What: Phoenix Suns (27-18, 2nd Pacific) vs. Indiana Pacers (35-9, 1st NBA)
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse -- Indianaoplis, IN
When: 5:00PM MST
Watch: FoxSports AZ, NBA League Pass
Read: Get the Pacer point of view over at Indy Cornrows
Is there such a thing as an embarrassing win? Last night felt like an embarrassing win. That game should have been over in the first half, the starters should have been sitting for the last 15 minutes or so and Goran Dragi? should have simply been chilling instead of icing his elbow for the last few minutes of the game. That's all water under the bridge at this point, but it all could have a bearing on tonight's game versus the Indiana Pacers.
This is the second time the Phoenix Suns and Pacers meet this season. The first time, the Suns snapped the Pacers' five game winning streak in a 124-100 beatdown that the Suns laid on the Pacers on national television. The Suns had their way with the Pacers, sporting a large lead throughout the game and the only starter who played in the 4th quarter was Channing Frye. Dragi? and Gerald Green had 21 and 23 apiece in the first 3 quarters. Markieff Morris did most of his damage mopping up the mess, scoring 12 of his 20 in the 4th quarter. Paul George led a stymied Pacers squad with 26 points. The Pacers had no answers for the Suns' offense, allowing Phoenix to shoot a scintillating 54.2% from the field and a mind-blowing 68.8% (11-16) from behind the arc.
I know the Pacers have bigger fish to fry this season that splitting the season series with the Suns, but I have a feeling they will be looking to avenge a humiliating loss to an upstart team a couple months removed from being on most pundits' tank list. For the Suns' part, this is their opportunity to go for a "sweep sweep", having wrapped up the season series with wins against the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers already on the first 3 games of this road trip.
The Pacers will be at full strength with no reported injuries. Once again, Eric Bledsoe (knee) and Emeka Okafor (neck) are out for the Suns. Goran Dragi? took a nasty spill on his elbow in the fourth quarter against the Bucks and continued to play well despite some swelling. There has been no update on his condition as of this writing, but Paul Coro reported that X-Rays were negative, though there is concern due to the amount of swelling and a previous injury to the same elbow.
Update: Coro tweeted that the elbow is improving and the Gogi is a game-time decision.
Offensive Rating - 109.3 (8th NBA), Defensive Rating - 105.7 (15th NBA)
Offensive Rating - 105.4 (18th NBA), Defensive Rating - 96.3 (1st NBA)
The Suns maintain a balanced offensive and defensive agenda, while the Pacers are clearly lead by Paul George on the scoring end and Roy Hibbert on the defensive end. While the Pacers are at full strength, if Dragi? is hampered by that elbow injury, Phoenix will be hard pressed to find those 20 points elsewhere on the roster. The Suns' offensive outburst on January 22 was anomalous against a team that normally surrenders a stingy 90.2 points per game. Phoenix played a nearly flawless game last time and will have to do so again in order to beat them on their own court.
F - P.J. Tucker
F- Channing Frye
C - Miles Plumlee
G - Gerald Green
G - Goran Dragi?
F - Paul George
F - David West
C - Roy Hibbert
G - Lance Stephenson
G - George Hill
Take What They Give: The Suns shot the lights out in their first match-up with the Pacers and need to do so again. Indiana holds opponents to a league-low 41.2 FG% and 32.9 3PT%. The Suns need to take advantage of every offensive opportunity a keyed-up Indiana defense gives them.
Dig Deep: This the fourth game in five nights and the second game of a back-to-back for the Phoenix Suns. While none of the starters played more than 30 minutes last night, these are not the ideal circumstances for a rematch with the best team in the association. The Suns will have to find a way to stay sharp and feel fresh to wrap up this road trip with a win.
The Suns' Offense vs. the Suns' Defense: The Suns' offense has been a holy terror the last 2 games, scoring a combined 250 points against the Bucks and 76ers. Unfortunately the defense has been equally holey, allowing the league worst Milwaukee Bucks to score 26 points above their season average and the 76ers to score 12 points above theirs. It will take a complete effort on both ends to come out of Indy with a victory.
