What: Phoenix Suns vs. Toronto Raptors

Where: Air Canada Center - Toronto, ON

When: Sunday, March 16 - 10:00AM ARIZONA TIME!

Set your alarms, Arizona and West Coast Suns fans!  The Phoenix Suns (37-28) will make like the real sun and rise and shine for an early morning tip-off against the Toronto Raptors (37-27) on Sunday morning.  I can't find the statistics to back it up, but I can't help but think the 1:00PM local time tip-off bolsters an already significant homecourt advantage for the Raps.  As they say in neighboring Quebec, "C'est la vie!"

The Opponent - Toronto Raptors

Toronto currently sports the third best record in the Eastern Conference and is a sturdy 20-12 at home.  They are even a respectable 14-12 versus Western Conference opponents.  The Raptors owe some of their seeding to some tremendous underperforming by the Chicago Bulls (due to injuries) and Brooklyn Nets (due to systemic underperformance).  Nevertheless, they have earned their wins via a calculated and efficient offense and stout defense.

There are a lot of similarities between these two ball clubs.  Like Phoenix, Toronto learned the benefits of addition by subtraction, sending Rudy Gay, Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy to the Sacramento Kings for John Salmons, Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes (most of whom form the core of Toronto's bench unit).  Along with Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek, Toronto coach Dwane Casey was tapped for Eastern Conference Coach of the Month in December.  Similarly, this is a young athletic team led by a dynamic guard duo in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. Continuing the likenesses, Toronto loves the 3-ball, garnering 25.2% of their total points scored behind the arc, vs. 26.5% for the Suns.

Unlike Phoenix, these Raps don't run.  At 23rd in the NBA in pace, they are the kind of slow deliberate team that have given the Suns fits all season long.  Combine that pace with the 6th ranked defensive rating in the NBA and this is a tough match-up for a Phoenix team that's struggled in the half court all season long.  Playing the role of wild card for the Raptors is second-year forward Terrence Ross.  Ross averages 10.7 points per game, but is capable of going off, notching a 51-point game earlier this season.  With a strong bench comprised mostly of solid veterans, ALL of the Suns will have to come ready to play for Phoenix to get out of Canada with a win.

The Suns

Phoenix has clearly been struggling lately.  The defensive intensity has dropped from earlier in the season and as Dave King pointed out, there are cracks showing in the team's confidence.  Perhaps after 60+ games, this team is no longer "stupid enough" to just think they can win.

All is not lost by a damn sight, however.  Phoenix just snapped a 3-game losing streak by gutting one out versus the Boston Celtics.  Eric Bledsoe is looking as athletic as ever in his two games back from injury.  Goran Dragi? is playing as good or better than all but a handful of players in the NBA every single night.  P.J. Tucker and Miles Plumlee are double-double threats every time they take the floor.  Markieff Morris continues to make his case for Sixth Man of the Year consideration.  And coach Jeff Hornacek continues to inspire confidence in players and fans alike.

Your Phoenix wildcards for the game: Channing Frye and Gerald Green.  When one or both of those guys are hitting on offense, the Suns are nearly unbeatable.  When, they combine for a gnarly 3-18 from the field as they did against Boston... well, you get a team that struggles to score 90 points despite a season average of nearly 105 points per game.  Both players have struggled lately after having near career years from behind the 3-point line.  Toronto could be the cure for what ails them: despite that #6 defensive rating, Toronto allows the 10th highest 3-point percentage to opponents in the NBA.

The Stats


The Lineups


The Key Match-up

Battle of Wills - These teams are evenly matched.  This game will go to whoever wants win number 38 the most.  The answers to the following questions will loom large in the outcome. Will Phoenix be able to get out and run or will Toronto manage to slow things down to the glacial pace they prefer?  Can the Suns manage a strong defensive showing for a second straight game?  Can Dragi? and Bledsoe outplay DeRozan and Lowry?  Will Frye and/or Green take advantage of the one weak link in Toronto's defensive prowess?

The Prediction

Toronto is playing to maintain home court advantage in the first and/or second round of the playoffs.  Phoenix is playing for their playoff lives.  The question of who wants it more shouldn't be a question at all.  As much as I think the matinee tip-off is a handicap for Phoenix (and could lead to a dreaded slow start), I think the Suns find a way to translate that desire into a close win over Toronto.  103-100, Phoenix.

There's no way to spin it in a positive light, this was a bad week for the Suns...Going just 1-3 overall. However, this week also marked the return of Eric Bledsoe. Although the team is experiencing some growing pains, there were still some standout performances from an otherwise forgettable stretch of games. Who deserves to be named the player of the week?

