Remember last season when I started doing this every day some time around March? That was pretty sweet. For those of you who don't remember, here's a sampling. (But if you ever don't read something I write again then your fate will be the same that awaits a certain 6'6 guard from North Carolina with a homeless beard and a complete lack of zest for life. For serious.)
Well since we've reached the All-Star break I thought I'd maybe dust it off to provide everyone a broader picture of where we've been and where we're going.
First a story.
A couple weeks ago I discovered this low-rent auction site iOffer.com. I'm sure you've heard of it before but I haven't so get out of my face. Well on this site certain folks sell DVD's of old sporting events. If you know anything about me you know that I love old sporting events - like to an unhealthy level. I mean how many of you read my 6,000 word tome on the 92-93 Suns? Like 6 of you? Thought so (and fuck you guys that didn't).
My first purchase on this site was the 2008 NFC Championship Game between the Cardinals/Eagles. Being that I knew nothing about this site it was basically a crap shoot whether this would be a real recording of the game or just some
awesome sick midget/horse porn that I paid 9 dollars for.
Fortunately the game was legit and though not HD inspired me to purchase a selection of Suns games. A week later I was the proud owner of both the 1976 and 1993 NBA Finals triple overtime games (Game 5 and Game 3 respectively) and a couple games from 1979 and 1980 - against Magic/Kareem and against Dr. J. Just fantastic stuff.
For a history freak like myself it's great to see what all the fuss is about with some of the Suns greats I never got to see live (because you know, I wasn't alive). Watching Walter Davis (in the '79, '80 games), Alvan Adams, Paul Westphal, and Dick Van Arsdale ('76 Finals) - all members of the Suns Ring of Honor - is a treat.
Enough jibber jabber - let's take a look at the current standings leading into the break:
Western Conference Standings:
|1. San Antonio||46||10||.821||-||7-3||LOST 1|
|3. LA Lakers
|4. Oklahoma City||35||19||.648||10||7-3||WON 1|
|5. Portland||32||24||.571||14||7-3||WON 6|
|6. New Orleans
|7. Denver||32||25||.561||14.5||4-6||WON 1
|- Golden State
That's where the Suns sit - 2.5 games out of 8th with 28 games left to play. Since standings alone probably aren't enough to satiate your burning playoff desires let's stare longingly at each squadron.
San Antonio Spurs (Games remaining: 26, Games remaining with teams .500 or better: 17) -What the hell. After finishing in the seven spot last season and getting swept by the Suns this team was supposed to be dunzo. Instead they decided to have the best record in the NBA and be absolutely cruising to home court advantage at least through the Western Conference playoffs. This team doesn't really even have a viable MVP candidate - they just have a bunch of dudes playing well above average. I predict a collision course with the Lakers in the conference finals.
Dallas Mavericks (Games remaining: 26, Games remaining with teams .500 or better: 14) - Is Tyson Chandler and his 10 points and 9 rebounds really what is supposed to take Dallas from an annual playoff flame out to a title contender? Color me skeptical. Dirk is having a ridiculous year and Peja seems to be a good fit for them but I'll be surprised if this team makes it out of the West. Am I wrong? Definitely not. Ever.
Los Angeles Lakers (Games remaining: 25, Games remaining with teams .500 or better: 18) -You know how in the Halloween movies Michael Myers never really died and it took until Jamie Lee Curtis cut off his head in Halloween H20 to finish him off? That's the Lakers. Sure they're struggling right now but for them "struggling" is being 19 games over .500 and winning the last game they really gave a shit about (Boston) quite convincingly. B.S. all you want about how they're done but someone's got to stop Kobe Bryant in the playoffs - and as all of us Suns fans know from last season - easier said than done.
Oklahoma City Thunder (Games remaining: 28, Games remaining with teams .500 or better: 14) - I'm really curious to see whether or not these guys can take that big boy step that Portland before them failed to take. Going from young up and coming team to actual contender. They certainly seem to have the core for it but I'm a bit skeptical - they just don't seem as hungry this year as last year. That said, if the Lakers continue to struggle these guys could snag the 3 seed - they do have the least .500 or better opponents remaining of any Western Conference playoff team.
Portland Trail Blazers (Games remaining: 26, Games remaining with teams .500 or better: 17) - I said this yesterday in the comments for the Dallas game preview and I reiterate it now - this team isn't going away. For whatever reason (it's witch craft) this team just keeps winning basketball games. LaMarcus Aldridge has blossomed into an All-Star among the MASH unit. Brandon Roy
's corpse is probably going to come back eventually but that will probably last like 6 games - doesn't seem to matter.
New Orleans Hornets (Games remaining: 24, Games remaining with teams .500 or better: 16) - New Orleans surprised the league by opening the season 11-1...since then they are 22-24. If you're looking for a team to fall apart for reasons not related to trading it's star player or losing it's head coach then this is your pick. They've lost to Minnesota, Sacramento, and New Jersey all in the last month. 16 of their 24 games against .500 or better teams probably won't help either.
Denver Nuggets (Games remaining: 25, Games remaining with teams .500 or better: 16) - Pretty simple formula here - if they have Carmelo Anthony the rest of the season they'll make the playoffs (probably) if they trade Carmelo Anthony and get back almost anything they're being offered then they won't. Any questions?
