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Every non-game day, Suns Rising will bring you some articles to check out while your favorite team isn't on the floor. From player profiles to random videos, you'll never be quite sure what you'll find among these links. 

Suns Headlines: 

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A huge strength of the Suns last season was their bench. With guys like Leandro Barbosa and Jared Dudley leading the way, the team relied on its depth to bring it to within two games of a berth in the NBA Finals. This season's collection of reserves might not get the same amount of publicity that last year's squad did, but as Paul Coro points out, they are performing better than any Suns reserve unit since the 2004-05 season. Really interesting read from him as always. [Arizona Republic

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The big story in Utah on Friday night may have been the absence on the Jazz bench of Jerry Sloan for the first time in nearly a quarter century, but that didn't matter to Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns as they used a great second half to beat Utah 95-83 in Salt Lake City. The loss was Utah's fourth in a row at home, and it couldn't have come at a worse time. It got the coaching career of Ty Corbin off to a bad start, and it continues a streak of mediocre play from a team that is quickly plummeting in the Western Conference standings. 

The game was just another win for the Suns, however, as they picked up their 11th win in their past 15 games and excelled in most areas of the game. Nash got yet another double-double with his 18 points and 10 assists, and he continues to impress even after turning 37 a couple of days ago. He only turned the ball over twice as well against a Jazz team that was actively trying to disrupt passing lanes, and he keyed the offense to an excellent second half where they outscored Utah 51-27.

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Before heading to Salt Lake City to face a Jazz team playing for the first time in 23 years under someone not named Jerry Sloan, the Suns had some business to attend to Thursday night when they battled the Warriors at US Airways Center. The matchup was their second of the week, and the second game followed a similar script to the first, as Phoenix dumped Golden State 112-88 in a laugher. 

The two big stars of the night for Phoenix were unquestionably Steve Nash and Channing Frye. Nash did turn the ball over seven times in his 27 minutes on the floor, but the more important stats for him were his 18 points and 11 assists. He was able to rest for the entire fourth quarter, a big advantage considering that he'll be going up against one of the best point guards in the league tomorrow night in Deron Williams.  He was very efficient in his shot selection, shooting 6-of-10 and 3-of-4 from beyond the arc. 

Frye also had a good shooting night, going 4-of-6 from downtown in a 17 point and 9 rebound performance. It once again illustrates the increased emphasis that Frye has put on his ability to patrol the glass, and it will be interesting to see as this team goes down the stretch whether or not that performance continues.

Before we get to what the Suns were able to do as a team, another individual performance has to be recognized. After signing a contract for the rest of the season on Tuesday, Zabian Dowdell had his best game in relief of Goran Dragic on Thursday, scoring 10 points, dishing out six assists, and even pulling down five rebounds in the victory. He saw a ton of playing time in this one since the Suns were ahead throughout the contest, and he certainly made the most of it. He probably won't get very much time on the court once Dragic returns from his foot injury, but it was still kind of neat to see him succeed, even if it was against the Warriors' scrubs.

Overall, Phoenix did a good job of moving the ball up court, especially in the first half when they really had the pedal to the floor. They outran the run-and-gun Warriors throughout the first 24 minutes, outscoring them on the rush 19-4. They also were excellent in holding onto the ball when they missed shots (a rare occurrence during that half), pulling down seven offensive rebounds. To put that number in context, the Warriors had nine boards combined in the first half. It was an end-to-end dominating peformance by a team who is looking to mount a charge with 32 games left in the season.

One other stat of note for this team was how well they shot as a whole behind the arc. They managed to knock down 12 of them, and while they've started getting away from that style of play as they've focused on their defense and slowing down the pace a bit, it was nice to see them getting aggressive against a team that was allowing them to get open looks on the perimeter.

This game also showed just how well the Suns' big men are playing as of late, as Robin Lopez got 12 points and 6 rebounds (including four on the offensive glass) in only 15 minutes of court time. Marcin Gortat also ended up with some respectable stats as well, scoring only six points but pulling down nine rebounds in 27 minutes. He did get into some foul trouble toward the end of the game, but with the outcome well in hand, Alvin Gentry simply put Garret Siler in for some rare minutes and watched him score four points in five minuets.

With the good feelings engendered by winning five of their last six games, the Suns are headed out for one more road game before their final sustained homestand of the season next week. This contest against the Jazz will have a strange feel to it with the Sloan drama still resounding through the building, and it will be up to Nash and the other veterans on this team to keep everyone in check.

