Time: 12:30 p.m. MST TV: FSA Time is running out for the Minnesota Timberwolves to make a run toward a playoff bid, and five games back of the Western Conference’s ninth-place team, the Phoenix...

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Phoenix has won four of their last five games, but it feels like they've only played well once in the past two weeks. After sweeping two at home, a tougher opponent on the road will require that the Suns bring a much better effort.

When: Sunday March, 23, 2014, 12:30 PM local time (3:30 EST)

Where: Target Center, Minneapolis, MN

Watch/Listen: TV: FSNAZ Radio: 620 AM/98.7 FM KTAR


Last Meeting:

Minnesota got the best of Phoenix at US Airways Center back on February 25th with a come from behind 110-101 victory. The Suns actually led 91-83 with 7:30 remaining before being waylaid to the tune of 27-10 in one of the team's most spectacular blow ups of the season.

Kevin Love nearly notched a triple double for the Timberwolves with 33 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists. Love and Corey Brewer, who scored 18, had 17 of Minnesota's points in the run to close the game. Then there was Shabazz Muhammad. He managed to score 20 of the 100 points he has scored the entire season in one game against the Suns. In his other 28 games Muhammad has averaged 2.9 points per game... meaning he scored seven games worth of points against Phoenix.

It turns out this was not my favorite game of the season.

P.J. Tucker was a bright spot for the Suns as he managed to corral a career high 16 rebounds. His herculean effort helped give the Suns a dominating 50-38 edge on the boards. Markieff Morris led the Suns with 24 points. Incidentally, the Suns made a season low of just three 3-pointers in the game (3-15 from deep). It seemed to me like that may have had something to do with the loss, but they've had three games where they only made four 3-pointers and they're 2-1 in those...

I guess I'll just have to pin the loss on the collapse instead.

The teams also met back on January 8th in Minnesota.  That was a much better game.

Channing Frye basically made Kevin Love his, well, you know... holding him to just 4-20 shooting. Gerald Green hit a cold-blooded game winner from the baseline with four seconds left to give the Suns a 104-103 victory.

This will be the third and final meeting between the teams.

Team Bios:

Minnesota Timberwolves: 34-33

Points per game: 106.3 (4) Points allowed: 103.1 (23)

ORtg: 108.8 (9) DRtg: 105.5 (11)

Full team statistics.

Minnesota's disappointing season sees them participating in the stretch run of the season playing the role of "not mathematically eliminated."  But even though their postseason chances are minuscule, I saw them around ~4% on one predictive model, they can definitely play the role of spoiler for the teams competing directly ahead of them. In fact, Minnesota just did the Suns a huge solid by handing the Dallas Mavericks a demoralizing loss in overtime on Wednesday night.

Despite getting bludgeoned 126-109 by the Houston Rockets in their last game, the Wolves have actually been playing pretty good ball lately and have gone 10-5 since hitting their nadir of the season at four games below .500 (24-28).  Minnesota likes to push the ball (fourth in the league in pace) and can find the basket without a map and compass, so look for them to challenge the Suns' renascent defense that stymied the vaunted Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons.

Nikola Pekovic is questionable for the game with an ankle injury. Gorgui Dieng had 22 points and 21 rebounds last game while keeping his spot in the starting lineup warm.


Phoenix Suns: 40-29

Points per game: 105.2 (7) Points allowed: 102.7 (22)

ORtg: 109.2 (8) DRtg: 106.6 (15)

Full team statistics.

The Phoenix Suns have only played about one quarter of inspired basketball out of the last two games combined. That was enough to defeat two very bad basketball teams.

The Suns allowed the Orlando Magic to hang around for three quarters and actually trailed 75-74 before spontaneously combusting and torching the shorthanded Magic with a 23-3 run. A Magic team without their starting point guard and center. A Magic team with the worst road record (4-33) in the entire NBA.

I had the pleasure of watching the game in person, but it was definitely of the genre that if you watched it on DVR you might find yourself fast forwarding through the game to watch the commercials. I guess it was kind of nice that the arena was quiet enough that I could converse with the people next to me in library voices... Don't you just hate it when the crowd is so loud you have to yell?

