The good news for the Phoenix Suns is that Steve Nash and Grant Hill are playing tonight in the last night of back-to-back-to-backs against the Atlanta Hawks at US Airways. Even more good news for the Suns is that Michael Redd and Markieff Morris are playing well, both coming off 20 point efforts last night against the Nuggets. The bad news for the Suns is they don't have Jeremy Lin, and it is doubtful that the Suns will trade Steve Nash, Marcin Gortat, and Jared Dudley for him. Bummer. Pardon the sarcasm. We all know the bad news for the Suns is_________________(insert your most favorite negative statement about your favorite NBA team).
The Suns played arguably their best game of the season in the last meeting versus the Atlanta Hawks, winning 99-90, with Steve Nash leading the way with 24 points and 11 assists while the Suns shot over 50% from the field while limiting the Hawks to 39%. It would have been a laugher except for the 15 points the Suns dropped in the 4th quarter.
Since that game, the Hawks have gone 2-2, winning against the likes of the Pacers and Magic, while losing to the Lakers and the Heat. In those last four games, the Hawks shot, 46%, 43%, 38%, and 34% from the field.
Both squads played last night, and both squads are on 2 game losing streaks. Last night the Suns chose to rest Nash and Hill, and the Hawks rested Stackhouse and Pargo. Mostly because the two aren't in the rotation. Thus, the Suns should be fairly rested and ready to defend their home court against the Hawks.
Your Phoenix Suns are currently 12-16, sitting in 3rd place in the Pacific and 13th in the conference 3 games out of a playoff spot. Many of you may have given up on watching the standings, but I bring this up because Alvin Gentry has not. And perhaps as a simple realist, or perhaps as a means of encouraging his team or the fans, Gentry has this to say to us all:
"To tell you the truth, if you look at the teams in the West, there's no one running away with this thing. Oklahoma City has 21 wins. You get past the Clippers, who have 17, and there is a logjam to the bottom of the conference. We had four home losses that are awful. You take those and make them wins and we have 16 wins."
So you're saying there's a chance?
Always. There's always a chance. And so I continue to watch and hope, albeit realistically, which is different than pessimistically, but not by much, because I cannot help but think about several things:
The Suns are 6-12 vs. the WC, including losses to, well everyone: 12th place Golden State, 8th place Portland, 7th place Houston (twice), 6th place Denver (without Nash & Hill), 5th place, LA Lakers, 4th place Dallas (twice), San Antonio, and of course Oklahoma City. In fact the only teams in the West the Suns have defeated are the Hornets, Grizzlies, and Blazers.
Where am I going with this? Nowhere, like the Suns, unless something dramatic occurs like_____________(insert your favorite positive something there). You have to defend your home floor, and you have to win in your own conference if you hope to get anywhere, yes?
But onto new and different things.
The big stat heads and sophisticated basketball types like to get into some pretty sophisticated numbers when attempting to analyze individual and team performance. One of these statistics is the very famous PER, or Player efficiency Rating. This statistic is designed to measure a player's per minute production by analyzing accomplishments, adding in good things while subtracting bad things. Keep in mind the average for PER is 15.
So instead of the same old thing, I provide you with PER, courtesy of www.basketball-reference.com:
Of course, PER has fatal flaws like most statistics, which is why you see Grant Hill at #11. You can't measure something that isn't really measurable by numbers. Grant Hill's defense for example. While he doesn't get bushels of blocked shots and steals, he is a defensive specialist who does his job primarily by moving his feet and body, staying in front of his man, getting a hand in his face, and taking charges, which, as far as I can tell, is not figured into the equation. So Mr. Hollinger, you aren't that smart, pal.
And no, I didn't include Jermey Lin's PER. You can find that on your own.
Why not a win tonight? Nash and Hill are "run down" but they at least had last night off. The Hawks are downward trending in shooting percentage, and the Suns D'd them up pretty well last time. Horford is still out, and Erick Dampier has been signed for depth. Really. It would be nice to pick up a home W before two straight against the Lakers. This is a winnable game for the Suns, and I expect a quality effort.
Check for the game thread 30 minutes before the start of the game.
There's been several times this season the Suns have lost games in the final quarter of play. That's really not a surprise, actually, as crunch time is what separates teams and where talent deficiencies really show up the most.
In the Warriors loss on Monday the Suns had a lot of issues. They gave up 17 second chance points in the first half to let Golden State stay in the game. In the third quarter the defense fell apart and they blew a 12-point lead and have up 25 points in 6:46 of play.
But it's the fourth quarter where things are always most telling. You learn exactly who coaches trust and you can see where teams need to improve from both a talent and execution standpoint.
In the fourth quarter of this game, the Suns were very much in the mix, down just three points with 12 minutes to play and again down three points with just under two minutes to play. Some things worked really well like Nash and Hill getting the ball in to the post against Nate Robinson after switches, and other things didn't work well like Ronnie Price running the offense.
