both away)

Spurs (H) then Clippers (A)

Sacramento then Utah (both away)

Denver (A) then Lakers (H)

Houston then Spurs (both away)

Thunder then Clippers (both home)

Utah (A) then Spurs (H) to end the season.

We're lucky in these B2B's because there is a significant crossover between playing division leaders and playing B2B's. The first game of 3 of the b2b's are against division leaders, the second game of 2 of them are against division leaders, and another (Miami then Orlando) might as well be.

We only have 4 games against bottom feeders - one against Cleveland, one against Sacramento, and two against the Hornets. Both will probably be playing for draft picks, although they could be trap games. But all four of these are after a couple of days of rest (and practice), so we should be OK . If we lose any of these, we only have ourselves to blame. They should be good tune-up games.

Most of the rest of the games are against our direct competition. 2 against Denver, 2 against Utah, 2 against the Clippers, 2 against Houston, 1 against Portland, 1 against Memphis, 1 against Minnesota. That's 11 very important games. This is where we have to make hay - a win virtually counts double, as it's a loss for them and a win for us - provided we win. Both Clippers games are the second of b2b's, and they will have revenge on their minds.

We match up well with the Clippers and Memphis. They are tough teams, but we have an ally in Vinny Del Negro. He's really, really bad at coaching. These teams can't go small on us and stretch the floor as easily as Miami, OKC, or Denver. Denver has now trade Nene' for Javale McGee, which, I think, helps us. Dumber than a bag of hammers is a kind assessment. But Denver is still very dangerous. Houston is always a tough out.

So, 7 division leaders at 2-5

11 games against competition 7-4 or 6-5

4 against bottom feeders 4-0

1 against Indiana 1-0

14-9 or 13-10. I think 14-9 gets us in, 13-10 doesn't, but who knows? In my calculations, going 7-4 against our competition means we are essentially splitting 5 b2b's, winning both ends only once, and losing both only once. That seems realistic to me.

We currently sit in 9th place in the West, 1.5 games behind Houston, 2.5 games behind Denver, 3 behind Dallas and Memphis, and 3.5 behind the Clippers, with MN, Utah, and Portland on our heels. We could still realistically end up anywhere from a 4 to 12 seed. We don't control our own destiny, but very close. We have to beat Houston, and the Denver, Clipper, and Utah games are very important.

HOUSTON

Houston has a very tough schedule going forward. 4 against division leaders (Chicago, Miami, and 2 vs. Lakers). They play two against SAC, two against Golden State, and two vs. NOH for the easy part of their schedule, but they also play Golden State twice (who may be tanking to save their draft pick, which is top 7 protected and would go to Utah if they aren't one of the 7 worst teams). They play us twice, Dallas three times, Denver twice (H/A b2b), Portland once, Memphis once, and Indiana once. Not quite as tough as our schedule, but still daunting.

They made some moves at the deadline, adding Camby and Fisher (bought out) and losing Jordan Hill, but Kevin Martin and Kyle Lowry are injured. Still, they are a deep team, well coached, and they never quit.

DENVER

Denver has games against Chicago (2nd of a b2b with MN, both away), Orlando twice (1 away, 1 home), OKC (1st of a b2b with MN to end the season). They have more easy games - Toronto, Charlotte, New Orleans, and 2 against Golden State (who knows?). They play us twice, Dallas once, Utah once, Minnesota twice, Indiana once, Detroit once, and the Clippers once.

Their last 9 games of the season are tough, including Orlando, OKC, LAL, 2 against MN, 2 against Houston, one against us (very important), and one against the Clippers. I think they may hover above us until those last nine games - we'll see what happens.

Minnesota

They lost Rubio, but they are still a talented team.

3 games against division leaders (SAS away, two vs. OKC (away/home),

Against bottom feeders, they have SAC twice, Charlotte, and NOH. They play Golden State 3 times, and Portland once (away). They have 5 b2b's, 2 of them moderately difficult. They have 12 away games and 9 home games. They are 4-6 over the last 10.

Given my unrelenting optimism, this may surprise you, but I don't care if we make the playoffs. It's a tough road, and it would be very, very exciting if we did. But if we do indeed have a winning record the rest of the way, we will be playing some very good ball . The playoffs will be very top heavy, with OKC, the Spurs, and the Lakers topping the West, and Miami, Orlando, and Chicago topping the East. Any one of these teams could win a 7 game series against each other, and for any of them to get beat in the first two rounds would be a major upset. So I'm not going to sweat making the playoffs - it will happen or it won't, and I'll be happy either way - as long as we don't fall apart.

My main concern all along has been playing well. The drumbeat on BSotS all year has been to trade everybody, and I don't want to do that. One, because I like this team. Two, because trades are very often one-sided affairs, and I think given our roster, we would be on the losing side of virtually any trade.

