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Game 50 Preview: Suns vs. Blazers

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Can you believe we're 50 games through the season already?  32 more and we'll be in another off-season (complete with draft talk, trade speculation, summer camp reports, and all that stuff).

A Look at the Suns

What can we say about the Suns that's not common knowledge?  Not much, considering they're the most popular team in the universe right now.  (OK, the Xyblot Foredingers from Zeti-Seven might give them a run for their money, but only because they field a teams of mostly-nekkid cheerleaders.  But those girls can all dunk from the foul line so it's legit.  Anyway...)  Despite our familiarity with the squad and its players and their weird obsession about who's going to be the eighth man (something that's been mentioned, like, 92 times on every Suns broadcast I've watched) you don't really realize exactly what they're doing until you take a look at the numbers.  These guys aren't just a gimmick style or a pretty face.  Check it out:

#1 in the league in points scored at 111.3.  The nearest competitor is Washington, more than four points lower.  This is insane.

#1 in the league in point differential at +8.8 a game.

#1 in the league in field goal percentage at 49.9%.  The nearest competitor is Utah more than two percentage points lower.  This is even MORE insane.  Do you realize that there are only 21 non-Phoenix players in the entire league who shoot that percentage as individuals?  As a team they shoot what the good low post players hit!

#12 in the league in opponent field goal percentage.  #12 isn't that shiny compared to those #1's but it shows you that they're not just running up the score.  They're actually a middling defensive squad also.  Coupled with their offensive dominance that's plenty.

#1 in the league in three-point percentage at 40%.

Tied for #1 in the league at defending the three-pointer, allowing opponents to shoot only 33% from that range.

#2 in free throw percentage at nearly 81%.

#1 in assists at 26.7 per game.  (Utah is next with 2 fewer per game.)

#3 in opponent assists allowed (18.6 per game).

#1 team at assist/turnover ratio (1.87)

#1 team at not getting their shots blocked.  (Not that this matters so much, but hey, we go the extra mile for you here.)

And it's not like the Suns are just scraping by with these #1's either...as if we're just catching them at the right spot in the season.  You know that difference in field goal percentage between them and Utah?  You could fit 20 teams in that sized gap a little farther down on the chart.  That is truly scary.

The Suns have six players averaging double figures and typical of a Steve Nash team everyone they touch gets better.  (Marc Cuban didn't want to pay who for what now?)  The only stat that shows any kind of chink in their armor is offensive rebounding, where they just get obliterated by 3.5 rebounds a game.  That's part of their game plan though.  "You go ahead and rebound that there.  What?  You put it in?  BAM!  We just scored while you were still under the bucket.  Want to go best two out of three?"

In short, this whole thing is just sick, sick, sick.  BUT...we did play them tough in Phoenix the last game.  They did not come out ready to play, had a very sloppy game, and we were within two in the closing seconds.  But for a few extra free throws for them and some typical Nash heroics at the end we could have walked out of there with a win.  We did walk out of the Rose Garden with a convincing win against them last year when we were a much worse team.  (If you recall that was our last hurrah for the season before we proceeded to lose the next 30 out of 32 or so.)  The Suns are 2-2 since their long streak ended and Steve Nash is having shoulder problems and had to leave last night's contest against Denver.  (Will they be tired?)  A victory is possible if things tilt right, it's just not very likely.

What I'd Like To See:

  1.  When you're playing Phoenix it's all about Zach.  When he has a big game against them we do well.  Last time out he got 36 points and 15 rebounds while shooting 61% on 28 shots.  That's the kind of thing that has to happen if we're going to win.  Truth be told they can't handle him all that well down low.  However if he starts out shooting 1-10 again they're going to be so far ahead by the time he gets it going that it really won't matter.
  2.  Speaking of...if we come out shooting all jumpers we are dead, dead, dead.  We need to drive like the Terminator was after us.
  3.  The slow-down game worked fairly well in Phoenix.  I doubt it'll be so successful for so long this time, but we still don't want to see any shots in the first half of the clock unless they're layups.
  4.  We better grab a clue about how to guard a pick and roll.  Here's how it's going to go:  Steve Nash (if playing) is going to get everybody else involved as long as they think they have the game under control.  The minute we even begin to threaten they're going to run that Nash pick and roll all over the place.  If we go under the pick he's going to hit the shot.  If we chase him around it he's going to drive and score if we don't collapse and dish if we do.  If we do that stupid switch on everything routine he'll burn our big man and pick us apart with the pass.  The only solution is for both defenders, big man and guard alike, to be alert and jump him quickly.  Then the big man has to recover like lightning before Nash can get a pass away to his man.  Our other defenders also have to be ready to help in case the big man rotation doesn't go as planned.
  5.  If you're not going to get back in transition you might as well not even start the game.  I'd say three unopposed layups in the game would be enough for Phoenix to build an insurmountable margin (considering how well they score otherwise).   If you don't let those three layups go maybe you're close enough down the stretch to make a difference.
  6.  You want wisdom?  Here's wisdom.  Turn Steve Nash into a scorer.  Don't let Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion go off big.  Teams who have done that have managed better against the Suns than teams who allowed the reverse.  The Suns can easily win with Nash scoring 10 because he'll have 15 assists to go along with that.  But if Stoudemire and Marion aren't scoring that means Nash's passes aren't getting to them.  You can live with him scoring 30 then.  If Nash isn't playing because of his shoulder this becomes triply true.  Let anyone else score all they want, just not those two forwards.
The Blazers should be out for blood in this game after the last one in Phoenix and after that close loss to Chicago.  We'll see if that's enough to make any kind of dent.  I will be here chatting during the game.  We'll see if the fast action allows for coherent typing.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)