When: Tonight, 8:30 MST/10:30 EST
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
Watch: FSNAZ (locally), NBA League Pass
Tonight, the 4-5 Phoenix Suns will take on the 3-5 Los Angeles Lakers on the road at the Staples Center. The Suns will attempt to bounce back from a hard-fought overtime loss against the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday night, in order to get back to the .500 mark.
The Lakers will not be led by their new head coach (and former Suns' head coach) Mike D'Antoni. Mr. Pringles is coming off of knee surgery and already effectively ruled himself out of tonight's match-up when asked about his coaching debut..."Not Friday, I’m thinking Sunday." Instead, the Lakers will be coached by the 2-1 interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff.
The other familiar face in Laker Land, Steve Nash, will not be playing tonight as he is still recovering from a partially fractured fibula that he injured against Portland in the second game of the season.
Not only that, but back-up guard Steve Blake is also day-to-day with an abdominal injury. If Blake is out, third string rookie point guard Darius Morris will start in his place against the Suns. This could prove to be a significant advantage for Phoenix as Morris posted only 1 point, 1 assist, and 2 rebounds in his first start against San Antonio this past Tuesday.
2012-2013 OVERALL NBA RANKINGS PER GAME
Suns: 99.0 (8th) Lakers: 96.5 (19th)
Suns 44.3 (8th): Lakers: 47.4 (3rd)
Suns: 20.6 (20th) Lakers: 20.1 (24th)
Suns: 104.0 (29th) Lakers: 93.1 (10th)
This is a physically and mentally wounded Laker team who is in flux and searching for an identity. The Lakers will be without
our their new head coach and starting point guard, and may be without their backup point guard as well. Goran Dragic has shown he is a very capable first option on offense, and this would be a perfect opportunity for him to be used as such. In addition, Dwight Howard is still not 100% after suffering a back injury and having surgery at the end of last season, and while Howard at 75% is still better than nearly every other center in the game, it does give Gortat the chance to use his agility and mobility around the rim to get off shots that he normally wouldn't dare attempt, and somewhat help him with rebounding as well.
Good things happen when the other team has to force bad shots and long passes. Unfortunately the Suns aren't in the habit of proving this theory correct as they are currently ranked 29th in the league in points allowed. Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Dwight Howard are all superstars who can almost single-handedly decimate an opponent on any given night. The Suns are short on talent while long on hustle and fight...but they will need to devote more attention to playing solid, team defense throughout the entire game, not just the 4th quarter, if they are going to get out of LA with a win tonight.
Although this applies above, the Black Mamba is in a different league all to himself. The Lakers are still Kobe's team, and they will go as far as he can take them. For the Suns (or any other team for that matter), there's no point in trying to stop Kobe, the best they can hope for is to contain him. If they can hold him to under 20 points tonight then the Suns have an excellent chance of winning the game.
Aside from Shannon Brown in the 4th quarter, the Suns have yet to get any consistent production from any of their wings. Jared Dudley has been almost non existent at times...and Michael Beasley, well, he's definitely made an impact, just not for the right team. As crazy as it may seem, the most consistently productive wing player per his minutes played so far has been P.J. Tucker, a free agent who wasn't even guaranteed to make the roster before training camp. While Tucker is certainly appreciated, he was never meant to be our best option during crunch time. As our own Dave King's article so eloquently pointed out, we need one of our starters to step up and get it done.
The Suns are in a great position to steal a win away from one of the most talented teams in the league. Phoenix has already shown that they won't quit no matter what, and their energy and hustle has already won them some games in the 4th quarter they would have otherwise lost. This is the type of effort the Suns will need to bring tonight.
They aren't going to win in a blowout against the Lakers (although the reverse is possible). Instead, their only hope is to out-hustle, out-run, and eventually out-last them. The Suns also can't afford to fall substantially behind early to a team like LA, who can gain confidence and play more relaxed and effectively in such a situation. Phoenix needs to play with 100% effort and focus for 48 minutes tonight if they are going to escape LA with a victory.
In some ways, I am envious of Mike D'Antoni's ability to keep getting the better and better gigs based on a three-year run of excitement and wonder with the mid-market Phoenix Suns.
And in other ways, I feel sorry for him.
First it happened in Phoenix. Then it happened on a bigger stage in New York with the rebuilding, then suddenly contending, Knicks.
Now, as if history won't repeat itself in the very land that glorifies and bases its entire economy on this concept, Mike D'Antoni is getting another chance to prove that his style can win a championship on the biggest stage of all.
Like the surprisingly popular book-turned-movie "The Hunger Games", Mike has been pulled out of the gutter, buffed, plucked and waxed by a host of
media stylists, and trotted onto the stage to be introduced as the next great hope.
"Introducing... from District 12... the boy on fire... Mike D'Annnntoooonnniiiiii...!"
D'Antoni is being paraded around the city of lights, touted for his great skills, earning bandwagon fans from every corner of the globe, all while in the background skeptics are scheming and betting against him.
D'Antoni first came to Phoenix with the promise of a great offense that would overcome any defensive deficiencies simply by outscoring the opponent.
"If you've got the best team," he said when prompted this week. "Why wouldn't you play the most possessions that you can play defensively and offensively? Any time the possessions are cut down, then a bad call, a missed shot, you've got a chance to lose.
