December 2007 - Posts
The Suns completed a Away/Home sweep on consecutive nights against the short-handed LA Clippers on Friday night. After blowing the Clippers out in LA on Thursday, the Suns were primed for a letdown, but they held tough in the 4th quarter at home for the 2nd win.
A second consecutive strong offensive & defensive game by Amare Stoudemire has been the key. Let's hope he continues to play hard and get better as the season continues.
The Suns' Raja Bell fouled out late in the game w/ only 2 points, but he still played well enough for Phoenix to get the win. Barbosa also struggled on offense, but you tend to overlook that when the team wins. Shawn Marion played a decent game, but he didn't fill the stat sheet like he normally does - only 1 assist, block & steal tonight for "The Matrix".
Phoenix recorded a record 16 blocks in the victory tonight, including 3 by Amare & Grant Hill, and 4 from reserve Brian Skinner. The defense was exceptional on this night - LA was held to 35% shooting from the field, including only 11% from 3-pt range.
The Suns have had a renewed energy the past few games... I don't think it's just Amare. The entire team seems a bit re-energized and is recovering from their recent struggles.
I can't blame the Suns for laying a Christmas egg yesterday... hell, I wouldn't want to work either. That being the case, I doubt the LA Lakers wanted to work either, but at least they played a worthy game. The Lakers' win over the Suns puts Phoenix only 1 game up in the Pacific Division, with the surprising Lakers in second (& rising). The past 3 years (or more), the Suns have really struggled against the Lakers, while steamrolling virtually every other team (except the Spurs). No doubt, the multi-talented Bryan and Lamar Odom are a tough task for any defense, especially one featuring a less than 100% Raja Bell.
In addition to a great 2nd half & overall game by Kobe Bryant, LA was led by young center Andrew Bynum, who manhandled Phoenix' Amare Stoudemire. Not quite the outcome you'd expect, but Bynum sure played a great overall game. Amare simply couldn't (or wouldn't) cover Bynum in the paint or on easy screens. He repeatedly left Bynum open for easy dunks and scores. STAT also got outrebounded on the offensive boards, 2 (reb) to Bynum's 8.
Steve Nash played a terrific game for Phoenix, but the 1-2 combo of Bryant and Bynum was too much to handle. The Suns could not handle their scoring, while the Lakers' Lamar Odom was a monster on the boards as well (he had 14).
Phoenix has lost 5 of their last 8, so things are looking that bright today... however, it's still very early in the season & I'm sure that the Suns' players are just looking forward to the playoffs (yes, already). A number of other sports writers are talking about trade rumors involving Shawn Marion or breaking up the team since "it's obviously not working". They point out that Steve Nash is too old and the Suns are on their way down (not up). I strongly disagree, but only time will tell who's actually right. Yes, the Suns are struggling right now, but they've had Raja Bell in/out of the lineup during their troubles, so their defense is down a notch. The holidays can also take a lot out of you, so I expect everyone to get back into the flow after the New Year.
In other NBA news:
Chicago Bulls fire head coach Scott Skiles... this team is in shambles and someone had to go. While a lot of people are asking for John Paxson to step down, I think the only really bad move he's made is picking up Ben "Too old" Wallace.
Miami Heat lose to rebuilding 76ers, fall to last place in division. Wade can't rescue this team...
Atlanta Hawks are winning... no seriously, they are winning (for now). With a win over Pacers, Hawks move to 15-12, which is their best record since 1999.
The Suns got a bit of revenge Monday night against the San Antonio Spurs, their first meeting since last year's infamous suspension incident during the playoffs. The Spurs were without their point guard, Tony Parker, so they were not quite full strength. Tim Duncan had a monster game, but Phoenix held Ginobili and the other players well enough to get the victory. Grant Hill played exceptional down the stretch, but Marion's play was also critical to the victory. The matchup had the "air" of playoffs, so it was definitely a good test for the Suns, who still need to prove they can beat the San Antonio. If they find theirselves in a "fair" playoff situation this year, I think Phoenix will have the advantage.
Tonight, the Suns are facing the Dallas Mavericks and are having difficulties stopping them early in the first half. Dallas jumped out to a 17 point first quarter lead, but the Suns are within 4 at the half, so they've made up some ground. STAT was ineffective in the first, registering 2 fouls - his resurgence in the 2nd quarter coincides w/ the comeback attempt. The last play of halftime included a nice alley-oop shot for Shawn Marion.
Phoenix is already tied w/ San Antonio for the best record in the Western Conference (Spurs lost to Memphis tonight), so a victory will give the Suns sole posession of 1st place.
The Suns were doing great on a 5 game winning streak, but they're apparently starting to get tired, as evidenced by their last two games (both losses) to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Miami Heat (at home). After a great streak, including a team-best assist record and night after high scoring night, Phoenix just hasn't been able to muster enough to handle the two teams they should easily beat.