There was a little bit more brio and vim at USAC on Friday for Star Wars night.  The Suns (franchise) really did themselves proud with the production of that event. The Suns (players) were a little bit less impressive as they struggled to get past a Pistons team that might lose a free throw shooting contest to a grade school squad. That level of ineptitude is insulting to the brand of the game. The Pistons should be ashamed of themselves.

Since 1985-86 there has only been one team that had a worse percentage from the line with at least as many attempts. On February 11, 2005 the Orlando Magic went 10-27 from the line, granting the Pistons relief from owning the dubious distinction.

Overall, the level of intensity and quality of the game was superior to the Magic fiasco. The home crowd actually got down right obstreperous down the stretch as they cheered the Suns to victory. Bledsoe did his part to garner the noise as he poured in 15 in the fourth quarter to propel the Suns to victory.

The common theme between the games was a general malaise that almost made the Suns seem disinterested at times. The Suns were lucky they played who they did because they wouldn't have beaten many teams playing they way they did.

What To Watch For:

Kevin Love - I had to fit him in here somewhere. It's probably not entirely coincidental that he was completely negated in the Suns win and went off in the Suns loss. Hopefully the Suns can make him feel uncomfortable again. I have no qualms at all with Channing Frye and Tucker getting as chippy as possible within the spirit of the rules.

Eric Bledsoe - Let's see if Eric can build on the fourth quarter of the Pistons game and bring that type of presence to the court earlier on. A complete game from him would be huge and might help the Suns get off to an...

Early Start - Not just the game time, the type of way the Suns need to get off the block. A week ago, the Suns seemed perfectly fine playing a day game and had one of their more solid recent outings. They put up 37 in the first quarter and seemed engaged from the outset. Hopefully the can duplicate that effort, as they have been less effervescent in the three games since then.

The Final Word(s):

Ideally, the Suns will win this one going away so the Timberwolves will have a chance to empty the bench and keep their starters fresh for a back-to-back at Memphis on Monday night. Given the recent struggles the team has had at finishing off lesser opponents, though, any kind of win will suffice.

The Suns haven't been playing lots of clean games, but they have been winning enough to keep themselves in the hunt. Hopefully this is buying them enough time to shake out of the funk that I still feel is very much present despite their current 4-1 stretch.

Phoenix did good enough to get past a couple very beatable teams at home, but the Suns flat out need to play better.

The Suns helped their chances of making the playoffs this week, going 3-1 overall, and improving to just half a game behind the Grizzlies for the 8th seed. While these wins weren't necessarily statement games, they were necessary victories that ensured that Phoenix remains in the race. So who stepped up the most to help the Suns this week?

The NBA is all about which player and team can rule the court in the most epic fashion and Bright Side of the Sun has teamed up with Crown Royal to rank the best of the best Phoenix Suns players each and every week. Which player(s) ruled the court this week? #ReignOn

Goran Dragic aka "Scorin' Goran"

Weekly Stat Averages:

Minutes: 31 Points: 17.5 FG%: 54% 3FG%: 54% Assists: 4.25 Rebounds: 1.5 Steals: 1.5

Just like every other week, Goran Dragic was once again awesome. Is it even a surprise any longer that Dragic can continue to play at such a high level, night in and night out? Probably not, but it should be.

So just how well is Dragic playing? Well, besides Dwyane Wade who is somehow shooting an incredible 54.6% from the field, Dragic comes in second among all guards this season in efficiency, averaging 51.0%. This week was more of the same...actually slightly better. He not only averaged 54% from the field overall, but also from beyond the arc.

While Dragic was actually second in scoring this week, narrowly beat out by Gerald Green, he was still the most consistent, and provided the Suns with the kind of selective scoring that helped the team win some crucial games this week to keep them in the playoff hunt.

Gerald Green aka "3G"

Weekly Stat Averages:

Minutes: 26 Points: 17.75 FG%: 47% 3FG%: 50% Rebounds: 2.75 Assists: 1.0 Steals: 1.0

If there is a better success story in the NBA this season than what Gerald Green has accomplished, I haven't heard it yet. The former career journeyman who is on his 7th NBA team in just as many years has seemingly found the perfect fit, and continues to be one of the biggest scoring threats to don the purple and orange.