 

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Every non-game day, Suns Rising will bring you some articles to check out while your favorite team isn't on the floor. From player profiles to news to random videos, you'll never be quite sure what you'll find in these articles. 

Suns Headlines: 

-Steve Nash celebrated his 37th birthday in style on Monday night, helping the Suns to a big win over the Warriors in the Bay Area. He also spoke with Paul Coro about the trade rumors surrounding him, and also about not being selected to the All-Star team. Good stuff from Mr. Coro. [Arizona Republic

-Zabian Dowdell, who has been filling in for the injured Goran Dragic (home accident) as of late, signed a contract to stay with Phoenix for the rest of the season. He is averaging 3.2 points per game in Dragic's absence. [USA Today

-Even though the Suns aren't doing nearly as well this year on the court as they were last year, their TV ratings are still up in Arizona. The Phoenix Coyotes.....not so much. [Phoenix Business Journal] 

-The Suns are trying to get back to .500 going into tomorrow's tilt with the Warriors, but the team isn't just looking at that. They are looking bigger picture as well. [Bright Side of the Sun

NBA Headlines: 


-In a bit of a shocker, Brandon Roy, who recently had surgery on both of his knees, has returned to practice and will be coming back to game action soon, just not this weekend. [ESPN

-Interesting article by Robby Lim about how the fate of the San Antonio Spurs hangs on the health of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. The real question is: can the Spurs survive if one of them were to be injured? Stats and answers await in this one. [Bloguin

-With the Bulls and Jazz looking to battle this evening, The Utah Jazz Blog takes a look at the matchup between Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap.  

-Finally, Scott Carefoot ranks his Top 10 Small Forwards. [The Basketball Jones

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Tonight's Thunder-Suns tilt will be a matchup not only of two of the West's hotter teams but also of two of the best point guards in the league, as Steve Nash and Russell Westbrook will go head-to-head at US Airways Center. 

To get a better feel for what to expect from this tilt, we turned to Bloguin's own Rob Kelley, author of the awesome blog Thunder Ballers. We asked him five questions about tonight's game, and his responses paint a great picture of what the Suns can expect.

Author's note: Rob also interviewed me about the Suns' chances in this game for TB. You can find that article here.  

1. Everyone has been ranting and raving about how amazing Derrick Rose has been this season with his 24.6 PPG and 8.2 APG. Russell Westbrook hasn't gotten nearly the amount of publicity that Rose has, but he has extremely similar stats. How important has Westbrook been to the Thunder, and why hasn't he gotten more notoriety league-wide?
Westbrook has been crucial to the Thunder's success this season. I would actually argue that for the first two months of the season, he was the team's MVP. Since then, Kevin Durant has really taken his game to the level that everyone expects out of him, so Westbrook's scoring numbers have dropped a little. But his assists are still right up there with some of the best point guards in the game. He is maturing faster than most would have expected, and he will continue to grow on this young, up and coming team.

 
2. Serge Ibaka is leading the Thunder by averaging over two blocks a game, and yet his playing time fluctuates a lot between games. What is keeping him from being a constant go-to guy for this franchise?
I can't tell you how many times I have been asked this question as of late. Unfortunately, I really don't have the answer. I would not only give Ibaka more playing time, but I would tinker around with inserting him into the starting lineup. I love his defense, and he can be explosive on the offensive side of the ball as well. I think that the more he demonstrates that he can handle more minutes, you will start seeing more of him in each game, especially in crunch time.
3. Cole Aldrich got called up by the team on Wednesday. As a first round pick last year, has he been a big disappointment for you, or do you just view him as a work in progress that'll just require some patience?
I may have to reserve judgement on that one for the moment. Sure, I would love to see a first round draft pick step right in and fill a role, whether it is a large one or smaller one. It's kind of funny. A couple of seasons ago, it was seen as a huge disappointment for a player - especially a first round pick - to be sent down to the D-League. Now, it is becoming far more common. Aldrich was a very solid player at Kansas. He was big on both of the ends of the floor, but college centers rarely translate into NBA big men. He reminds me of so many other big centers who played for great college programs, yet struggled to find their way in the NBA - Bryant Reeves, Eric Montross and others come to mind. Aldrich will certainly be a work in progress, but it could be a couple of years before we find out if he will be a bust or decent pick.
 
