Aptopix-suns-thunder-basketball_mediumI bet most of you are looking forward to this game, right? After all, it is the first game post all-star break, so why shouldn't we be excited? In a way it's like starting fresh kind of like your 2nd semester of senior year, right, I mean am I right? Speaking of high-school, 1st semester of senior year wasn't all that great for me. I ditched Greek and Rome History about half the time, chatted with friends and bro's during chemistry, slept in a lot and sometimes just didn't go to school at all. I never did my math homework either...until it was time to grade it(hey, we got  to grade our own, so I just made it look like I did work and scribbled a bunch of numbers and problems that I bet I didn't even know how to solve)...probably why I wasn't doing so well on the tests. Anyway, you can probably guess what kind of grades I had and how many U's(Unsatisfactory/ citizenship grades) I had to make up in order to graduate.

Speaking of graduating, how many games do you think the Suns need to make up in order to make the playoffs?

I'll let you guys answer that because I'm not in the mood for math; I've had enough of it in the past. Anyway, the Suns seem to be in a similar situation as I was in 1st semester of senior year. They took nights off, didn't do there homework or read the scouting reports... and a lot of times they'd only show up for half the game. Sounds a lot like me doesn't it? Well, I'll have you know that I changed!

When 2nd semester rolled along I realized that I needed to pick up my game or I wasn't going to graduate. For a while I really didn't think I could, but I did. I proved myself wrong by doing all I could and that was enough. I gave it everything I had and I graduated. I made up my U's, I went to Greek and Rome full time, stopped sleeping in and arriving late to English class. I also did my math homework while even taking the time to go to the math lectures during lunch hour! As for Chemistry my friends dropped out, so that helped, although I hated it even more, but it was for the best as I passed with a C+! By the way that was my lowest grade for 2nd semester, everything else was an A or a B. Quite the improvement I'd say.

You see, I was able to make a 2nd half-surge and if I can do it than why shouldn't the Suns be able to do it? Really, why? Someone explain, I want to know.

Now if I were a teacher what grade would I give the Suns for their pre-allstar break performance? Well, prior to the Gortat trade they were 13-13 and then they sucked for a while in embarrassing fashion too. Who remembers that Denver game? I do of course because I had to write the recap. Lately they have turned things around a bit. They've gone 12-6 of their past 18 games. In that stretch they have beaten some good teams and lost to some bad teams.

Alrighty than, here's the report card;

Student Name: Phoenix Suns  
Class: NBA   
Teacher: Beavis   
Grade: F   
Teacher Comments: Has been absent too many times. Needs to make up assignments. Could be more attentive in class. Fails to turn in assignments on time and scores low on test and quizzes, although has shown improvement.

I bet you lovely parents of these Phoenix Suns are sitting there thinking, "What is wrong with you Beavis, how could you give my child an F!" Well, if I really were a teacher I'd give the Suns a D- because I believe that if you can successfully do at least half the work that should warrant you a passing grade. Unfortunately the NBA doesn't work that way at least in the West. The Phoenix Suns are currently sitting with a 27-27 record. That's a 50% grade, doy. In most places that means your failing and in the case of the Suns that's exactly what's happening. They're sitting 10th right out-side of the playoffs. Yea, I wouldn't call that passing.

Good news is that their fellow classmates and competition right ahead of them aren't doing so well and may even be on for a downfall. Sometimes out-side influences can affect your performance in class. It sucks, but that's just how things are, screws fall out all the time, the world is an imperfect place. The Utah Jazz just had a nasty break-up with their coach and now star point-guard, yea, so they're not doing so well. The Nuggets best player just moved and who knows how his friends back in Denver will cope? Rudy Gay from the Grizzlies hurt his shoulder and will be absent for 4 weeks and OJ Mayo just recently returned from a 10 game suspension for steroids. Yup, just like school.

You see there is still hope and I believe the Suns can and will if they give it all they got, make the playoffs. Unfortunately, they'll need to do much better next year if they want to get that scholarship.


Onto the actual game preview which I'm sure is the only reason you've stuck it out and read this much this far. Reading can be a lot of work, I know, I've been there.


The Actual Game preview

You guys and gals all remember Joe Johnson right? Got traded to the Hawks for that French guy back in 05 who later got traded for some guy named Jared Freaking Studley. Well, he's still there in Atlanta averaging 19,5,and 4. I'm sure we all remember Josh Smith and Al Horford and how we wanted to trade for them or one of them right? Well, I still do. Josh is averaging 17 and 9, Al 16 and 10. We could sure use one of them. How about we trade Lo...kidding...sort of. 

Now the Hawks are a good team. They have a 34-21 record, but are losers of their last 3 of 4 games.

