They may be down...but they haven't given up

Coming out of the NBA All-Star break, the Phoenix Suns were one of the hottest teams in the league going 9-2 over their first 11 games. The Suns who came into the All-Star break with a very underwhelming record of 14-20 over the first half of the season suddenly began playing very well together and clicking on both sides of the court.

For the first time all season, the Suns seemed to be figuring it out ... and they appeared poised to overtake some of the teams clustered at the bottom of the eight playoff spots.

This led many fans and even some analysts to begin taking the Suns seriously again as possible playoff contenders in the Western Conference and recognizing them as one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA who seemed to be peaking at just the right time.

However, since that time the Suns have seemingly crashed back down to Earth losing four of their last six games. The Suns had gone from a losing record to getting back to .500, to a winning record and then back to .500, and now back to a losing record once again.

So what happened?

Well, there are many possible explanations for what has taken place over the last six games, and I will attempt to identify some of the most logical causes ... as well as make some predictions about what could be in store for the Suns over the last 15 games of the season.

Read on after the jump for a breakdown

The Analysis:

First, let's look at the 11 teams the Suns faced after the All-Star break when they went 9-2:

Minnesota Thu 03/01 W 104 - 95
Los Angeles Clippers Fri 03/02 W 81 - 78
Sacramento Sun 03/04 W 96 - 88
@ Oklahoma City Wed 03/07 L 104 - 115
Dallas Thu 03/08 W 96 - 94
Memphis Sat 03/10 W 98 - 91
Minnesota Mon 03/12 L 124 - 127
Utah Wed 03/14 W 120 - 111
@ Los Angeles Clippers Thu 03/15 W 91 - 87
Detroit Fri 03/16 W 109 - 101
Houston Sun 03/18 W 99 - 86

Looking at these games the first thing I noticed is that seven of these games were against teams who are currently positioned to make the playoffs (L.A. Clippers twice, OKC Thunder, Dallas, Memphis, Utah, Houston). The Suns went 6-1 in these games ... pretty good. However, only one of these teams was considered a real top-tier team, and that was the OKC Thunder who they happened to lose to. Also, nine of these games were also played at home and only two were played on the road ... Hmmm. The Suns went 8-1 at home and went 1-1 on the road. This could be significant.

Now let's take a look at the last six games in which the Suns went 2-4:

@ Miami Tue 03/20 L 95 - 99
@ Orlando Wed 03/21 L 93 - 103
@ Indiana Fri 03/23 W 113 - 111
@ Cleveland Sun 03/25 W 108 - 83
San Antonio Tue 03/27 L 100 - 107
@ Los Angeles Clippers Wed 03/28 L 86 - 103

Looking at these last six games there are some noticeable differences from the first 11 games above. This time, five of the six teams are currently positioned to make the playoffs, and two of the six teams are top-tier (Heat, Spurs) of which the Suns lost both. And of course the most obvious difference is that all but one of these games was on the road, and that sole home game was against the 35-14 Spurs ... Not exactly a gimme.

The Explanations:

So by looking at the Suns' success in the first 11 games vs. their last six, it becomes obvious that these games in which the Suns have struggled lately were against not only tougher competition, but they were also nearly all on the road. This alone is probably sufficient reason for the recent struggles.

But could there be more to it than just that?

I believe so. Despite playing against some very tough competition over these last six games, the Suns have still been competitive even in most of their losses. For instance, the Suns should have won the game against the Miami Heat, but the Suns couldn't hold their 10 point 4th quarter lead with seven minutes to go. The Heat are a talented team and once they got some momentum they became energized by the home crows and were simply too much for the Suns to handle.

The game against Orlando was an aberration as Marcin Gortat had a horrible game against his former team and the Suns just never stood a chance. But other than that, the Suns were in a position to win all three of the other losses.

So why couldn't they pull out these wins like they had been doing in the first 11 games?

Well, in addition to playing against tougher teams in mostly hostile environments, the Suns have been without their defensive leader in two of the four losses -- missing Grant Hill in the last two games against the Spurs and the Clippers. I'm sure those of you reading this already know how important Grant Hill's defense is to the success of this team, so I won't go into the details here, but in these last two games without Hill we have struggled to get stops when we needed them most, and I believe that was a big part of why the Suns lost.

