Tonight, the Portland Trailblazers will need to respond. They’ve had two days to recover from the hellacious 6 games in 8 days stretch in which they went 3-3. They also have had two days to stew in the sick of dropping a home game to Philadelphia. One in which both the defense and offense sputtered and left an overall bad taste in the mouths of nearly everyone. The task will not be easy. Their opponent in this national TV showdown: the Phoenix Suns.
If you will recall, the last time these two teams faced off Brandon Roy put on quite a show. Very entertaining. Sorry, I was singing Rhianna there for a second. Anyways, B-Roy went off on the Suns to the tun of 52 points and the Blazers finally beat the Suns at home for what felt like the first time in forever. But ladies and gentlemen, this is a much different Phoenix team that we’ll see tomorrow night.
Phoenix comes into tonight as one of hottest teams in the NBA right now. Cleveland has won 10 in a row and the Suns have the second longest current streak with 6 in a row. Their last two victories came over Denver and Utah and they look to continue their success over the Northwest Division with a win in Portland. It goes deeper than that though. Last time we saw Phoenix, Terry Porter was the head coach. He got canned. Alvin Gentry has taken control and is doing his best to take the Suns back to what they were when that one guy used to coach them. Since February 17th, Phoenix is only 12-8. But in those 20 games the Suns have scored in triple digits 18 times. 7 of those were 120+ and 13 were 110+. To say Alvin Gentry has opened things back up would be an understatement. The differences continue not just in coaching or style of play but the roster as well. Both Amare and Barbosa are done for the year. Even without two key cogs, this Suns team has found a way to…*gasp* be pretty stinking dangerous. It’s like plug and play with these guys. Everything tends to fall on the shoulders of four guys. Now it’s all on Steve Nash, Shaq, Grant Hill and Jason Richardson. Nash has gotten the shackles lifted off and has returned to ya know…being Steve Nash. Shaq has been rejuvenated all season and it has shown in his play, putting up numbers we haven’t seen since his first year or two in Miami. Not to mention he has caused problems for the Blazers in the three previous games.
(Sidenote: More importantly…this may have been his most entertaining year yet. I don’t think its even close. Think about it…dancing with the Jabbawockeez + Twitter + the Superman/King/Bowling Pin intros…I mean come on. And I know I’m missing some classic quotes in there somewhere. Is there a way we can keep him in the league forever?)
The key to the Suns recent success is the play of the last two men I mentioned. Grant Hill and Jason Richardson are playing some pretty dang great basketball and when they do this the Suns are extremely tough to deal with. I mean…that’s four pretty sick options when these two are rolling with a shooter in Matt Barnes. “For real SJ?? Old Man Hill and J-Rich?” Don’t believe me? Check out the stats of these two men in the last 5 games:
- Richardson: 26.8 points, 5 rebounds, 62.8% from the field (49-for-78), 51% from behind the arc (16-for-31)
- Hill: 18.0 points, 6.4 rebounds, 4 assists, 1.6 steals, 60% from the field (37-for-61)
Yeah. If these two continue to come close to putting up numbers like those, the Suns have a tremendous shot at stealing a playoff spot. It’s a big ‘if’ though. What’s more shocking to me is that the Suns now have effective role players. When have we ever been able to say that about Phoenix? Exactly. But it is true about these Suns. Matt Barnes has settled in at the 4 and has done a good job of slashing and rebounding as of late. Louis Admunson, Jared Dudley and Goran Dragic aren’t the scariest bunch but they have been very effective of late and are a big key in the Suns recent success. Dudley and Admunson are very active players who will D up and crash the offensive glass. The less effective these role players can be the better off the Blazers are tomorrow night.
The Suns however are not unbeatable. They are still on the outside looking in on the crazy Western Conference playoff picture. Prior to this 6-game winning streak, the Suns went on a 6-game losing streak. A losing streak that seemed to knock them out of the playoff race for good. Tonight’s game will mark their third game of the week and the second of a back-to-back. We’ve all seen the nifty stat on ESPN that shows how Shaq struggles if he doesn’t get his adequate hibernation time. Their bench, while effective is not scary. Outside of three guys they cannot shoot the three anymore. Despite how tough of a matchup Phoenix has been, it’s a very winnable game.
Keys to success:
- Attack inside. Matt Barnes is their 4 man, I repeat…Matt Barnes is their 4 man. If he starts on LMA, I want LMA in the post to get established instead of the pick-and-pop. Hopefully all of the concussion has worn off and he can get back to playing how he was before, which was pretty stinking good. Getting Shaq in foul trouble is a major plus as I don’t mind seeing Admunson or Stromile Swift having to defend inside.
- Make Richardson or Hill have a rough night. As I stated before when both of these guys get it going the Suns are just stupid tough to guard. We’re not going to be able to shut the Suns down, they have too many possessions. However, you get Jason Richardson to struggle shooting or keep Grant Hill in front and it is a completely different story. I predict Steve Nash will be Steve Nash and Shaq will cause Pryz and Oden problems. Our perimeter defenders have to take on the challenge of stopping one of these two because I believe this is the heart of the Suns team. Get one of these guys to struggle and we should be in good shape.
- Do not settle. On Monday night, we settled for jumpers. Everyone was guilty. Phoenix is nowhere near in the same defensive league as Philadelphia. I want to see guys in attack mode. LMA in the post, B-Roy getting to the line, Oden with a couple dunks. Attack, attack, attack. You’re going to get the opportunities.
- Blake and Rudy, make shots. In case the Suns go to their 2-3 zone (which they did tonight), these two are going to have to be ready. I don’t want Blake shooting a gazillion times again but when he’s open he will have to knock it down.