The NBA is all about which player and team can rule the court in the most epic fashion and Bright Side of the Sun has teamed up with Crown Royal to rank the best of the best Phoenix Suns players each and every week. Which player(s) ruled the court this week? #ReignOn

Eric Bledsoe aka "The Bled Show"

Weekly Stat Averages:

Minutes: 31   Points: 16   FG%: 41%   Rebounds: 6.5   Steals: 1.5   Assists: 6.5

Eric Bledsoe's return from injury could prove to be a game changer for the suddenly slumping Suns.   Although the team seemingly experienced some growing pains with Bledsoe back in the lineup over the past two games, it's easy to see just how important he is to the overall dynamic.

Bledsoe's speed, strength, and aggressive style of play are unique traits that simply cannot be replaced with anyone else in the lineup.  Gerald Green did a fantastic...nay, phenomenal job of filling in for Bledsoe while he was recovering from his knee injury.  But watching what Bledsoe could do on the court in only two games this week was a reminder of just how special of a player he is.

While EB was no doubt rusty after missing over 30 games in a row, his athleticism, speed, and aggression remained unchanged.  He attacks the defense and pressures the opposing guards, always looking to make a play.  How much better will the Suns be once he re-acclimates himself back into the starting line-up and shakes off the cobwebs?

He averaged 16 points a game coming back from an injury, and still managed to shoot 41% from the field, even though his jumper is noticeably shaky.  Not to mention, he registered a double-double on points and rebounds in only his second game back in action.  The Suns should only get better with the Suns' two-headed backcourt monster now back in effect.

Goran Dragic aka "One Man Fast Break"

Weekly Stat Averages:

Minutes: 38  Points: 23  FG%: 53%  3FG%: 46%  Assists: 5.0  Rebounds: 1.5

Before writing this article I was under the impression that Goran had a fairly so-so week.  After all, the Suns struggled from the field and missed a lot of big shots that could have turned the tide in all three of their losses, and even their win was an ugly one.

However, upon closer inspection of the Dragon's numbers, I couldn't have been more wrong.  Dragic had another excellent week, averaging 23 points off a very efficient 53% shooting overall while knocking down 46% from long range.

This just goes to show how that anything less than outstanding from Goran now seems underwhelming for some reason.  We are spoiled by his consistently excellent play, and have come to simply expect it at this point.

Once again, Dragic was the heart and soul of this team, and he is doing everything in his power to will this team to a victory night in and night out.

Alex Len aka "The Ukrainian Axe"

Weekly Stat Averages:

Minutes: Points: 3.7  FG%: 67%  Rebounds: 2.0  Assists: 0.7

Looking at Len's stats alone, it doesn't make any sense that he should be on this list.  In fact, there is nothing about his play overall that would put him in the same category as Dragic and Bledsoe this week.

So why is he here?  Simple.  Without Len's very timely tip-in plus an and-one at the end of the game on Friday night, the Suns very well may have lost the game, and gone 0-4 on the week.  Len's three-point play sealed the deal against the Celtics, and let the Suns escape with a win in their sloppiest offensive game of the year.

Is that enough to earn the Player of the week award?  I'll let you decide.  But getting the Suns' a much needed victory with his late game heroics at least puts him in the discussion.

So who do you think deserves to be named the "Suns' Player of the Week"?  Vote in the poll below and explain your choice in the comment section.


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Who deserves to be named the Suns' player of the week?

  261 votes | Results

After 63 games of playing to win, the Phoenix Suns find themselves playing not to lose as they cling to playoff hopes that once seemed like destiny.

"Eighteen games is a lot of games," Goran Dragic told himself out loud after the Suns lost to Cleveland to drop two games out of the playoff hunt on Wednesday night.

That the team is even worried about a 2-game deficit with 18 to go is telling. It tells me that, for the first time all season, the collection of players with the second-least NBA experience in the league are doubting themselves.

One game later, the Suns have already cut that deficit in half by closing out a too-tight win against Boston aided by the Celtics worst shooting game of the season (and second-worst shooting game in the league this season). Eighteen games is indeed a lot of games.

Just like their GM last summer, the Phoenix Suns have found it easy all season to beat low expectations.

It's easier to be fearless when you've got nothing to fear. Loaded with expectations of no more than 15 or 20 wins out of 82 games, these Suns players with the second-least NBA experience in the league had no problem pinning their ears back and playing as hard as they could.

When you're not supposed to win, you don't need a conscience.

At some point, though, human nature takes over. Human nature dictates that we do have a conscience and that feelings of inadequacy are always present, if just below the surface.