I think all signs point to a Suns' loss tonight. There's the #revengegame factor. There's road-weariness for the Suns. There's Goran Dragi?'s elbow. I think Indiana is going to come out with the defensive clamps fully engaged and take it to the Suns from the jump. For the Suns' part, it's a tough end to an otherwise successful road trip. Hopefully the Suns are game for the first 3 quarters, but in the end I think the home team wins pretty easily. 102-90, Pacers.
Before the year began, the idea that a Phoenix Suns player would represent the team on All-Star weekend was relegated to the hope that rookies Alex Len or Archie Goodwin would exceed expectations. But now, a snub for the weekend would be a disappointment on many levels.
The Phoenix Suns have surprised the NBA this season by far exceeding any expectations set upon them outside their own locker room.
Second year player Miles Plumlee has become a quality starting center. Third year player Markieff Morris has won the NBA Player of the Week award and is a leader in the 'Sixth Man of the Year' race. Fourth year guard Eric Bledsoe played at an All-Star level. Sixth year player Goran Dragic has jumped to All-Star consideration in his own right. Wing shooters have drained threes at a high rate and highlight reel plays are now commonplace.
The 27-18 Suns are currently in 6th place in the deep, talented Western Conference (18-12 against the West, including 6-6 against West playoff seeds) despite being predicted as "hard to see them winning a game in the West this season".
But will that result in any midseason recognition at All-Star Weekend?
In the first "the Phoenix Suns aren't sexy" salvo of All-Star nominations season, the near double-machine Miles Plumlee was passed over for the Rising Stars challenge given to the "top" 18 first and second year players.
Joining [Anthony] Davis and [Damian] Lillard among sophomores selected to participate are the Golden State Warriors' Harrison Barnes, the Washington Wizards' Bradley Beal, the Detroit Pistons' Andre Drummond, the Houston Rockets' Terrence Jones, the Boston Celtics' Jared Sullinger, the Toronto Raptors' Jonas Valanciunas and the Cleveland Cavaliers' Dion Waiters.
Of the nine second-year players named to the team, some were named because of their rookie exploits (Waiters and Barnes) despite dipping in production this season, while others were named due primarily to this season's production (Jones, Valanciunas).
Plumlee has more rebounds and blocks than six of them, and is ahead of Sullinger and Waiters in Win Shares. But he comes up short on sexy scoring and he doesn't play in a huge market.
Paul Coro of azcentral.com, who travels with the team on road trips, got some good reaction from the team on the snub. Sadly, Plumlee's brother was named on the rookie side, making the offseason even more fun in their household.
"I was looking forward to it," said Plumlee, whose brother Mason was one of nine rookies chosen. "I personally thought I would have been in it. It's just one steppingstone. There are bigger things out there to accomplish."
Next up, Goran Dragic.
Later today, the NBA will announce who the coaches picked as All-Star reserves. A number of well-written articles this week (including this one on si.com) detail in convincing fashion that Goran Dragic will come up just short of being named to play in the game this year.
Mike Conley, Tony Parker and Damian Lillard are all fighting Dragic for one or two spots and their best advantage is having played at All-Star levels before this season began. Conley and Parker have done it in the playoffs.
Look at this 4-players comparison to see how close these 4 are. Crazy close.
Dragic is an even more painful case [than excluding Lillard] because he is just as deserving as either Conley or Parker. I opted for Conley because while the two are very comparable in their offensive production, he's a far better defender than Dragic. That may not matter to some in selecting entries for a game predicated on entertainment value, but All-Star selection is first and foremost a means of honoring the best players in the NBA this season. By my evaluation, Conley, who carried the Grizzlies to sustenance in an expanded offensive role, is just slightly more qualified than Dragic because of the breadth of his two-way success.
All-Star nominations usually come in arrears, meaning you get named generally the year after you first deserve it. It's a right of passage, so to speak.