After the jump there's a detailing of every Suns offensive possession and some general thoughts. No Jeremy Lin mention at all.
Suns down 76-73 to start the fourth
1. Motion offense, Redd curling off screens. Catch, pump, shoot, miss.
2. Price/Frye p/r. Warriors switch. Frye goes to post w/ Nate Rob on him. Price tries to go to Frye but throws the ball away (horrible pass).
3. Frye posts up Rush, Chill cuts baseline, Ellis leaves to try for steal, Frye hits Chill for open layup.
4. Play designed to get Redd in the post but well defended by Klay T. Redd gets ball too far out, calls Morris over for screen, Warriors switch. Morris w/ clock down posts Klay for bucket.
5. Warriors switch cross screens early end up with Nate Rob on Frye. Price ignores and goes to Chill in the corner. Chill goes to Morris in post on Rush. Morris fouled.
6. Play starts are #4 above. Redd catches on wing, calls Morris over for side screen and roll. Warriors trap Redd and force him high. Play falls apart, Redd gives back to Price with 5 sec on clock. Price uses Frye screen, Warriors switch and Price drives on Udoh, tries to hit cutting Morris but pass dropped. Turnover, run out layup for GSW.
7. High p/r w/ Price and Morris. GSW switches. Morris dives down lane. Nat Rob flops so Rush moves in to lane to cover Morris w/ Nate on the ground leaving Frye and Chill wide open on weak side. Price doesn't recognize, gives to Redd in mid-post vs. Klay. Redd turns down shot, kicks to Price for open three. Miss. Chill tap miss to Morris for put back.
8. Play goes to Morris in the post on David Lee. Morris goes middle, shoulder fake then turns over his left shoulder and hits hook from five feet.
9. Price turns down entry pass to Morris in post. Price drives middle, sucks in some help defenders, Morris floats to arc, gets open three, miss. Chill back tap OReb.
10. Free lance play w/ Dudley driving, kick to Frye, drives on Udoh, miss.
Nash, Gortat and Hill come back in at 6:50. Morris and Dudley stay on the floor. GSW up 88-82
11. Suns run some motion but end up with Nash / Morris high p/r. Morris slips screen and Nash hits him. Help comes and Morris hits Gortat for four foot hook.
12. Quick high p/r w. Nash and Gortat. Nash goes to Morris for open three. He doesn't take shot, passes to Dudley on weak side wing. Dud drives, draws defenders, kicks back out to Nash for wide open three. Miss.
13. Nash runs off a few screens in the paint and curls, but GSW defends well. Nash to Dudley on weak side, Dudley drives and kicks to Nash, runs quick screen w/ Morris who ends up with wide open three, miss. Gortat OReb.
14. Nash/Gortat high p/r. GSW switches Nate Rob on to Gortat, Nate hands Gortat off to Lee but then is left defending Morris on weak side post. Ball to Dudley, back to Nash high then down to Morris in paint on Nate. Nate pokes ball away, after scramble, Morris hits three at buzzer.
15. Nash/Gortat high p/r. GSW switches Nate Rob on to Gortat, Udoh pressures Nash who kicks to Hill on wing who lobs to Gortat being fronted by Nate Rob. Easy lay up.
16. Hill steals pass, misses lay up, Dudley pushed on rebound w/ no call. GSW up 94-89.
17. Suns run series of p/r with Warriors sucking in, Dudley passes up open three, leaves Nash w/ ball just a few seconds left. Forced to take tough three w/ Lee in his face. Miss.
18. After series of screens and passes, Nash drives, draws help, dish to Morris, great block by Udoh.
19. Quick p/r w. Nash and Gortat. GSW rotates well from corner to cut off Gortat. Nash to Hill who takes advantage of rotations and hits pull up J.
20. 1:51, Suns down just 94-91. Quick p/r w. Nash and Gortat. Warriors trap and recover. Ellis pokes ball from Nash, Nash recovers, drives to baseline, finds Gortat for open 15 foot J. Miss.
21. 1:12, Suns still down 94-91. Timeout, Suns. Hill gets ball at high angle right, Nash pin down screen on Udoh to try and free Gortat but Udoh fights through and breaks up play. No pass. Nash back out high gets ball, Hill dives, Nash passes, Hill kicks to Dudley for semi-open three. Miss.
22. 36 sec, Suns down 96-91. Dudley uses Hill screen to get open three. Miss. Game over.
The Suns used 10 offensive possessions with Nash, Hill and Gortat on the bench. The Suns scored nine points and were -3 in that stretch which wasn't horrible but Price on offense was pretty bad and Redd didn't get anything done as the second option. Morris played well.
I'm not sure how much we actually learned here. The Warriors did defend pretty well but the Suns weren't horrible in their execution in the fourth either other than Price not getting the ball in to the post against Nate Rob.
A lot of these close games are going to come down to making jump shots b/c the Suns are a jump shooting team.