It's hard to pinpoint one specific reason for the two losses, but their shooting percentages are down and their defense has been pretty horrible. Miami was simply on fire from the outside and Shaq played a pretty good inside game against the height challenged Suns. While you can excuse them for losing to the Heat, it's another matter completely to lose to the 2-win Timberwolves.
During the streak, Amare was extremely reliable and consistant w/ his shot. In the past two games, he's struggled a bit notching only 19 points in the Heat loss.
If you look at the player's minutes per game, it would appear (on paper) that coach D'Antoni is doing a fairly good job of keeping his star's minutes limited.
Amare - 30 min/game
Nash - 35 min/game
Barbosa - 31 min/game
Marion - 37 min/game
Hill - 35 min/game
Bell - 34 min/game
*All minutes are rounded.
I think Nash's minutes are pretty low, but it seems like he's always in the game when you're watching on TV. I'm surprised that the coaches are pushing Grant Hill this much so early in the season, especially considering his injury history and fragile knees. Cross your fingers and hope the minutes don't catch up to him later on down the season. He's been getting better as the season progresses, but it would be a shame to lose him due to being overworked. The minutes Amare is getting are decent since he's still in the process of coming back from knee surgery. The other player's minutes are acceptable considering their age and athleticism.
Next up for the Suns are four tough opponents:
The Utah Jazz are playing like Western Conference contenders. Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams are playing as good (or better) than the old Stockton-Malone combination. The frontcourt will certainly put pressure on Amare and the other Suns' bigs.
The New Orleans Hornets are playing well due to Chris Paul's greatness. They have a decent team on paper - they just need to stay healthy.
San Antonio Spurs... I don't really need to explain this one.
The Mavs are playing horrible right now, but it's early in the season and you know they're capable of beating any team in the NBA. Like the Suns, I think Dallas is getting a little complacent early in the season... both teams are just looking forward to the playoffs and preparing for the Spurs.
If only the Suns could stay on their current road trip forever... Phoenix won their 5th straight Friday night against a Washington Wizards team trying to survive without superstar Gilbert Arenas. Phoenix had a franchise-high in assists, finishing w/ 42 total, including 19 by Steve Nash. Nash now has 4 straight games w/ at least 15 assists. Even more amazing than the Suns' assist total itself... the number of shots where an assist was made - an astounding 42 of 50 shots.
The free-for-all put the Suns on a 5 game winning streak, including 4-0 on the Eastern Conference road trip. Amare Stoudemire led the Suns w/ 27 pts and Raja Bell punched in 22 - 14 of them in the decisive 3rd quarter where the Suns took over the game.
Defensively, Phoenix did a great job shutting down the strong duo of Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler. Both players have picked up their games since Arenas went out, but the Suns held them to a combined 13-36 shooting and 16/12 pts, respectively. Much of the credit on defense has to go to Shawn Marion, who was guarding one or the other throughout the game.
The Suns play again Saturday against a pretty weak Timberwolves squad, and again on Monday against the struggling Miami Heat. Assuming they can take both games, Phoenix will move to 18-4 on the season. As of this writing, the Spurs are facing the Jazz and a San Antonio loss would put the Suns in 1st place (Western Conference). Tim Duncan is out for the Spurs, so the Suns are taking full advantage by trying to win as many of their games as possible - to assure homecourt advantage in the playoffs.
The Phoenix Suns defeated the Indiana Pacers Tuesday night in an early game, 121-117. After losing to the Rockets last week, the Suns have recovered and won 3 straight, including a quality win over the much improved Orlando Magic, another over the Knicks and now the third over the Pacers.
Amare Stoudemire was on fire for the Suns, but they needed a late 3-pointer by Steve Nash and some clutch free throw shooting to hold off the new-look, uptempo Pacers. STAT finished w/ 42 pts and 13 rbs, while Nash finished with 18 pts and 17 assists. Shawn Marion also contributed w/ his typical double-double - Grant Hill and Raja Bell also contributed double figures in scoring.
Phoenix only used an 8 man rotation, which could come back to bite them Wednesday night when they take on the Toronto Raptors. They will also play another doubleheader this weekend against the Wizards and Timberwolves. Marcus Banks didn't get in the game - my feeling is that this is a bad sign early in the season. D'Antoni cannot continue to play Nash so many minutes or he's going to breakdown too early in the playoffs (or before them).
I honestly feel bad for former Suns player and current Knick Stephon Marbury, who's father died during the Suns-Knicks game the other day. While Marbury has made an ass out of himself on the court (& leaving his team), he didn't deserve not to be told about his father's hospitalization at hafltime. To make matters worse, coach Isiah Thomas apparently withheld the information for more than 45 minutes after the game. If all of the story is true, the Knicks organization is truly screwed up... No Class.