Right now, we have the best +/- numbers of any starting 5. Better than Miami, the Lakers, OKC, Surs - anybody. We're doing that with a 38 year old, a 39 year old, and three former reserves. We are 10-3 over the last 13, and have done that while our near all-star level center has been playing against the wall, and while our promising rookie PF finally had some rookie efforts. In that span, Grant Hill has found his legs, Dudley has played like a star, and Frye is getting better with every game - he's turning into a legit starting PF before our very eyes. Telfair is playing with an intensity and determination that is overcoming his lack of talent, Brown is learning to play within himself, and Redd is showing flashes of returning to form. Lopez has stepped it up, and Warrick contributes well in his limited duty. I think Morris has finished his slump, and will continue to get better, hopefully peaking at the end of the season.

Going forward, our fortunes depend largely on two factors - our bench and our coach. The starting 5 will do their jobs - will Telfair? Brown, Redd, Morris, and Lopez? Gentry is still experimenting, but his moves lately have gotten these guys back on track, giving us all hope.

So, here are some more tips for watching the rest of the season that may help you retain a modicum of sanity.

The first half doesn't count!

In the glory years of 7SOL, I always felt more comfortable when we went into halftime down by a few points. There was always a danger that we would get complacent with a lead, and I think that is true this year, as well. I like being down at the half. It's the end of the game that counts, and our second unit plays better in the second half - mostly as a result of Gentry trying some different things in the first half.

NBA teams always go on runs.

Going into a game thread is like going into a coked-up pregnant women's convention. (Credit NashMV3 for that one, I believe). No team can play lockdown defense for 48 minutes, no team can play their starters for 48 minutes (except OKC, apparently) and there will always be runs. Walk down and nail them all. We go on runs, too. Don't panic.

Steve Nash is better defensively than you think.

Watch for this. Nash plays defense hard, can do everything right, and they can still score on him. I don't know why that is - i think it's the lack of intimidation. But what he can do is deny the ball to his man. He conserves his energy, but late in games, watch for him to deny the ball - if he is successful, we will win (usually). He is more aggressive this year in going for steals and getting in passing lanes - that's another good thing to watch for.

Taking Charge(s)

We are just about the best at this. Hill is the master, but Nash is a close second. Gortat and Morris are also very, very good at this, although Morris often doesn't get the call he should because of his rookie status. These are better than blocks, although not as emotionally satisfying, because they ALWAYS result in a change of possession. Watch for this late in games. It will turn a game.

Familiarity breeds contempt.

We are still having the same old arguments. Gortat isn't good without Nash, Frye and Dudley aren't true starters. Morris is a bust. We don't need a backup center. Telfair sucks.

Some of these things may be true - but there's time to discuss it after the season. 3 games, 5 games, or 10 games is nothing in the NBA. We are what we are, we have what we have. And here's the truth. We have 3 former all-stars on our roster in Nash, Hill, and Redd. Gortat was arguably a candidate, too.

Nash is playing at an all-star, MVP level - whether or not he will be considered is irrelevant. For our purposes, he IS the MVP.

Hill is one of the best defensive players in the game, and should be on the all-defensive first team. Again, whether or not he makes it, for our purposes, he is one.

Gortat is tired. I've noticed this all season - he often gets tired in the second half, and the bulk of his mistakes have come late in games, particularly when he was virtually our only option. It's been a good time for Lopez to pick it up - besides, Lopez, when he's playing well, brings different skills than Gortat, which can help us in some situations. But Gortat will right his ship.

Dudley and Frye are starters, and they're legit. I don't think we'll see any more slumps from them. Lately, Dudley is one of the best SG's in the west - and he can also play SF with equal effectiveness. Frye has tipped over the hump on his inside game, and has 2 or 3 moves a game that are LaMarcus Aldridge-like. He's rebounding a LOT more, and playing tough defense. He still fouls a lot, but mostly, they are smart fouls. I'm delighted with his progress, and while his outside shot may come and go, his interior play and defense may turn him into a valuable legit PF.

We need Redd to be strong for the playoffs. One of our weaknesses is closing games, and if he can continue to progress, he might just give us an additional option late. He will also be instrumental in dealing with the teams that go small on us. I think Gentry has done a really good job with Redd, and I'm looking forward to him returning to the fold of productive players who have rejuvenated their careers in Phoenix.

We need Morris, too - but I think he is starting to come out of his rookie "valley".

So there you have it - my random, stream of consciousness. disorganized mess of thoughts on the remainder of the season for you to dissect, filet, and discuss amongst yourselves. My computer ate my homework, so I am re-constructing the last part of this on the fly - I hope it didn't eat anything too important. and I see that Alex beat me to this, soooo......


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