Not only that, but Steve Nash was playing with a bad back against the Clippers and throughout half the game against the Spurs as well. With Nash limited offensively he was unable to carry the team as he sometimes must, and coupled with the absence of Hill this made it even more difficult for the Suns to compete at their highest level possible.

Don't get me wrong though, there were other factors that contributed to the losses that were certainly within the Suns control, specifically in last night's game against the Clippers. These explanations are only intended to give possible reasons as to why these losses occurred, not to make excuses for anyone. In my opinion, the bench was lacking in energy and hustle and the team as a whole didn't seem to be playing with much intensity or a sense of urgency. It's hard to say if this was because of fatigue from a hard fought game against the Spurs before having to travel to L.A. to play the Clippers last night, or if it was something mental ... but either way, the Suns have to play with more energy and hustle if they want to win these types of games.

The Future:

So what does this mean? What can we look forward to in the next 15 games?

Well let's take a look at all the remaining games on our schedule:

New Orleans Sun 04/01 7:00 PM MDT
@ Sacramento Tue 04/03 8:00 PM MDT
@ Utah Wed 04/04 7:00 PM MDT
@ Denver Fri 04/06 7:00 PM MDT
Los Angeles Lakers Sat 04/07 8:00 PM MDT
@ Minnesota Mon 04/09 7:00 PM MDT
@ Memphis Wed 04/11 6:00 PM MDT
@ Houston Fri 04/13 6:00 PM MDT
@ San Antonio Sat 04/14 7:00 PM MDT
Portland Mon 04/16 8:00 PM MDT
Oklahoma City Wed 04/18 8:00 PM MDT
Los Angeles Clippers Thu 04/19 8:30 PM MDT
Denver Sat 04/21 3:30 PM MDT
@ Utah Tue 04/24 7:00 PM MDT
San Antonio Wed 04/25 8:30 PM MDT

The good news is that the Suns have a larger mix of home games going forward than we've had over our last six matches. The bad news is the road games still outnumber the home games 8-7. On the other hand, while 11 of these last 15 games are against currently positioned playoff teams, only four of these games will be against top-tier teams (Spurs twice, Thunder, Lakers), and of those four games only one of them is on the road.

Also, the Suns will probably see the return of Grant Hill and their defense as early as this Sunday against the New Orleans Hornets, and hopefully this three-day rest will also give Nash a chance to rest and heal his back. Even after these last four losses, the Suns are still currently sitting in the 10th spot and only two games behind the 7th and 8th seeds. On top of that, the Suns will play each of the three teams currently ahead of them in the standings before the end of the season (Utah twice, Denver, Houston), and they are all winnable games.

With both of their veteran stars back and healthy, and assuming they can remain that way throughout the duration of the season, the Suns should still have one more playoff push left in them and will be looking to finish the season strong. So don't give up Suns fans. These last six games may have seemed like the wheels had fallen off the bus, but the way I see it, they just took an almost unavoidable detour and are now getting right back on the road to victory. Sure, the road may get bumpy along the way but the Suns are still on the right track and remain very capable of making the playoffs.

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Steve Nash was on the Dan Patrick Show Thursday morning and also made an appearance on the B.S. Report with Bill Simmons. Steve didn't say anything we hadn't heard before, but sometimes those of us too close to the situation take for granted that everyone has heard all this before.

It's also good to hear it all in one place and while I'm not the biggest Simmons fan, he's a fantastic interviewer and the conversation is very good. Check it out.

B.S. Report: Steve Nash - The Triangle Blog - Grantland
Steve Nash swings by to discuss Phoenix's improbable playoff run, being in so many trade rumors, the current point guard boon, how the lockout-shortened schedule has affected him, Mike D'Antoni's legacy (and whether it worked), his favorite Suns team, Dirk's first title, the time he played pickup hoops in a Scottsdale health club and got his butt kicked, and why Lionel Messi is the greatest athlete on God's green earth.