"But if we keep the possessions up here, to me we've got a lot better chance to win when we're playing a lot of reps."
Ask San Antonio and Dallas how that strategy works in the playoffs. Heck, ask Kobe even. Ultimately, the Suns lost in the playoffs each year to a team that could force the Suns to prove that theory. They slowed down the pace, or kept it fast and loose, but still knew that as long as the Suns didn't get more possessions than they did (which is mathematically impossible), games really DID come down to a bad call, a missed shot and a chance to lose 4 out of 7.
Asked if that was his problem, to be outcoached in those last few possessions of a tight game no matter how many total possessions there were, D'Antoni said:
"You're not going to outcoach other coaches. Everybody's too prepared. Everybody works too hard to think that I'm going to sit there and figure out something that they haven't figured out. You just don't do that.
"Players have to eventually be accountable and they have to be the ones to go win the game for you."
Suns fans recognize those comments by Mike D'Antoni. We lived and breathed them for several years, and lamented losses each year in the playoffs to "inferior" teams who got lucky or cheated their way to a series win. We said that defense doesn't matter as long you score better than the other team.
We believed in Mike, until eventually enough playoff losses caused us to question the methodology. At some point, we came around to the notion that, gee, it sure would be nice to focus at least a little bit on getting stops rather than the next scoring opportunity.
Mike's teams were always okay on defense, ranking between 13th and 21st in efficiency, while boasting the leagues most efficient offense. That wins a lot of regular season games, but doesn't help you beat great teams that are prepared for you and ready to outwork you.
Phoenix figured that out as they gave D'Antoni a long, long leash. Eventually, he left on his own in a huff within 24 hours of another heartbreaking playoff loss to the Spurs. He didn't want his GM telling him to tweak his philosophy - to add a defensive assistant to the staff.
So Mike left for a new, bigger stage - New York. Sure enough, the media there built him up for a couple of years while downplaying his lack of defensive mindset, only to tear him down when he was finally given the players to succeed but failed to do so.
"I left Steve once, and it didn't work out too well for me," he said this week with a light-hearted chuckle.
Again, D'Antoni left New York in a huff, resigning his position mid-season because it just so frustrating for him.
Two teams, two resignations when his teams came up short of expectations.
So where better to go than LA, owners of the highest expectations in the league and 18 NBA championships? Things couldn't possibly go wrong. Right?
"We're built to win this year," D'Antoni said Thursday. "This is not a project. We have a window and we're going to try and get through it."
Get through it he will, with four Hall of Famers in his starting lineup but arguably the league's most fragile contender and worst bench.
But that's not stopping national and LA media from blowing this up with expectations. As Ken Berger of cbssports.com puts it in a column yesterday after D'Antoni's press conference:
The more he explained what he believes in and how the talent-rich Lakers can thrive under his free-wheeling, player-driven style like no other team he's coached, the more his critics presumably slumped in their chairs.
If D'Antoni's debut on the court is anything close to as entertaining and informative as his debut in front of a microphone, then behold the return of the Showtime era in L.A.
Berger goes on to poo-poo "those who've bought the silly notion that D'Antoni can't win in the playoffs with a style built strictly around bringing out his players' talent."
Suddenly, D'Antoni is the golden child once again. He's ready to prove all of his critics wrong. Everyone loves him and loves his style. His reputation and coaching resume have been buffed, waxed and primped.
All I can say is this, Mike:
May the odds be ever in your favor.
It seems to me that the main disappointment last night were the performances of Jared Dudley and Michael Beasley.
Michael Beasley was shown first-hand tonight that he can't coast on this team - sticks out like sore thumb. Hurts the team. What will he do?— Dave King (@DaveKing_BSotS) November 15, 2012
Dave pointed it out clearly. When Scola fouled out, Beasley appeared to come in and just expect for things to fall his way...they didn't. If the Suns are going to want to win these close games, they will have to have better nights from Dudley and Beasley. Dudley finished 2-5 from the field with 5 points and a +/- rating of -7. Beasley ended up a -20, shot 4-15 on the night, and coughed up 4 turnovers.
Dave put it perfectly again when he described how the rest of the team seems to not give up and fight like a team with their talent has to, except for Dudley and Beasley:
But all these accolades of effort and scrappiness stops at eight of the ten players in the Suns regular rotation. Paging the heartbeats of Michael Beasley and Jared Dudley - the Suns starting wing players who didn't factor into the comeback attempt last night.
Check out the rest of Dave's article: Phoenix Suns' Michael Beasley and Jared Dudley Must Step Up or Step Down
Let's look at some tweets that highlight the positives of last night:
Anyone guess that PJ Tucker would be not only playing crunch time minutes but basically winning stuff?— Seth Pollack (@sethpo) November 15, 2012
I believe in PJ Tucker.
Special thanks to all the fans.. I promise you well will fight for every game until the end.. #PJSaidThat— PJ Tucker (@PJTUCKER17) November 15, 2012
Don't get me wrong, Sebastian Telfair had a great game last night, except for this play that is sure to be on Top 10 Plays for SportsCenter:
So Suns fans, there were some encouraging parts to last night's game, but it also worries me that Dudley and Beasley are performing like they are. What do you think the Suns need to do in order to close out comebacks like this?