Utah Jazz (Games remaining: 25, Games remaining with teams .500 or better: 15) - This certainly looks like a dead team walking. Jerry Sloan was brutally murdered by Deron Williams* and the team has lost three straight since new coach Tyronne Corbin took over. With Williams' wrist bothering him and the team in almost complete disarray I would actually be pretty surprised if this team could keep it's tenuous grasp on the final playoff spot.
Memphis Grizzlies (Games remaining: 25, Games remaining with teams .500 or better: 16) - If this team misses the playoffs it will be because of Rudy Gay. Memphis will be without their second leading scorer (19.8 points per game) for at least the next 4 weeks with a bum shoulder and possibly for the rest of the season. Replacing him won't be easy until Sam Young learns to do this or (unfortunately) this.
Phoenix Suns (Games remaining: 28, Games remaining with teams .500 or better: 15) - Since falling to 14-20 after an embarrassing home rout by the Knicks, the Suns are 13-7. Sure they've taken advantage of some softies but they've also got a few nice wins against Boston, New Orleans, and the Jazz. I think the main question for me is whether this team can continue to win games when Channing Frye is it's most consistent scoring threat.
Golden State Warriors (Games remaining: 27, Games remaining with teams .500 or better: 15) - They've actually had a pretty impressive February - going 6-2 while defeating Chicago, Oklahoma City, Denver, Utah, and New Orleans. As you might remember the two losses were to our beloved Phoenix Suns who with the exception of basically one quarter ran GSW off the floor. The Warriors have a nice squad - I just can't take them seriously as a playoff contender yet.
Consider it broken down. Here's a neat video.
* - not fact checked
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A frustrating game because the Suns could have won it, while in the same breath I see how Dallas is winning so many games. The Mavericks don't get rattled. Dirk Nowitzki just goes ahead and makes a fallaway or two, or Jason Terry runs around a few picks for an open jumper.
Notice both of those example are jump shots, which the Suns' defense is designed to entice. Jumpers are less valuable than layups, dunks and 'and 1s', while the Suns almost always outscore the other team on 3-ptrs.
The Suns outrebounded the Mavs by 4, outscored them in the paint by 10 and made 1 more free throw. Generally, that spells a win.
But contested jumpers were the difference in this game. The Mavericks scored SEVENTY of their 112 points on jump shots (outside the paint). 70. Seven-oh.
It helps to get Dirk's best shooting night of the entire season (35 points on 13-18 shooting, including 3-3 on 3-pointers and 6-6 on free throws). We all know Dirk is a great shooter, but that's ridiculous. He hasn't been that good all season, and nearly every shot was a jumper.
Dallas' C combo Tyson Chandler/Brendan Haywood combined for 19 points and 17 rebounds, which sounds good until you compare it to the Suns' C combo of Robin Lopez and Marcin Gortat that produced 22 and 19. In fact, the Suns won the rebounding battle 43-39.
Dallas' substitution patterns were quite interesting, and not suited to the Suns' substitution pattern at all.
Nowitzki, Kidd and Chandler spent a lot of time playing against the Suns' second unit along with Terry and Marion. That's a starting lineup right there. Beaubois and Stojakovic are not as good as Terry and Marion, but it works when you're surrounding them with Dirk and Kidd. Moreso than most teams, the Mavs sub guys in and out like a hockey team.
The Suns, on the other hand, play all their starters as starters and their bench players as bench players. And Gentry likes to sub them in the way D'Antoni always used to - at the end of the 1st/3rd and beginning of 2nd/4th. This is like most other teams in the NBA.
The Suns' improved defense gave up 112 points on 52% shooting to the Mavericks. Ouch. But when I watched the game, I didn't see the Suns playing the Ole! defense of times past. Dallas was not running a layup line. In fact, only 42 of their 112 points were in the paint. By contrast, the Suns scored 52 of their 106 in the paint - a much better balance.
The Suns' defense wants teams to shoot jumpers. Certainly, those are lower percentage than layups and dunks and 'and 1s', and they did that with Dallas. 70 of Dallas' points came outside the paint area on jumpers, with a hand in their face nearly every time. I can count on one hand how many wide open shots the Mavs got. Yet, still they scored 70 points on jumpers.
Channing Frye played well again (24 and 8, 9-14 shooting), and Robin Lopez played his best game since early November (13 and 13). Nash was Nash (15 and 14) and Goran Dragic played better than he has in 2 weeks (5 and 3),
Anyway, a loss is a loss. The Suns played well enough to win. But Dallas shot LIGHTS OUT, Dirk had his best game of the year in terms of shooting, and Dallas won a squeaker.
It's better than a stick in the eye.
Enjoy the break!
[Note by Seth Pollack, 02/18/11 12:46 AM MST ]
Yes, Channing went to the Office Space quote...
Phoenix Suns Fall To Dirk And The Dallas Mavericks, 112-106 - SB Nation Arizona
The Suns reaching .500 is bitter-sweet goal according to Frye, "It's like we have the minimum amount of flare for all the Office Space fans."
And for Robin, it's all about not worrying and being happy...
Robin Lopez, Happy Or Mad But Not Bland - Desert Dirt - SB Nation Arizona
"Steve (Nash) took me in earlier and told me to make sure I'm having fun out there and not to get too down on myself or anything," Lopez said. Nash explained that this was a happy team and he needed to be happy.