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Recap:

Goran Dragic came out in the first quarter trying to make his presence felt with six points in the first 3:15 of the game (albeit one on a defensive three second technical). Meanwhile, Josh Smith (who missed the Hawks last game due to injury) and Devin Harris scored the first 14 points for Altanta, who made six of their first nine shots. Both teams hit a cold spell in the middle of the quarter, with the Suns going scoreless for 4:07. To further illustrate the team's offensive difficulties, the Suns finally got their first assist with just 1:25 left in the quarter. Apparently the Hawks were also playing excellent free throw defense, as the Suns managed just two makes on six attempts in the quarter. Despite these inadequacies, the Suns managed to keep the game close as Dragic shouldered the load and dropped 10 in the quarter. Markieff Morris contributed seven boards in the quarter and capped the period with a circus shot with just .5 seconds left on a full court pass. Josh Smith topped all scorers with 11. Score: Hawks 27, Suns 23.

The Suns returned the first quarter favor to the Hawks by committing their own defensive three to start the second period. The Suns followed that with six straight points and took their first lead (29-28) since 6-4 on a truculent throwdown by Jared Dudley (by his comparative standards). The teams went back and forth, but after a tomahawk dunk by Jermaine O'Neal made the score 37-39 the Hawks went on an 11-2 run to stretch their lead to 50-39. The Suns regained their composure and kept the game from getting out of hand, but a buzzer beating three (emphatically responding to Morris's first quarter theatrics) by DeShawn Stevenson resulted in an 11 point Hawks lead at the half. Score: Hawks 57, Suns 46.

The Suns managed to survive the first half only down by 11 despite being dominated in most aspects of the game. The Hawks shot 53.7% from the field compared to the Suns 40.5% and made 7-14 threes while the Suns were a meager 1-10. Dragic did his part to keep the game within reach with 15 points and three assists in the half. Jared Dudley also chipped in seven points, four rebounds and four assists in the second quarter. Most of the rest of the team appeared enervated... Harris was Goran's doppelganger with 15 and three of his own, while Smith had 13 points and seven rebounds.

The Suns got off to a quick start in the third as O'Neal ripped off 10 quick points, but the demons of the three point shot continued to haunt them as triples helped the Hawks maintain their separation. After the Suns had closed the gap to five points (63-68) the Hawks went on a 12-3 run to go up by 14. It was pathetic defense coupled with putrid offense. The Suns hemorrhaged points on defense while managing just five points on offense the last 6:17 of the quarter. Dragic transformed from scorer to facilitator as he handed out five assists in the period, but scored just one point. Smith crept closer to a triple double, finishing the period with 17 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists (and one technical for throwing a temper tantrum). Score: Hawks 82, Suns 68.

The Hawks just crept further and further away from the Suns in the fourth. By the midway point the Hawks led by 18 (96-78) and the game was effectively over. The Suns displayed more gumption than two nights ago in Houston, but that helped little in the face of a chasmic discrepancy in team talent and the boisterous Hawks crowd (being facetious there - the Hawks crowd is so subdued you can barely tell they're awake).

Final Score: Hawks 107, Suns 94.

Game Boxscore.

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Player of the Game:

Dragic gets the nod with game highs of 21 points and eight assists. The Hawks had solid, but not spectacular, performances by all five starters.

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Comments of the Game:

Woo!

JO is back

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Atlanta crowd/announcers suck really really hard...

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Who thinks Dragic can hit the 30 mark tonight?

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Marcus Morris with an "All-bad" statline

4 misses, 3 TOs, 1 PF and not a single other stat.

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Unsurprisingly

Lakers look fluid with Nash instead of Kobe running the show

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Lol, Dragic and O'Neal. That is it. The rest are scrubs.

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When Haddadi smiles, children in the 42nd row start crying.

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I watched to the end to see if we could lose by less than 10.

Oh well.

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The Good:

Goran Dragic stepped up when the Suns needed him and provided a scoring punch in the first half while his teammates muddled their way to 12-35 shooting. He's the team leader and tonight he led. Goran tapered off after his scorching start, but still finished with game highs of 21 points and eight assists.

Jermaine O'Neal punished the Hawks inside all night long, providing a much needed inside presence that was sorely lacking in his absence. O'Neal, who finished with 18 points on 7-9 shooting, has truly been a bright spot in this morass of a season.

A Markieff Morris sighting resulted in a double double of 15 points and 11 rebounds. It would be nice to see more consistent play from Markieff.

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The Bad:

The Suns three point defense. After Kyle Korver had just drained the Hawks ninth three pointer I realized I couldn't remember if I'd seen the Suns close out on a three point shooter the whole game. Couple that with the Suns own ineptitude from deep and it makes it pretty hard to win.