With Bledsoe returning to the starting line-up after injury, many were concerned how it would affect Green who would relinquish his starting role and resume coming off the bench. At first, it seemed that Gerald indeed struggled to make the transition, but after just a week or so, he once again found his rhythm and picked right back up where he left off in his new role.

Although he averaged nearly five minutes less per game than Dragic this week, he was once again the leading scorer for the Suns. His torrid shooting and momentum-swinging dunks have become one of the biggest boosts to the team, and he is registering those points at a very efficient rate as well.

Markieff Morris aka "Mr. Consistent"

Weekly Stat Averages:

Minutes: 30 Points: 15.5 FG%: 56% Rebounds: 6.25 Assists: 1.75 Steals: 1.0

As unlikely as it may have seemed just a year ago, Keef continues to be the epitome of consistency for the Suns this season. Playing as a reserve while receiving starter's minutes, Markieff has arguably become the third best player on the team, and has been helping the Suns in a variety of ways.

Not only is Markieff giving the Suns an inside scoring presence, while also providing much needed rebounding, he has also improved his defense as well. In addition, he is not only playing the power forward position, but has done extremely well playing the five in the Suns' small-ball line-up, which has proven to be one of their best line-ups overall.

While Markieff didn't lead the Suns in scoring or rebounding this week (but came close in both categories), he continues to give the Suns one of the most well-rounded performances.

So who do you think deserves to be named the "Suns' Player of the Week"? Vote in the poll below and explain your choice in the comment section.


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Who deserves to be named the Suns' "Player of the Week"?

  339 votes | Results

The Phoenix Suns did what they were supposed to winning four of five against the middling Eastern Conference and now, with 13 games left -- Playoff Season Begins.

While the season seemed like doom and gloom for the Phoenix Suns (40-29) losing four out of five games and capping that all off with a bottom point in the season losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers they did what they always do. Like a much needed dose of medicine the Suns changed things up like a remix and rose back up like a Phoenix.

It has been that way for the team for the better part of the season where a season defining win or streak is immediately followed by a low-point. Like a loss to the Cavaliers.

One thing you count on with this band of young, inexperienced basketball players is that they are always going to bounce back. They are too inexperienced to know that they are not supposed to be doing this. We saw it last year with the Golden State Warriors and now with the Suns.

"You would think they would know the situation with the games we are in, the standings and that kind of stuff. We do not go over it, but I think everyone understands that at this point everyone has to step it up. You are trying to win games. We have to win games we are suppose too. That is the disappointing part." -- Head Coach Jeff Hornacek

The approach Coach Hornacek is taking is the right approach for a young team. Whether a young team is winning or losing all headline hunting can do is harm. They have to control their own destiny from within.

Having Eric Bledsoe back (14.3 PPG 5.3 APG since returning) has been a needed a spark with the team going 4-2 since then. Miles Plumlee is getting healthy after missing some action and P.J. Tucker is not going to be suspended every week for "throwing a punch" at Blake Griffin. This is the first time since December (19-11) the team is at full capacity with no missing links, players, or points. Essentially the Suns are entering Playoff Season with no excuses and 13 games to stamp their tickets into the post-season.

That road is paved with a combination of very winnable games and on the other hand games the team will have to earn.

Five games remain against teams under .500 (@ Atlanta, New York, @ LALakers, @ New Orleans, and @ Sacramento) with eight games against teams playing above .500 (@ Minnesota, @ Washington, LosAClippers, @ Portland, Oklahoma City, @ San Antonio, @ Dallas, and Memphis). Having eight of 13 games on the road is going to pose a difficult challenge especially with the quality of competition they are facing. On the season they are hit or miss on the road going 16-16, using that as a baseline, the Suns are looking at a 4-4 result in those games.

Other than lottery balls there is little for those lottery teams to play for other than pride. If you are follower of NBA basketball it is not a guarded secret that when it comes to lottery balls, there is no such thing as pride.

