The Suns have already hung with San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Portland in narrow losses on the road this season and tonight they face another litmus test when the play the Heat in Miami. Can the Suns finally break through and win an away game against one of the elite teams in the NBA?
When: Monday November 25, 2013, 5:30 PM local time (7:30 EST)
Where: American Airlines Arena (The Triple AAA) Miami, Florida
Watch/Listen: TV: Fox Sports AZ Radio: 620 KTAR
In a game that should have nugatory impact on tonight's result, Miami beat the Suns in Phoenix 97-88 back on November 17, 2012. Yes, it's been over a calendar year since these teams have played. The Suns actually held their own in the game, and Goran Dragic pulled the team within two on a layup with 2:11 left, but the Heat ran off seven unanswered points to close things out. Chris Bosh led all players with 24 points and nine rebounds while LeBron James chipped in 21 points and seven boards. Dwyane Wade did not play in the game.
Phoenix only features three holdovers from last season's contest. Goran Dragic had 12 points and a game high eight assists, Markieff Morris scored 16 and pulled down four boards and P.J. Tucker had two points, one rebound and four fouls. Not P.J.'s best effort. Hopefully all three head into tonight's game ready to best these totals.
Miami Heat: 10-3
Points per game: 106.6 (4) Points allowed: 97.3 (8)
ORtg: 114.2 (1) DRtg: 104.2 (12)
Miami has run off six straight wins and nine out of 10 after two surprising losses to the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets. In fact, with Miami's other loss coming to Boston that makes the combined record of the teams they have lost to 14-29. They've lost those games by a combined six points. The Heat most recently faced the same Orlando Magic team the Suns dispatched last night and beat them by two points on Saturday, but this was after a 28 point romp over them three days earlier. Five of Miami's 10 victories have been by double digits.
LeBron is still the main attraction on South Beach (but for how long?) and is off to another amazing start. Although some of his numbers are actually slightly down, he is compensating for that by shooting 60% from the field and 49% from three point range in the early going. This emphasizes a team wide phenomenon, as the Heat tout 52% FG and 44% 3FG shooting heading into the game. This should provide a true test for Phoenix, who has not allowed an opponent to shoot 50% from the field this season.
The Heat also come into this game with the asset of rest, having only played once in the past five days. Conversely, the Suns are on their third game in four nights. Miami will hope they can slow down the road weary Suns, who lead the league in fast break points per game (22.2) while Miami is just 24th (10.5).
Phoenix Suns: 7-6
Points per game: 101.1 (14) Points allowed: 97.6 (9)
ORtg: 104.1 (15) DRtg: 101.6 (8)
The Suns 7-6 start is their best since the 2009-10 season, which was also the last time they made the playoffs. And despite the organization using very measured language in elucidating their goals for the season before it began, people are taking notice of a surprising (to most) Suns team that is turning heads with their scrappy persona. There is a palpable level of fierce competitiveness being displayed as the Suns are playing all four quarters of basketball every night and are never out of a game.
The Suns are currently 2-0 on their Eastern road trip after convincing victories over Charlotte and Orlando, helping to dispel notions that the team would flounder during the absence of starting (point?) guard Eric Bledsoe. In his absence, Dragic has risen to the occasion by averaging 19.5 points and 8.5 assists per game. He has had help from a couple teammates that have given solid contributions over the last four games. Marcus Morris has led the bench with 14 points per game, and has done so on superb 62% shooting from the field (including 55% from three). Meanwhile, Gerald Green is scoring 20 points a night while pouring in volume three point shooting at a 42% clip. Green has taken 33 three point shots the last four games and has hit at least four in a game three times.
The dominant character traits of the Suns' personality are still hustle and defense. Their impressive DRtg (8th overall) is bulwarked by holding opponents to the third lowest three point field goal % (.325) in the league. After allowing a season high 113 points to Sacramento last Wednesday the Suns have responded by holding their next two opponents under 100 points.
What To Watch For:
Perimeter D vs. Miami from three: The Suns are allowing an exiguous .325 (3) from long distance and the Heat are shooting .439 (2).
LeBron vs. Mini LeBron: Eric Bledsoe will be a game time decision as he continues to nurse a shin bruise. These teams only play twice, so it would be nice to get a look at these two on the court together. It also couldn't hurt the Suns' chances of pulling an upset and EB should have fresh legs which could help with the next thing to keep an eye on.
Rested vs. Ragged: Miami has played once since last Wednesday. The Suns are playing their third game in four nights. Will the Suns have legs to shoot well from three? Can they bring enough energy to stick with Miami for 48 minutes?
The Suns have righted the ship after a troubling four game losing streak. That losing streak isn't necessarily a reason for concern, though. Last season nine of the 16 teams that made the playoffs suffered at least a four game losing streak over the course of the season. In fact, Golden St. and the Lakers both bookended two game winning streaks with four and six losses on each side to lose 10 out of 12 games. 2-10 in a 12 game stretch. I think the Suns are capable of overcoming their four game hiccup.
The Final Word(s):
A win over the defending champs would really punctuate a successful road trip, and the way things have been going it wouldn't necessarily surprise me, but the Suns are already playing with house money at this point. Miami is still the favorite here and going home after a 2-1 road trip shouldn't be any reason for the players to hang their heads. Still, a loss here with an impending matchup against the smoking hot Blazers could keep the Suns vacillating around that .500 mark. The simple way to put some distance between .500 on the good side is a big win tonight.