Tempo. The Suns are trying to become a defensive-minded team, but that doesn't go very swimmingly when they can't dictate pace. Surrendering 57 points in the first half is the antipode of controlling tempo. It's far too easy for other teams to impose their will on the Suns.

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The Ugly:

Nothing too hideous tonight. It wasn't a tribute to basketball excellence and the defense was pretty deplorable, but after the Rockets fiasco it didn't seem bad at all.

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Final Thoughts:

The Suns just aren't talented enough to compete for 48 minutes most nights. At least tonight they kept it somewhat respectable. Another loss, another lottery number combination as the Suns approach their second worst record in franchise history.

Also, screw the Lakers.

Scoreboard

Celtics 113, Suns 88

Raptors 98, Suns 71

Nuggets 111, Suns 81

Are these all of the Suns bad losses this season? No. These are the bad losses in the last ten games. The Suns have made an artform of losing in spectacular fashion this season with 11 of their 43 losses coming by 20 or more points. The practice of getting thumped has actually increased since Lindsey Hunter took over. In 24 games under Hunter the Suns have lost by 20+ six times after only doing so five times in 41 games under Alvin Gentry. While the Suns have a slightly better winning percentage over the last 24 (9-15 37.5%) than under Gentry (13-28 31.7%) it appears they have become more prone to calling it a night when they face adversity.

But when the Suns don't enter meltdown mode they've actually fared pretty well. The Suns are 13-10 this season in games decided by six or less points. Comparative to their overall record (22-43) that's actually a testament to their ability to close out games (considering how bad the team is). What's even more impressive is that the team is 8-1 in games decided by six or less points under Hunter.

8-1.

Only once, in Hunter's first game, have the Suns won by more than six points in their last 24 games. Compared to a 5-9 record in such games under Gentry the team has finally figured out a formula for closing out tight contests.

So the team is either battling or getting blown out.

In the Suns nine wins under Hunter the average margin of victory is +4.8 points. In the teams 15 losses, the margin of defeat is -16.9. Quite an incongruous dynamic at play. The team either competes or gets their teeth kicked in. Is this a function of young players building confidence when they stay in games? The other end of the spectrum, and more prevalent, is that once the team becomes disconcerted they tend to enter meltdown mode and have quit several times in my opinion.

Lindsey Hunter has apparently noticed this himself after the Suns latest imbroglio at Houston, "Our guys have to compete and I didn't see that. It's very disappointing, very embarrassing, unacceptable."

I agree, coach, it's all of those things. But it's nothing new.

We can parse season data to analyze this from a different angle.

The Suns are 7-25 this season when their opponent scores at least 100 points. The differential for the Suns in those games is -11.3. In their seven wins the margin is +6.4, while it is -15.6 in the losses. The Suns have won close games and gotten their asses handed to them in the losses.

In 12 of those 32 games the Suns have also topped 100 points with their opponent. The Suns are 7-5 in those games with a +.9 average margin of victory. In the games the Suns haven't topped 100 (obviously they are 0-20) they have lost by an average of 17.8 points. 20 losses by an average of 17.8 points. The Suns have had their share of savage beatings.

What about the Lindsey Hunter era?

The Suns have reached 100 points five times and are 4-1 in those games with a +2.2 margin. Suns opponents have scored 100 12 times and the Suns are 2-10 in those games with a deficit of 14 points. The new defensive philosophy of the Suns shows up half the time (12 of 24 games holding their opponent below 100 points), but just as important is an offense that only shows up one in five games.

By this train of thought a game like Houston is nearly over by the time the Rockets score 30 in the first quarter (well on their way to 100) and by a score of 58-45 at halftime you should turn the tv off if you don't want to watch the Suns lose.

The Suns may be terrible, but at least they're predictably terrible.

This conclusion has other implications for your viewership and rooting interests as well. If you're a person of the disposition of cheering for draft lottery number combinations you might not want to watch competitive games. I lamented over the fact that the Suns could lose independent of getting humiliated after the debacle in Houston, but maybe they can't. Maybe those of you wanting the Suns to climb the lottery ladder have to accept that the Suns self-respect will likely need to be pillaged in order for the team to amass enough L's to pick commensurate with your wishes.

Somewhat of a grim prospect, but something to mull over nonetheless.

This also has ramifications for those of you that still want the Suns to win at any cost. If the Suns are still in the game at the end of the third quarter there's a very good chance they will win. That should give you a confidence boost when the game is coming down to the wire.

Hopefully you've enjoyed digesting this dissertation. It has to be easier to swallow than the noxious performance by the Suns on Wednesday. The data reveals the significance of the numbers 100 and six. With 17 left the Suns also need six to avoid 27 and infamy. They still have a chance at finishing three, but on 5/21 the holy grail of numbers is one.

*Special thanks to Kris Habbas for contributing research to this article.

Time: 4:30 MST TV: FSAZ The bipolar Phoenix Suns will be back in action Friday night as they visit the Atlanta Hawks. After a manic three-game win streak two weeks ago, the Suns have fallen into...

