It used to be that a visit from the Suns was the basketball equivalent of the Beatles coming to town. They invented their own genre and everybody wanted to see them. It's still kind of like that except now it's John, Paul, George, and Godzilla. And not only does Shaq have the ill-fortune (or grace) to be playing tuba in the string quartet, he's not even playing it that well. He's scored up to 15 points in a game for the Suns. Once he grabbed 14 rebounds. But he hasn't done both in the same game. His averages of 10.8 points and 10.4 rebounds for the Suns aren't abysmal, but you expect a little more from an acquisition like that, especially when the guy you traded away for him was averaging 16 and 10 himself. The Suns are 5-6 since the trade, 2-4 in the games in which Shaq has played. That's a little more Backstreet Boys than Beatles.
Nevertheless the Suns are quite capable of tanning our hides tonight and in fact might be likely to do so. They're not going to take the whole rest of the season to adjust. They have too many good players for it not to work. Nobody's forgotten the bi-annual mauling Amare Stoudemire perpetrates on us. He doesn't go off every game, but it seems like it. He's already averaging 24 points a game even without our squishy interior defense. He's too athletic for Lamarcus to control single-handedly and too quick for Joel. We're going to have to double him. Steve Nash also makes us look stupid on a regular basis and we'll need assistance there too. Basically we need seven guys to defend them and we only get five. So do you leave Shaq open for offensive rebounds? Do you leave Leandro Barbosa or Raja Bell, both of whom can shoot the lights out? How about Grant Hill? After thirteen years in the league I doubt he'll have any idea how to attack a scrambling defense. The Suns may not have the manpower to win a world championship but they hardly need to in order to cause us trouble.
The Shaq-anchored Suns can still score the ball plenty. They've tallied in the mid 100-teens and over three times since he joined the active roster. They've also had a couple games in the 80's. Their big problem is that the defense has gone south quicker than a Wisconsin snowbird in October. They only allowed 77 points in their win against Boston. But check out these points allowed totals otherwise: 130, 116, 113, 120, 119. This brings up an obvious point, nearly unthinkable until this year: you can run on the Suns now. What used to be suicide is now a viable strategy.
The cat is out of the bag and the Suns are scrambling to cope. You know they aren't going to make it up in rebounding. Their free throw advantage has been surprisingly modest also. They don't force an inordinate number of turnovers either. It'll be interesting to see what is left up their sleeve. I'm sure they're viewing tonight as a chance to reverse their fortunes. I hope we're up to the challenge.
What I'd Like to See
- I don't think we're capable of winning a running game with even this lesser version of the Suns and I don't think we should try. However I do think we should take it right at Shaq every chance we get. Obviously Joel won't be posting him up or anything, but sending drivers down the lane is a decent plan. Our short-jumper game would also take advantage of his immobility if we can get by their exterior defenders.
- Joel has to stay in the game and guard Shaq tough. We're not going to be able to spare men to help him.
- I don't have a clue what we're going to do about Amare Stoudemire but I think I'd rather see Steve Nash become their leading scorer than Amare. Granted we'd probably still lose but if Nash is shooting at least he's not whipping the ball around. Plus he'll be shooting from distance where Amare would be dunking all night. If you choose one guy to double consistently, make it Amare.
- Speaking of, our big guys have some speed, so PLEASE use it to get back. Otherwise it's going to be a 50-point night for Stoudemire again.
- Even though I said that about Nash, one thing I don't want to see is our backcourt getting flummoxed by a simple pick on his man. You have to fight through those and at least challenge him. You can't do that Joel Przybilla switch thing, though he does need to show a little and recover. You can't go under the pick either. We have to hope this is one of the games where the refs don't allow the Suns to set any kind of moving pick they please (copyright: 2005-06). Assuming the pick-setter has to stand still you have to get around him, and quickly.
- As much as all of this other stuff, we simply have to hit our shots. Unless Phoenix self-destructs completely we're going to need another 100-point-plus effort to win it.