"We've got a lot of work to do, a lot of things we need to clean up and we will do that," Drew said. "This league can do that to you when you don't stick to what you know and what works for you. And in some respects, we've strayed away from our plan here lately."

Not the way they wanted to enter the all-star break, so I'm sure coming out of the break they'll be more determined to kick butt. That's not good news for these Suns. I hope they see my report card on them and become even more determined to kick some butt than those stupid pigeons. 

Well, I'm sorry, but I'll have to leave this preview a bit short because I'm hungry(time for dinner) and because I spent too much time sharing my life stories and comparing the Phoenix Suns to a school boy.

With that said, I hope these very interesting links can compensate for a short preview. Enjoy!

Young at Heart-"This is the first team I’ve ever been on where there are contests regarding how well you eat," Childress said. "Everybody will get on Jared Dudley just for eating a slice of pizza, and that’s just different, and it starts with Steve and his strict regimen. He’s just methodical in how he does it. He’s like a machine, and that’s why he’s able to play at the level he plays at his age."

Vote for the Gorilla as the "Most Awesome Mascot"!- Only 3 days left so hurry.

Dennis Rodman among finalist for Hall of Fame- He'll also have his jersey retired by the Pistons. He said if he makes the Hall of Fame he'll do something crazy. Now that's a speech I don't want to miss.

NBA Hoping to speed up games with warning horns

Peachtree Hoops



So who's your favorite Ninja Turtle?

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Deron Williams to the Nets

Good For the Suns, No? As the Dealine Nears, Feel Free to Post Links to the Newest Deals or Rumors

As the Phoenix Suns prepare to make their post-All-Star break run at a playoff spot, the ValleyoftheSuns staff answers three critical questions that pertain to the rest of the year. Which Sun most...

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There aren’t many teams in the NBA that won’t be affected by the New York Knicks’ acquisition of Carmelo Anthony from the Denver Nuggets on Monday. Be it through ensuing trades,...

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Constant Hustle + Goran Dragic = More Second-Half Wins  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

On yesterday's rosterbation post, the second most popular option selected was to STAND PAT. That's a telling selection, considering the point of the post was to induce trade ideas. Human nature tends to follow the lead, so most people picked one of the available trades.

But you all saw promise in this Suns team, just as it stands today. Why? I'll tell you.

In the past 18 games, nearly 25% of the regular season schedule, the Suns have been one of the best teams in the league with a 12-6 record. While a handful of those games were against patsies, the Suns went 6-2 against winning teams in that stretch.

That 12-6 stretch is a good sign for the second half. The "Gorpez" (Marcin Gortat + Robin Lopez) has been playing great for 45+ minutes a night. Channing Frye is averaging more rebounds than ever. Steve Nash is Steve Nash, and BAMF is BAMF. The Suns are playing top-10 defense while still fielding a top-10 offense. That's a very nice combination.

Hit the jump for some eye-popping numbers and a break-down of the second-half schedule. (hint: it's in the Suns' favor!)

(Note: if you don't enjoy reading stats in the middle of paragraphs, skip straight to the bullet points)

The Suns' Improving Defense

After giving up a near-record-setting 111.2 points per 100 possessions in their first 36 games up to and including the Denver debacle -- including 20 of 25 opponents (80%) scoring better than their season average! -- the Suns have dramatically tightened the ship.

Before going further, let's put that 111.2 rating in perspective. This year's worst defensive efficiency through the all-star break is Cleveland at 110. Last year, it was Toronto at 110.2. You have to go back to 2009 to find a worse defensive efficiency than the Suns' 36 games - Sacramento at 111.9.

Then the Suns committed to playing defense, starting with a 3-hour practice the day after losing a laugher to Philadelphia on December 29.

In the last 18 games, the Suns have held their opponents to 102.3 points per 100 possessions, a whopping 9 fewer points per contest. That would slot the Suns in the top third of the league.

The result is evident in the W-L column. The Suns' record through 36 games: 15-21. The Suns record the last 18 games: 12-6.

Before you argue that the Suns have been playing easy competition, read this: the Suns' last 8 opponents have an average offensive efficiency of 105.3, which is above the league median. A smoke and mirrors defense would fold at this point right? Not so. The Suns' defensive efficiency in that same 8-game span actually got BETTER at 101.5. That's Top-5 level, against quality offenses, and showing even further improvement along the way.

The fact is, the Suns are playing consistent, quality defense. They have held 9 of their last 15 opponents to fewer points than their season average.