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When: Friday, March 15, 2013, 4:30 PM local time (7:30 EST)

Where: Philips Arena, Atlanta, GA

Watch/Listen: TV: FSAZ, Radio: 620 KTAR

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Last Meeting:

March 1, 2013 in Phoenix

The Suns relied on a big night from the reserves, as the four starters not named Goran Dragic combined for just 15 points on a paltry 7-25 from the field. An all-bench lineup of Kendall Marshall, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, Wesley Johnson and Jermaine O'Neal played the entire fourth quarter and fended off a Hawks team that was never able to make a run to cut the Suns lead to less than five in the period.

The Suns 92-87 win was their third consecutive victory, which marked their second longest winning streak of the season. Dragic led the Suns in scoring with 19 despite sitting the entire fourth quarter. Al Horford had a game high 20 points for the Hawks.

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Team Bios:

Atlanta Hawks: 35-29

Points per game: 97.1 (17th) Points allowed: 96.8 (12th)

Full team statistics.

The recently floundering Hawks did the Suns a solid by virtue of defeating the Lakers 96-92 on Wednesday night. To add injury to insult, Kobe Bryant sprained his ankle when Dahntay Jones stepped under him while Kobe attempted a fall away jumper in the game's closing seconds. Bush league or not, it was an obvious foul (the league said as much after the game)... so I'd like to thank the referees involved for not paying attention to the game and/or swallowing their whistles.

You can watch the incident here, if you haven't already seen it ad nauseam.

Prior to vanquishing the soulless, opprobrious Lakers the Hawks had managed just one win in their past seven games, albeit mostly against fairly stiff competition (they did lose to the Suns, though). To add to their struggles, the Hawks are now battling injuries to Josh Smith and Jeff Teague, both of which sat out the victory over the Lakers. The Hawks will be looking to build on the momentum of that win as they sit in a three way tie for fifth in the Eastern Conference and are only 2.5 games out of fourth.

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Phoenix Suns: 22-43

Points per game: 94.4 (22nd) Points allowed: 100.4 (21st)

Full team statistics.

The good news is that it will take a herculean effort from the Suns to get pulverized as badly as they did Wednesday night against the Rockets. Losses like that require a special brand of horrible. Or do they? Despite a recent stretch where the Suns matched a season high with four wins in six games, the Suns have now been brutalized by at least 20 points in six of their last 12 losses. Massacres have become mundane.

After a 13-28 start under Alvin Gentry the Suns are now 9-15 under Lindsey Hunter. While the team has responded at times, they have been hopelessly overwhelmed at others. This shouldn't be a shocking revelation, though, since bad teams are generally consistently inconsistent. The Suns fell to 7-26 on the road after their loss at Houston, which puts them just a half-game ahead of Charlotte for the second worst road record in the league and doesn't inspire much confidence in their chances tonight.

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What To Watch For:

Injuries: If the Hawks are without Smith and/or Teague that will obviously improve the Suns chances. Even if one or both play it is possible that their effectiveness may be limited.

Goran Dragic: Other than a nondescript performance against the Timberwolves, Dragic has been indispensable in the Suns other recent wins. Just like the team, though, Goran's play has been lent to caprice as he's failed to provide consistent performances. If Dragic doesn't have a good game it's hard to envision a scenario where the Suns win.

Revenge: It wouldn't take a leap in logic to surmise that the Hawks might still be sore about their recent loss to the Suns. Yes, the Suns have become an embarrassing loss. Hopefully the Hawks don't go all Houston on us...

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2013 Lottery Watch:

The Phoenix Suns currently stand tied for fourth in the table tennis race. With the Hornets visiting the Wizards tonight, a Suns loss would either leave them in sole possession of fourth place or in a tie for third. Unfortunately, the Cavaliers and Timberwolves, two of the Suns fiercest adversaries, play on the road in very losable games.

There is a sense of renewed hope surrounding the Lakers potential lottery pick after the aforementioned loss and injury. The Lakers visit the Pacers tonight in a game that would appear to be a very likely loss. That would drop Los Angeles back into a tie with the Jazz, which would effectively put the Lakers on the outside looking in by virtue of tiebreakers. I will be a Pacers fan tonight.

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The Final Word(s):

This is a game that has loss written all over it. It would be nice if the Suns decided to play more than 19 minutes of basketball tonight, though, and bounce back from one of their most demoralizing losses of the season. I would expect Hunter to give players a very short leash after the performance in Houston since he was just as disgusted that the team quit as I was. With a pretty full slate of games this should be a good night to catch the Suns and do some scoreboard watching.

It was a nice touch that the Houston Rockets acknowledged the return of Luis Scola, and a fun storyline that Goran Dragic and Marcus Morris also returned to their old stomping grounds. But there are...

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