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Steve Nash's back is starting to fail him and the results are both predictable and expected. We also discuss observations from the NCAA West Regionals in Phoenix, Boris Diaw on the Spurs, the Lakers drama, and of course, update the playoff standings.

Hosted by Bryan Gibberman and Seth Pollack and presented by Arizona Sports 620 and SB Nation Arizona.

Subscribe on iTunes or stream online after the jump.

For the latest AZ sports, follow us on Twitter @SBNArizona and "Like" us on Facebook.


Lance Blanks has been sent to China to check on Aaron Brooks. The Guandong Tiger is averaging 21.9 points, 4.7 assists and 1.9 steals a game. He is currently playing in the CBA championship against Stephon Marbury's club, the Beijing Ducks.

So what is the story behind the visit? Blanks is saying a lot of kind things, which could lead one to believe the Suns are hoping for the 27 year old point guard to return to the desert. Said Blanks: "The trip is more about a relationship that we have with someone who has worn a Suns' uniform. Aaron is a part of the Suns family, so we thought it was important to take the time to see him in China."

Hm. I think that's a little over the top. This sounds a little more truthful to me:

"Going over to China will give us a chance to sit down with Aaron and see where his head is, in terms of his experience in China and his future ..."

Check out the full article and decide for yourself:

Suns GM Headed to China to Visit Brooks

And if you missed it, Alex Laugan wrote a nice piece on the intricacies of a potential Brooks return and or trade.

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What's that in his eyes?  Fire?  Passion? The reflection of a unicorn? Maybe it's determination.  Keep an eye on those Wolves.  Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-US PRESSWIRE

Well ... we all knew this stretch of games would be tough. But the bad start to the season has the Suns in a tight spot where every game really does matter. We started yesterday 1.5 games back of the 9th ... er 8th ... er 7th spot, and with the loss to the Clips last night we slid to two full games back.

But the good news is that both Utah and Denver lost last night. That continues to give the Suns hope that they can still catch up if they can somehow end their current funky skid and remember how they were playing just a week or so ago. Putting the fate of your playoff appearance in the hands of other teams is not the most enjoyable way to make the playoffs -- we all know that from experience.

Updated Western Conference Standings Via


Key Games Thursday, March 28:

- Denver Nuggets (9) LOST to the Toronto Raptors, 96-105

Nuggets at Raptors recap: Denver falls flat in fourth, lose in Toronto

There is a saying by mothers out there that goes, "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all."

Well, the Nuggets lose to the Raptors 105-96 and get outscored from the 1:46 mark in the 3rd quarter to the game's end 26-11. The Nuggets missed 15 straight shots in the fourth quarter and lose again in embarrassing fashion to a team that is supposed to be inferior, on paper.

Very good news for the Suns - the Denver Nuggets are our first target to surpass.

- Minnesota Timberwolves (11) BEAT Charlotte Bobcats, 88-83

A Post-Feral, Nearly-Domesticated Report Card. Bobcats 3/28

I have to admit that I had misgivings about this game and whether we had enough healthy bodies to be competitive with the Bobcats. They have a lousy record, but are not mincemeat as they proved tonight. Once they get a bit more talent and a few years of experience, they can be serious competition for anyone! Somehow another spectacular game from the best power forward in the NBA this year, coupled with a point guard had a really solid game, a reserve forward who had a good game, and not much else was enough tonight. Let's hope Beas and Pek and Barea can give us some minutes here soon, the Misfit Toys are looking worse for the wear....

Keep an eye on the T-Wolves ... that Kevin Love is a bad man.

- Utah Jazz (7) LOST to the Boston Celtics, 82-94

Jazz Vs. Celtics Post Game Thread: Utah falls 82-94, and Kevin Garnett is still kinda mean

Anyway, Jazz were up by one, then the Ghosts of Boston Garden got all influential, and before you knew it the Jazz were down. And down big. Our boys fought back, but missed free throws and missed opportunities only succeeded in frustrating our players and fans -- and did not help the Jazz leave town with a win.

Kevin Garnett is a _________ Please fill in the blank/s in the comment section ...

- San Antonio Spurs (2) BEAT the Sacramento Kings, 117-112

Eff the Spurs. They still roll.

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