The beat the Suns in January.
Let's return the favor!
The beat the Suns in January.
Let's return the favor!
The Phoenix Suns are 24-24 on the season, in desperate need of every win they can get to make a run at a playoff spot. A win on the road against a young, below-.500 team like the Cavaliers is just what the Suns need.
But wait a minute. This is the same Cavs team that BEAT the Suns in Phoenix in January by 11 points (101-90). They outrebounded the Suns 47-39, made 10 steals and sank 10 of 19 3-pointers. Oops. And now the Cavs are on their home floor.
In fact, the Cavaliers are quite dangerous to more teams than the Suns. They are a better-than-unexpected 17-28 on the year, not far off the Suns' record. They boast the clear #1 rookie in the league in Kyrie Irving, a very talented young Trystan Thompson and Antawn Jamison is playing well enough to be wanted back next year. Throw in a quality coach in Byron Scott and you've got a dangerous team every night.
But all is not lost. The good news for the Suns is that the Cavs are not very good at home (9-14 on the year) and they are just 4-6 in their last 10 games. Add in one of the league's worst defenses - horrendous in March - and you just might begin to feel a glimmer of hope.
I wrote earlier today how the Suns have improved month over month this season, and that they are now playing like one of the best teams in the league.
The Cavaliers, on the other hand, are fading thanks to a porous defense. While their offense has remained steady (though still below average), their defense has gotten considerably worse as the season progressed. Much of that is due to the loss, yet again, of Anderson Varejao. He has not played since Feb 4, just about the time the Cavs' defense went in the toilet.
The Cavaliers can win if Jamison, Thompson and Irving have HUGE individual games and the Suns come in flat and porous.
But as long as the Suns play their offense to the tune of 100+ points, they should go home with a 2-2 record on this recent road swing. A nice recovery from that dud in Florida, and the egg they laid on their home court against the Cavs earlier this season.
It's a good test for the Suns. On the road. Against a team that beat the Suns in January. David Griffin is smiling right now. Let's hope he goes home with a frown after the game tonight.
More coverage here:
What we see with our own eyes can actually be proven out by the data itself. What was in January one of the worst teams in the National Basketball Association is now playing like a top-10 team in the entire league.
But that won't mean anything if the Suns don't seal the deal and make the playoffs. Miss the playoffs, and it's a lost season that won't be remembered for anything more than a wasted year of Steve Nash and Grant Hill's lives. But if the Suns can make the playoffs then history will show it as a success.
The Suns have improved month over month at an astounding rate.
The defense (19th overall on the season) was a putrid 24th in January. New defensive coordinator Elston Turner was trying to fix the Suns' defense on the fly, without the benefit of training camp or contact with the players themselves until a week before preseason started. The players were thinking too much, reacting a second too late on most rotations.
By February, the principals began to take hold, allowing the Suns to rise marginally to 22nd in defensive efficiency in February, to now 14th in March. While these numbers are not mind blowing, they certainly show incremental improvement over the course of the season.
The big kicker has been the offensive improvement, and the 'efficiency difference' - the rate by which the Suns' offense outplays the opponent's offense. Which we all know goes back to the golden rule: the key to winning is scoring more points than your opponent.
The Suns' offense has been a relative enigma this season. Gentry came into the year assuming the offense would be fine, while the defense just needed to marginally improve in order to be competitive.
But for some reason, the offense struggled out of the gate despite Steve Nash playing at an all-star level. Part of it was Grant Hill's struggle with recovery from a knee surgery over the offseason. Part of it was Frye and Dudley missing too many open shots. And part of it was the utter struggle of the second unit.
All tolled, the Suns offense was bad. So bad that they were only 18th in the league in January. 18th! But then shots started falling more quickly for the Suns than the rest of the league, and they rose all the way to the 5th-best offense in February. Then the rest of the league caught up in March. The Suns are 9th on offense in March, despite improving their own numbers since February.
Every month, the offense has improved and the defense has improved. In March, the Suns have the 8th-best differential in the league - ratio of offense to defense.
In the West, the Suns' month of March ranks behind only San Antonio, OKC and the LA Lakers, and just ahead of upstart Utah.
Luckily for the Suns, the season isn't over. There is a whole month of games left to decide the playoff picture, and they are only 2 games out of it at this time.
All stats provided by a wonderful site called hoopsstats.com
Other interesting nuggets of parceled data from the same site:
In terms of Efficiency Difference (offense - defense)...
The Suns' growth this season - relative to lowered expectations, of course - has been outstanding. Alvin Gentry deserves some kudos from us fans. He held firm to the notion that the Suns' offense would recover, that the defense would improve and that the bench needs to be trusted. All have come to fruition.
Is it enough to break into the playoffs? Sure, if they keep playing in April - on a road-heavy schedule - as well as they have played in March.