Without Plumlee making the Rising Stars Challenge or Dragic (likely) the All-Star game, we are left to hope that someone from the Suns gets to rep the team at another supporting event:
Apparently, the players have their own agendas. From yesterday, Green said he won't do the dunk contest ("I'm too old") and Dragic would only do the skills challenge if already there for the All-Star game.
The Suns didn't make it easy on themselves, but they still managed to beat the Bucks 126-117. Goran Dragic made one final push for All-Star selection by taking over and single-handedly putting the Bucks away in the final few minutes of the fourth, scoring 13 straight points for the Suns. Half of those points came after his shooting elbow swelled to the size of a softball falling a nasty fall.
The Bucks got off to a slow start, while Miles Plumlee looked to show the NBA made a mistake not including him on the Rising Stars roster. Plumlee scored at the rim on the Suns' first possession, then rebounded a missed shot by P.J. Tucker and kicked it out to Goran Dragic for a 3-pointer. A bucket, a rebound and an assist in less than a minute-and-a-half is not too shabby.
The two teams traded runs all night, with Phoenix building up a nice lead and then letting Milwaukee cut into the deficit. The Suns led 9-3, 20-11 and 28-19 at different points in the first quarter, but the Bucks got back into it after every Phoenix run.
The Suns scored the first four points on the second quarter, stretching the lead to 32-19, but again Milwaukee cut the lead down to five after scoring the next eight points. However, the Suns responded and took over the game, dominating the next eight minutes of play and outscoring the Bucks 28-15. Instead of stomping on their throats, the Suns allowed the Bucks to go on an 8-2 run to close out the half an cut the lead to 12.
At the half, Dragic, Frye and Marcus Morris had scored 40 points on just 20 shots. For those who don't like math, that's 2 points per shot attempt. That's pretty good.
Brandon Knight, who had a big game against the Suns in the team's first meeting, went off again and kept the Bucks in the game with 16 points on 5-8 shooting. However, as a team Milwaukee was shooting 34 percent compared to 54 percent for the Suns.
The third quarter belonged to the Bucks... and the whistles. The Bucks were aggressive and got call after call, getting to the line 15 times in the period. Gerald Green got so frustrated with the officiating and let the refs know it, getting T'd up midway through the quarter. The Bucks fans decided to have some fun and started chanting "GEEEERRRAAALLLDDD ... GEEEERRRAAALLLDDD ..." Gerald responded with the next eight points for the Suns and 11 of the next 12. I'd say that chant backfired. Even with the Green explosion, the Bucks continued to outplay the Suns and won the quarter 34-29. They got to the line and gained confidence, an then jumpers began to fall. Knight continued to torch the Suns and Larry Sanders joined him, with each of them scoring eight points in the period and Milwaukee cutting the lead to just seven at 91-84.
Goran Dragic sat on the bench for the first half of the fourth quarter, and the Suns lead fluctuated back and forth between as many as 10 points to as few as five. The highlight of the stretch was rookie center Alex Len getting back to back dunks, the first one an and-one off a beautiful pass by Ish Smith and the second a thunderous tip-slam.
Dragic checked back in at the 6:25 mark with a 105-97 lead. The two teams bounced back and forth, with Milwaukee in striking distance, until Dragic took over. The Dragon hit a 3-pointer at the 4:02 mark, then took it to the basket and was taken down hard by Larry Sanders. Dragic was down for a while before finally getting up, but he stayed in the game following a timeout and hit his free-throws ... with a shooting elbow the size of a softball as described by Suns digital reporter Matt Peterson. Dragic hit another three on the following possession, then got Sanders in the air and took a hit to go back to the line, closing out his night with a pair of free throws. Dragic had scored 13 straight for the Suns, with 10 of those coming with a swollen left elbow.
The Suns scored a season-high 126 points, but they also gave up 117 to the worst offensive team in the NBA.
All right everyone. We're back at it tomorrow night as the Suns close out their four-game Eastern road trip in Indiana. The Pacers are going to come out ready for revenge after what happened in Phoenix. Pray for Goran's elbow; we're going to need him.