Collecting those wins is a crucial part of the puzzle for the Suns. They are the corners, easy to find, but vital to setting up the rest of the picture.

The Suns have done a good job against teams that were either .500 or better this year with a 14-17 record overall. All year they have picked the bones off the bottom of the NBA with a 26-12 record. All a team can do is control what they do on the court. The Grizzlies are .5 games ahead of the Suns while the Mavericks are 1.0 game ahead as of today. Both of them could go out and finish the season winning their final 14 and 12 games respectively.

What the team can do is control what they do.

They can go out and beat five teams that are under .500 and step up against the better teams on the schedule to take control of their destiny. Will the Suns rise up like a Phoenix?

You've got tons of questions about the Phoenix Suns and we are here to answer them! Today's mailbag covers questions on the Suns defense, Eric Bledsoe's return, Archie Goodwin's potential, Shavlik Randolph's disappearing act, and the summer cap situation.

Welcome to the inaugural edition of the SunBlast, where Bright Side answers YOUR questions on the Phoenix Suns. As of this morning, the Suns sit just a half-game out of the playoff picture but face a difficult test of 9 road games versus only 4 home games to finish out the season.

Let's get to the wide-ranging questions posed via email and this post earlier this week.

MJFerguson: Why are the Suns so terrible defensively since the All-Star break??

Statistically, opponents are getting to the rim at higher frequency now than before the break and they are converting better than before when they get to the rim. Shots at the rim are the highest % in the game, so the more you allow the worse it gets for you defensively. However, the stats today show that the Suns are 15th in the league on defense since the All Star Break (up from 20th three days ago), which is basically on par with pre-break results. The down side is that only three current playoff seeds are playing worse defense than the Suns.

However, the Suns are also only 15th in offense since the break despite having nearly identical efficiency to the first half. This means that other offenses have stepped up, making it tougher on middling and worse defensive teams as the playoff hunt heats up.

The biggest reason for the Suns' struggles on defense, in my opinion, is that they have been largely unable to practice for a long time now. The further the Suns get from training camp, where they came out as a top-10 defense for a month, the more they lose their timing on rotation. The Suns have the second-least experience in the entire league, and by far the least among playoff teams.

dshock88: Do you think the return of Eric Bledsoe has slowed us down offensively..? defensively..? If yes, why, and will we bring it back to normal?

Certainly, Eric Bledsoe looked like his old self in the Detroit game, scoring 15 points in the 4th quarter to help the cold-shooting Suns win a game they really, really needed to win. His 23 points were his best numbers since before injury, while Dragic still had 20 of his own points, and the two combined for 10 assists.

I think the team did have a "Bledsoe effect", though no one would corroborate that with me. As soon as Bledsoe started practicing with the team, their on-court performance suffered. The Suns don't practice often, but for 2 or 3 practices there was Bledsoe working alongside them - or staying after to scrimmage - which could have had an effect on their game performance without him.

Once Bledsoe returned to the starting lineup, the Suns have won 4 of 5 games. Overall, the Suns are 16-7 when Bledsoe and Dragic start together with a front line of Channing Frye, Miles Plumlee and P.J. Tucker. Ever better, they are 16-5 when both finish (Dragic left two games with injury and the Suns lost both).

It sure appears to me that Miles Plumlee's resurgence has coincided with Bledsoe's return. They have a connection on the court, offensively, and Plumlee has posted consecutive double-digit scoring nights for the first time in two months. Dragic and Frye are the league's best pick-and-roll combo (really, the stats show this), but Bledsoe and Plumlee are fun to watch as well.

Pece: Why Shavlik’s minutes shrink in last 4 or 5 games?

Keep in mind that Shavlik Randolph has not played more than 16 games in an NBA season since he was a rookie, and he's already approaching his 30s.

He was signed because Miles Plumlee was struggling with low energy and an ankle issue, and Alex Len was struggling with being 20. Plumlee feels better than he has most of the year and is playing great with Bledsoe back in the lineup. Len is playing with a lot more confidence. He had 9 points and 5 rebounds against Orlando, and 3 rebounds and 4 blocks against the Pistons. There's no need to play a guy who's smaller than both of them and has less of a future in Phoenix.

