Game 15 Preview: Suns vs. Blazers

A Look at the Suns

Everybody knows Phoenix, right?  They're the super-duper, runnin'-gunnin', 21st-century-meets-1980's throwback team that's going to run away with the title this year.  So far they're 6-6.  So what's happening to that guaranteed title run?

It's not so much that the Suns have dropped off individually.  Steve Nash still gets 20 points and 11 assists.  Shawn Marion tallies 19 points, 9 boards, and almost 2 steals.  Barbosa adds 19 points and 5 assists, Bell 15 points, Stoudemire 14 points and 7 boards, yadda-yadda-yadda.  This team is a stats factory.  Different guys may come through on different nights, but they're all talented, pretty active, and can score enough to beat the pants off of you before you even know your belt's unbuckled.

What's ailing Phoenix seems like a case of Post-Best-Year-Blues...the ailment that happens when you go deep into the playoffs because of your year-long commitment and attention to detail and then come out the next season realizing that you have to play 82 whole games (plus pre-season, plus training camp, plus practices) to get to that level again.  Concentration wavers and little things start to slip.  Phoenix is built on offense and running, right?  Defense comes after.  That's the way the system works, and it worked well last year when they allowed 102.8 points per game but scored 108.4.  But things are just a little bit off this season and early on they're scoring 105.9 and allowing 104.8.  Phoenix pretty much concedes the rebounding battle before every tip-off.  That's also built into their system.  Last year they gave up 45.9 and got 41.8.  This year they give up 45.3 but only get 38.9.  Those aren't startling swings, but that little bit is the difference between 9-3 and 6-6.  There's no magic system out there that will win you games on its own.  Every system relies on the heart, passion, and energy of the guys who are running it.  For whatever reason--Steve Nash's back injuries, acclimating to returning players, being given new contracts, trying to live up to higher expectations, or just a case of the early-seasons blahs--those things haven't been present this season.

That's not to say that the Suns won't still put a whoopin' on you though.  In fact they're starting to round into form in the last couple of weeks, winning five out of their last six.  Also their losses have been to the Clippers, the Lakers, the Spurs, the Mavericks, and the Jazz twice.  Those are some fairly high caliber teams.  The Suns have been mopping up against the mediocre (and lower) teams, which doesn't bode well for us.

Things I'd like to see:

  1.  Coming off a back-to-back and getting blown out in the first game, this game is going to be all about energy and heart.  With Phoenix's style Nate would have to reach deep into his bench anyway, and that will be more true tonight.  Every guy has got to come out ready to play.  I want to see Outlaw matching Marion's energy, Aldridge matching Stoudemire's, and Sergio matching Nash's.  They can't match their production, but they can play just as hard.
  2.  There is no way around it...there's just going to have to be some guard defense played tonight.  We cannot expose our big men to continual drives.  We cannot let their jump shooters go free.  Above all we cannot let the ball zip around with nary a disruption.  If we do, we will be carved up and our carcass boiled in broth with celery and onions.  We will not be able to stop Phoenix, but we've got to make it harder for them to play their game.
  3.  Consistent transition defense!  That means EVERYBODY, not just the guards.  Juan Dixon and Jarrett Jack aren't stopping Nash and Marion on the break.  Five Blazers together might.
  4.  The best way to slow down the fast break is to score yourself.  I'm not only looking at Randolph, I'm looking at Dixon, Outlaw, and Aldridge.  And if ever there were a night to have Webster step up to free up the lane for the drivers, this would be it.  Heck, we might even accept contributions from Dickau, Udoka, and Graham.  As those shyster TV Evangelists say, no amount is too big or too small!  These are going to be the guys that win it for us if we do win.  Zach's amazing 30 will be a drop in the bucket compared to what we'll end up needing.  (Which would be north of chalupas and straying into full-on free 7-layer burrito territory...)  Tonight's "X-Factor" is everyone but him.
  5.  Jamaal Magloire will not belong in this game.  You can outrebound the Suns and still lose by 20.  You can score on them in the post and still lose by 20.  We're going to be playing a ton of small ball.  The key to sustaining that is cutting, moving, passing, and penetrating instead of holding the ball and relying on somebody to bully the defense.  (Except for Zach...he gets to bully.)  You can get easy baskets against the Suns.  For Pete's sake take advantage of that!
This is the one and only time this year I've wished we had Darius Miles back.  We could sure use him for a game like this.  But you know what?  If we have heart we will stay within shouting distance and have a lot of fun doing it.  And this team has shown a lot of heart, especially at home.  Unlike last night I don't think this will be the blowout that everyone is expecting.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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