Bullet points for those who prefer them:

  • "points per 100 possessions" (or, pts/100p) is an easy way to compare all NBA teams, regardless of how fast or slow they play
  • League average: 104.2 pts/100p
  • Suns defense first 36 games: 111.2 pts/100p (by far the worst in the league)
  • Suns defense last 18 games: 102.3 pts/100p (would rank top 10)
  • Suns defense last 8 games, against good offenses: 101.5 pts/100p (would rank top 5)


The Suns' Consistent Offense

Despite the fact that the Suns are struggling to find a go-to option late in close games, their offense is just as potent now as it was early in the season, which was just a notch below last season's record-challenging numbers.

The league average is right about 104 points per 100 possessions. In the last 18 games, the Suns' offense clicks in at 107.6, just a tick below the early-season offense with Hedo and JRich of 109.2. (Recall, that's also when the Suns defense surrendered 111 points on those same possessions).

Even more impressive: that 107.6 number has been against slightly above-average defenses (103.3 collectively), so it's not like the Suns have been feasting on bad defenses across the board.

More bullets for those who prefer them:

  • League average: 104.2 pts/100p
  • Suns offense first 25 games: 109.4 pts/100p (top 5)
  • Suns offense middle 11 games, post-trade through Denver meltdown: 104.3 pts/100p
  • Suns offense last 18 games: 107.6 pts/100p (top 7)


Offense plus Defense

Over the last 18 games, the Suns are fielding a Top 7 offense along with a Top 10 defense against league-average competition. That's pretty darn good.


Two Known Problems

Of course, we know it's not all rosy in Sunsland.

For one thing, they're still losing to bad teams. In this 12-6 stretch, 4 of the losses are to LOSING teams (Philly, Detroit, Charlotte and Sacramento). Yuck. While the Suns were 6-2 against winning teams, they were only 6-4 against losing teams. Talk about inconsistency. That needs to stop - the Suns' effort needs to be there from the opening tip to the closing buzzer.

The other known problem is late-game scoring. At first blush, you'd think this is a new problem since Amare left.

WRONG. Actually, according to this analysis on ESPN's Truehoop blog, over the last FIVE seasons the Suns are 28th in the league in clutch scoring:

Over the last five years, in the final 24 seconds of games his team trailed by a point or two, or were tied, the Hornets have scored 102 points on 86 possessions (as of a few weeks ago). That's an offensive rating of more than 118 points per 100 possession.

Remember that number. 118.

Now, consider that most of the NBA is below 85, and 27 teams are below 100. That's a blowout.

Only the Magic and Blazers are even close (at 107 and 104, respectively). The Cavaliers had LeBron James most of that period, and come in ninth, at 96. The Lakers are 14th at 83. The Celtics rank 20th at 78. Steve Nash's Phoenix Suns are way down at 28th on the list, while the Rockets are dead last, with an offensive rating just about half of the Hornets'.

It's not the final word in the crunch time debate, by any means. It's a small sample, as these situations are rare -- the Clippers have had just 71 such possessions over the five years, the Celtics top the list with 120. And there is no end of ways to tweak the parameters for different outcomes.

28th in the league, dating back 5 seasons? Really?

Well, the more I think about it the more I remember close loss after close loss. Oh well. I guess the key to this is avoiding these situation as much as possible, which means getting more efficiency from the second unit at the beginning of the second and fourth quarters.

Goran Dragic is the key to this problem. He really needs to step up in the second half. If Dragic rediscovers his effectiveness, the Suns will have more wins wrapped up by mid-fourth quarter against those losing teams and we'll all live longer lives.


Where do we go from here - 28 Games Left

The Suns next 6 opponents are poor offensive teams, netting a collective 101.6 points per 100 possessions (bottom third). The 9 after that are a relative buzzsaw at a collective 106.3 points per 100 (top third).

More bullets:

  • League average: 104.2 pts/100p
  • Next 6 opponents' offenses: 101.6 pts/100p (poor)
  • The 9 offenses after that: 106.3 pts/100p (very good)
  • Overall, the 28 second-half opponents numbers:
    • Suns on offense: 107.6 pts/100p; Opponents' defense: 103.6 pts/100p
    • Suns on defense: 102.3 pts/100p; Opponents' offense: 104.6 pts/100p

In terms of the schedule and winning percentages:

  • 28 games remaining, opponent winning percentage .518
  • 15 of 28 games are on the road
  • 14 games against winning (+.500) teams, 14 games against losing teams
  • 8 of the Suns final 15 road games are against winning teams (4 of those in the final 10 days of the season: SA, CHI, NO, DAL)
  • 6 of the Suns final 13 home games are against winning teams
This is an eminently doable schedule to go on a big run.
With the Suns finally figuring out how to play defense, all they need now is consistent offensive production when Steve Nash rests.

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