Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached the halfway mark of the 2010-11 NBA season. Time flies when you're on a roller-coaster. What may seem like only a few seconds of twisting, turning, gradual rises and sudden drops is in reality a number of minutes. That experience kind of sums it up for me so far this year and I think I might speak for all when I say I hope the crazy roller-coaster we've been riding is coming to an end. That way we can get off and go ride the ski-lift into the playoffs.
Currently the Suns are riding a season high 5 game winning streak (3rd longest in the NBA right now) after their win last night over the Washington Wizards. This win streak right now is the longest the Suns have had since a 10 game winning streak last year from March 14-April 2, 2010. Now for the challenge - finish up the last two games of their 5 game road trip strong - the team has already traveled over 3,678 miles, but can they go... the distance?!
Tonight's back-to-back match-up features a team that in my mind sparked a transformation in your current Phoenix Suns. It was 11 games ago that the Detroit Pistons came into Phoenix, only 2 days after an embarrassing loss to the Philadelphia 76ers (to extend a season-long losing streak to 4) where defensive breakdowns allowed them to post 123 points against us. It was only 2 days after new guy Marcin Gortat brazenly called out his teammates for lack of effort and lack of defensive motivation. He muttered,
"We are the worst defensive team in the league..."
"Are we going to be the best defensive team in the league tomorrow? No. But it's something that we talked about as players and we've got to commit to it and we've got to stay patient."
What was the result? Jump it to be reminded and to preview tonight's game!
The end result was a win and the best defensively played game of the year for the Suns. The final score read 92-75, not only was that win the first win for Phoenix this year when scoring under 100 points (1-9) but it was fewest points allowed since they held the Chicago Bulls to 74 points on November 9, 2004. It was 2 days earlier that the Suns scored 110 points and lost by 13 - now they had only scored 92 points and won by 17.
There's been a lot of talk about 'turning corners' lately here on the Bright Side. I see this game now in hindsight as a sort of a turning point, because after this defensive performance the Suns' offense took a nosedive. So why is it a turning point? Because things started to change. The Suns talked some talk - then they started walking some walk. The following 3 games were all disappointing losses (SAC, LA, NY) where the Suns failed to mesh offensively and failed to score over 100 points. Then for whatever reason a gritty win at home against the Cleveland Cavs prompted Alvin Gentry put his foot down on his 'rotation experiment' and decided to run a consistent starting line-up for 10 games over a span of approx. 2 weeks. Enter "The Two Weeks" of seasonal determination.
Until this point, Alvin's rotation experiment had called on 11 different starting lineups - it's now 12 with the current starting five of Nash, Carter, Hill, Frye and Lopez. THAT'S 12 DIFFERENT LINEUPS in 41 games... they used only 8 different lineups in 82 games last year. But the consistent lineup and growing chemistry between players is yielding results. The Suns are now 5-1 and tonight have a chance to return to .500 for the first time since they stood at 13-13. We've been talking and hearing about how the Suns are lacking chemistry and cohesion (those are the two most repetitive buzz-words) and how it will 'take time' - but the reality we're witnessing is that it really just takes winning. As awkward as it sounds, the recipe for winning and improved team camaraderie... is winning - and the Suns are doing just that. Now let's move on and remind ourselves of just who these Pistons are.
Let's take a look at some of the overall NBA ranked categories -
This might explain a bit why we were able to win by 17 and only score 92.. But still this team a potential threat just like any team in the NBA.
Steve Nash --- Rodney Stucky
Grant Hill ------ Tayshaun Prince
Well... if fatigue was a concern for the Suns coming into this game, you can rest a little easier knowing that the Pistons are also playing their 2nd game of a back-to-back tonight. Last night they faced the New Jersey Nets -> and lost by 15. They shot a season low 33.3 FG% which included a 4th quarter meltdown where they only hit 3 field goals on 15 attempts. Yikes. About the only good part of their game yesterday was the double techs issued to Tracy McGrady and Sasha Whooservilleitch at halftime when the two exchanged some words. Apparently we aren't the only ones who hate the dude.
Here was their box score -
|Final - 1.21.2011||1||2||3||4||Total|
|New Jersey Nets||21||25||21||22||89|
Interesting fact - Detroit's bench is averaging right around 39 points per game which is number 1 in the NBA. Our bench is averaging right around 37 points which is 4th or 5th. It's a good thing our bench is starting to play better because we will need their D and their O. Here's some of the reasons why Detroit's bench is so potent.
As for our bench - check this little tidbit also from Vince Kozar -
It's weird how we think they're struggling - but they seem to outscore the opposing bench with regularity.
You better believe Grant Hill is on the front page of the Piston's scouting report. Well - at least I know for a fact that he is one of the main topics of discussion for Pete Skorich and Steve Perry in an NBA.com Piston's video titled, "Scouting Report: Pistons v. Suns". He's currently the team's 3rd leading rebounder and this year he's already had 11 20+ point games -> he had only 5 in 81 games all of last year. The man has been playing out of his mind this year and I think he deserves his own special paragraph in this preview. BAMF FTW.
Alright - with that all out of the way my final thoughts before the game are this -
Plain and simple, keep the ball rolling.
I leave you with my favorite tweet of the week - courtesy of @SteveNash
Take some time to visit these -
5 game winning streak. The Suns are taking care of business and having fun while doing it. It wasn't pretty at first but they pulled out the win.
It was a tale of two halves with the Suns playing ugly and I mean ugly basketball in the first quarter. They missed 8 consecutive shots in the paint, had 8 turnovers and shot 35 percent from the field.
The bench came in in the 2nd quarter to clean up the mess. Goran Dragic, Marcin Gortat, Jared Dudley turned up the defense and offense cutting the lead to one after trailing by eleven. The Wizards were in the penalty early in the quarter and the Suns started to go to the line with almost seven minutes left to play in the half. But the Wizards wouldn't go away. The answered every single time the good guys were close to finally getting that elusive lead.
Nick Young was hitting from everywhere on the court. This kid is something special. Vince Carter was getting smoked with Young showing no mercy scorching him and the Suns defense with 20 points at the half.
I've criticised Gentry for not making good in-game adjustments but I felt this was one of the best coached games of the season. He put Hill on Young in the second half and BAMF completely shut him down. Young only scored 5 points in the second half.
Channing Frye was raining threes. He scored from everywhere on the floor. His shot was a thing of beauty today. Back to back to back threes form him helped the Suns finally get a comfortable lead.
The Suns have gotten in trouble in the 3rd quarter before but not today. Great defense and collective rebounding as well as a flowing offense helped the Suns put the Wizards away. They outscored Washington 31-18.
Vince Carter had missed his first 7 shots but finally came alive in the second half, hitting his outside shot and even dunking with authority. He finished the game with 12 points but grabbed 10 rebounds. I like that last stat.
Nash finished the game with 17 points and 14 assists. He got some rest tonight thanks to Goran who had a solid game and was part of that second unit who cut the lead.
The Suns were having fun after they took control of the game, the bench and the players on the court enjoying themselves good play after good play. They didn't let the Wizards back in the game and did what they were supposed to do... beat a young team.
Be sure to come back for more post game info and enjoy this win. We saw encouraging signs tonight. Go Suns!