After more than 60 games of playing fearless basketball, the Phoenix Suns found their playoff position being threatened by a surging Memphis team while Dallas and Golden State kept winning and winning. At the same time, injuries took a toll on the Suns as Goran Dragic missed 5 crucial quarters leading to two losses (Minnesota and Utah) that really needed to be wins to keep the good times flowing.

After that, a couple of too-close wins (Atlanta, New Orleans) and some tough losses to playoff teams forced the Suns collective to ask themselves dreaded question, "Are we really good enough?"

And like a bad song on the radio, it sticks in your head over and over until you hear a good one to replace it.

These Suns are waiting for that good song to play.

It consumed them in the Cleveland game. A 36-27 team looked more than a 15-48 team they were supposed to be at this point. They played "not to lose" rather than playing with abandon.

This phenomenon, playing "not to lose", is prevalent throughout sports. Football teams running the ball to protect a late lead when it was passing that got them the lead in the first place. Tennis players trying to just get the ball back over the net, rather than hitting the winners that got them there. Baseball teams swinging to make contact, rather than drive the ball.

The problem with these strategies is that you're ceding a bit of control to the opponent, rather than taking complete ownership of that win.

Even during the Boston game, you could see the bad song take over during the second half for the Suns. It's not a lack of effort or energy, it's the lack of inertia due to second-guessing. How many times did Gerald Green pass up a quick shot, only to dribble-tantrum himself into a worse one? How many times did Channing Frye clank an open three off the back of the rim? How many times did P.J. Tucker commit an over-aggressive foul?

It felt like a team that doesn't trust itself. These guys love each other, and they want to win for each other. There is no selfishness on the Suns.

But there is a bit of fear creeping in. Fear that you might let down your teammate. Fear that you might just turn into a pumpkin after all. Fear that not making the playoffs just proves those doubters right all along.

Goran Dragic calls it a "black hole". Black hole = fear. Even in the Boston win, P.J. Tucker says "we made it so hard on ourselves".

Coach Hornacek summed it up perfectly for Paul Coro in Boston yesterday.

"So now they lose a game and they're all disappointed and down and we all get frustrated. We have to realize that we put ourselves in the position where we are at least in the hunt for a playoff spot.

"Part of our success has been the confidence and the high level of them trying to go out there and prove things. Now that they proved it, that's that little edge that we're missing. We've got to get back to where we were not supposed to be a good team and we have to go out there and prove it every night."

It's time to be unafraid, as Ryan McDonough said last summer.

If you're afraid to fail, you're halfway there already.

Shake the fears, Suns. You still have something to prove. Prove to everyone who says you can't make the playoffs that you CAN make it. And WILL make it.

Prove that you are winners.

The Phoenix Suns and Boston Celtics just ruined everyone’s happy hour. An early tip time meant Phoenix fans got off work just in time to watch the Celtics and Suns brick their way to the final...

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The Suns hit the first pit stop on a three game road trip dripping with playoff implications for a game against a Boston Celtics team with nothing to play for but pride. Boston gave the Suns everything they wanted and more, but an unexpected hero saved the day for Phoenix.


The Celtics sleeved jerseys are hideous. I own about two dozen Suns shirts and every single one seems more fashionable than the travesties of fashion sleevies the Suns have sported so I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise. Maybe they could just make them look more like regular t-shirts? Tasteless fashion aside, the Suns didn't get off to what I'd consider a strong start. Neither team was exactly lighting it up, but just under midway through the first quarter Boston led 13-8 and the Suns were looking a little disjointed.

Phoenix flipped a switch, though, and Bledsoe jumped a passing lane and scored on a breakaway layup to give the Suns a 14-13 lead just moments later. Dragic also had a couple wily darts to the rim as the run swelled to 14-0 before Rajon Rondo stanched the bleeding. Phoenix led 22-15 at this point and traded baskets the rest of the period.

First Quarter: Suns 29, Celtics 22

Things looked like they might be slipping away from the Celtics a little bit at the beginning of the second period. Watching Ish Smith (yes, rim protector Ish) send back a Jared Sullinger dunk attempt can exude that impression. On the other end the Suns offense seemed to be producing good shot attempts with a generous sprinkling of dunks and bunnies. The beleaguered defense was at least managing not to disrupt the Celtics from wallowing in their own offensive dysfunction.

Markieff Morris led a reserve group for Phoenix that flirted with blowing the game open by stretching their lead to 11 on several occasions, but Boston kept within striking distance. Then things unraveled for the Suns. Miles Plumlee air balled a free throw. Gerald Green appeared hesitant. Phoenix went 4:20 without a field goal. Suddenly the Celtics trailed by just four (39-35). The closing seconds that included a shot clock violation, an errant pass that went out of bounds untouched, and an inbounds pass that was stolen before the buzzer epitomized a first half of basketball that wouldn't necessarily capture the casual fan's interest. Phoenix had squandered an opportunity to gain separation and led by just two at the intermission.