Be happy that Randolph isn't playing. When he plays, it means Plumlee and Len are not.

Javier Pastore: Archie Goodwin has the youth, the tools, the work ethic and the willingness to be the best. I personally think he will be one of the next great things, how much do you agree with me?

I agree that Archie Goodwin has a very high NBA ceiling, but there's a long way between seeing it and reaching it. Goodwin has to develop a solid jumper, at least on three pointers, to force the defense to play him honest and open up driving lanes.

His bread and butter in the league will be a great ability to get to the rim, draw fouls and finish through contact. We see with Dragic and Bledsoe that the ability to finish through contact is highly effective - it puts the other team's bigs in a tough situation with foul trouble, making life easier on the rest of the offense.

Archie also has very good defensive instincts, though he was ever been a guy who gets the flashy steals. If he can become a very good on-ball and help defender by using his quickness, he can be a better defender than most NBA shooting guards.

Archie has the tools. Now he needs to build up his body to NBA levels and get that jumper in shape. I imagine that a 21-year old Archie Goodwin - two years from now - can be a great young NBA player.

LeandroBarbosa10: What is the Suns summer cap situation?

No matter what happens this year, the Suns are set up nicely this summer to get even younger and more talented. The Suns have three first-round picks for sure, and then probably three more coming in 2015 (guessing that Minnesota's will roll over to 2015 as top-13 protected).

Before free agency starts, assuming the Suns make no trades, the team will have 5 players under 23 on the team (Len, Goodwin and 3 draft picks) to go along with guaranteed 2014-15 contracts for Dragic, Gerald Green, Bledsoe, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris and Miles Plumlee. Channing Frye's contract is guaranteed as well, though it's a player option he may not pick up.

With Bledsoe's cap hold factored in and Beasley's dead money, the Suns will have that core of players (including Frye) and draft picks locked into $42 million for 14 players on July 1.

The cap is expected to be about $62 million, giving the Suns $20 million to play with.

Bledsoe, who's cap hold is $6.57 million, will be a restricted free agent likely to command a max extension of nearly $14 million for next season. That eats up about $7 million (the difference from his cap hold), leaving $13 million for someone(s) else.

The big question is who would the Suns spend that money on? It's not enough for one of Miami's big three can opt out this summer.

Possibly, you fork out a restricted free agent offer to a Greg Monroe or Gordon Hayward to raise the talent level.

But Monroe, a center, would take nearly all of Plumlee's minutes and many of Len's. Is Monroe worth two or three times the money of Len and Plumlee put together next year?

It's possible the Suns could play Monroe at PF, but you've seen the results in Detroit when they play Monroe out of position. He doesn't have an offensive game outside of ten feet, and his defense is terrible despite the rebounding numbers.

The same quandry is true of Hayward vs. Tucker. P.J. Tucker will be a restricted free agent likely to command 2-4 million per year, while Hayward would require at least $11 million (maybe 12-13) to pry away from Utah. Is Hayward worth three or more times the money of Tucker for what he brings? Hayward is a much better passer and playmaker, but he doesn't make as many shots and doesn't rebound as well as Tucker. And we saw in the Cleveland game last week how important Tucker is to the Suns' effort level.

Another quality option is Lance Stephenson from Indiana. He could get a contract anywhere from $10-13 million a year this summer, but signing him would mean you're giving up one of Dragic or Bledsoe or Goodwin. Stephenson is a very good player, for sure, but is he worth the investment along with the sacrifice of one of those three?

Having said all this, though, expect nearly half the roster to be turned over this summer. A couple of new rookies will take the places guys like Ish or Christmas or Randolph at the bottom of the roster. The Suns likely don't want five players under 23 next season, so they will want to package one or more draft picks for something better. McDonough and Babby will have to make tough calls on bringing back Tucker for more money, and whether to keep Frye in the starting lineup.

But one of the biggest decisions might just be what to do with the Morrii. Both will want extensions on their rookie contracts. What happens when/if they don't get them until summer of 2015, when they become restricted free agents? Will they pout? Or will they improve even more, to prove their worth on the market?

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