Halftime: Suns 46, Celtics 44

The Suns were able to extend their lead to seven as Boston went scoreless for the first four minutes of the quarter. Kris Humphries was staying active for the Celtics, but some of that activity included negating a basket by way of offensive basket interference and hanging from the rim while trying to get a piggyback ride from Plumlee. Still, he reached double digits in rebounding early in the third as Boston struggled to keep pace. Remember the discussion of 50/50 ballls.  Humphries was grabbing them.

The game devolved back into something that only loosely resembled basketball. Both teams struggled to get anything cohesive on offense. The Celtics, in particular, looked like they might not have any legs with shot after shot coming up short. Lots of the misses for both teams weren't even close. Gerald Green lobbed up a shot that missed everything as his recent struggles continued. Once again the Celtics mucked and muddled their way along (or was it the Suns scuffling and stumbling along) and pulled within four to close the period on a rebound put back by Kelly Olynyk.

Third Quarter: Suns 64, Celtics 60

Going into the fourth it seemed safe to assume that the Suns could pull this out if they could just get to the good side of 80. That kind of game so far. Then the Celtics ran off nine straight points in the first 1:34 of the period. Overall ineptitude coupled with pillow soft defense helped incite the run as Boston appeared to be gaining confidence after managing to hang around the whole game. Jeff Hornacek called a much needed timeout that helped interrupt the Celtics unusual scoring paroxysm.

An unfortunate play kind of characterized the fight in the Celtics on this night. Plumlee grabbed a rebound and Olynyk raked him across the eye (literally clawing and scraping) sending Miles to the bench (Alex Len entered the game for him - spoiler alert). Not surprisingly, P.J. Tucker was just dripping with intensity on the Suns behalf. He looked every bit the role of a linebacker ripping a football away from a running back wrestling the ball away from a Celtic on one play.

The Celtics led 76-73 on a Chris Johnson layup after a wild melee that was more episode of The Three Stooges than NBA basketball, but the Suns responded down the stretch. Bledsoe tied the game at 78 on an and-one then the teams traded baskets to leave the score knotted at 80 with two minutes left.

With just one minute remaining the Suns had possession and the ball was in the hands of closer Eric Bledsoe. He launched a pull up iso jumper... that bounced off the rim. Bounced off the rim into the eager hands of rookie Alex Len, who engulfed the offensive rebound and scored over a helpless Boston defender. Len was fouled on the play and hit the free throw to stretch the lead to three.

Boston missed a three pointer to tie on the ensuing play and managed to grab the offensive rebound, but an intercepted pass led to a Markieff Morris fast break dunk to close out the game.

Final Score: Suns 87, Celtics 80

Comments of the Game:

Somewhere in hell is a TV that shows all of Plumlee's post ups


So, I think we look better.

But it could just be we're playing the Celtics.


I can't wait until horney trusts Alex Len

So we aren't out rebounded and out lengthened (whatever the word) every night.


I haven't looked at the box score, but is Green 2-11?

He looks like 2-11 to me.


Looking at Plumlee's eye is making mine water


Just popped in to say:

Alex Len, bitches.

Player of the Game

Alex Len. He hit the decisive shot that pulled this game out of the fire.

The Good

Phoenix held the Celtics to 80 points on 30.9% shooting. Both are the lowest the Suns have held an opponent to this season. I know it shouldn't really count because it's against the Celtics... but officially it still does.

The Bad

The Suns were outhustled by the Celtics for the better part of the game. This is the second straight outing that a team which would seemingly have much less to play for was visibly more desperate than Phoenix. I'm just not getting how the Suns are having a hard time playing with intensity given the circumstances.

Gerald Green looks like his confidence is shaken. I don't think he's adapting well to his reduced role with Bledsoe back in the fold. It seems contradictory, but it was like he was forcing action and tentative all at the same time. Watching him pass up on shots that he normally pulls the string on is very out of character. I don't think I'm stepping out on a ledge to suggest that this is more than just coincidence. Green is 6-23 from the field in the last two games.

The Ugly

That was a damn near unwatchable game. About the only redeeming quality was the last few minutes. I wish I could have recorded it so I could have skipped through the commercials to get it over with quicker.

Bad basketball.

Final Thought(s)

The Suns desperately needed a win and they got a win even though their desperation seemed to be lacking.

It was serendipitous that Phoenix faced Boston in this game... because there aren't many other teams the Suns would have beat playing like they did tonight.

Also, Alex Len officially had his first Phoenix Sun moment.

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