4. Marcin Gortat has been playing some excellent basketball lately, and is really pushing Robin Lopez for playing time. Is Gortat someone the Thunder will gameplan against, or are there other players on the Suns that require more attention?
The Thunder need to prepare for everyone. If you remember, the last time these two teams met, Grant Hill went off for 30 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Suns to a three point win. I don't think that too many people would have predicted that one! With that being said, the Thunder do tend to struggle defending big bodies who can score. Gortat is now becoming one of those such players, so I absolutely believe that they will need to find a way to slow him down. If Nenad Kristic is unable to play, it will leave Oklahoma City very undersized.
5. In the teams' first meeting this season, the Suns were short-handed after the big trade with Orlando and still managed to beat the Thunder behind Grant Hill's 30 points and Steve Nash's 20-10 performance. Are there any lessons from this game that Oklahoma City should make sure to remember going into this contest?
I guess the first lesson is that you should never take anything for granted. I'm not saying that the Thunder underestimated the Suns last time, because I don't think that head coach Scott Brooks would allow that to happen. But I was stunned with Hill's stats, yet Steve Nash could not do anything that would leave me surprised at this point. He is one of a kind. The Suns are used to reaching the postseason, and the Thunder will have to prepare for them just as much as they would any other contender in the Western Conference. Tonight's game should be a tight one with plenty of scoring!
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The Milwaukee Bucks came into US Airways Center mired in one of the longest losing streaks you can imagine. No, they haven't lost 22 consecutive games like the Cleveland Cavaliers, but they hadn't won a game in Arizona since February of 1987. To put that in perspective, since the last time the Bucks won in Phoenix, the league has added seven teams, the United States has had four different presidents, and video game systems have graduated from the 8-bit Nintendo to the incredible technology of the XBox 360 and Playstation 3. 

 Even with nearly a quarter century of losses to inspire them, the Bucks still came out incredibly flat against Phoenix, scoring only 31 points in the first half on their way to a 92-77 loss. They only shot 31% from the field, and even though they were dealing with injuries to key players Andrew Bogut and Drew Gooden, the reality is that even with those guys in the lineup, Milwaukee still would've had a tough team playing against a Suns defense that forced them into bad shots. 

Even though the result certainly looked good for Phoenix, there were certain elements of their performance that lend doubt to those who still think they can make the playoffs. Channing Frye did have 13 rebounds in the game (including three on the offensive glass), and while it is good to see him attacking the basket, his shooting percentage from inside the arc was an anemic 4-of-12. That number has to improve if he's going to be a legit two-way threat at the power forward spot.

Steve Nash also had a decent game on Wednesday, scoring nine points and dishing out 13 assists, but against a better team than the Bucks, his nine turnovers very well could have been a death knell to the Suns' chances. He obviously is a huge reason that they are still in the playoff hunt, but he'll need to play better than that to keep it that way.

Vince Carter also had a quiet game, scoring two points (and only taking two shots) and taking down two rebounds. In his 21 minutes of action, Carter was largely absent, and that has been a critique that has dogged him throughout his career. The Suns need him to take a more active role in the offense if they are going to score, and taking only two shots and half-heartedly running around the court is not what they need out of a guy who's making a good chunk of change in the last season of his contract. 

Finally, there is the little matter of Robin Lopez. He only played 10 minutes in the game (mostly thanks to another good performance by Marcin Gortat), but he committed four personal fouls to go along with his five points and three rebounds. Alvin Gentry has insisted on keeping Lopez in the starting lineup to keep the team's rotation intact, but he'll need to have more games where he's running the pick and roll and going up strong for rebounds than contests where he gets into early foul trouble.

 Now, the Suns will head into a match-up with Oklahoma City on Friday night to try to continue their three game winning streak. Can they stop Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and the rest of the Thunder, or will they once again succumb to the inconsistency that has plagued their season? We'll find out, but for now, here are some Suns headlines to read in the meantime: 

-Ric Bucher and Chris Broussard had a good argument about whether the Suns or Grizzlies had what it takes to overtake the Trail Blazers in the Western Conference playoffs. Bucher really argued the Suns' case well, but his reliance on Vince Carter's impact on the squad seemed questionable at best. [ESPN]  *Note: You do have to be an ESPN Insider to read this piece. 

-Paul Coro had a good article last night for the Arizona Republic about how similar Steve Nash's statistics are to his numbers last year, which were good enough to get him into the NBA All-Star Game. With the Suns' poor record this season, he likely won't make the game, and that's a shame. [Arizona Republic
 
-A profile of the Phoenix Suns' official DJ Chris Villa [Arizona Republic

-Finally, here's a link to a story about donating money to the Steve Nash foundation for a chance to win Nash's game worn shoes from tomorrow's contest against the Thunder: [Suns.com

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"The Suns are two games under .500, don't have a particularly favorable schedule the rest of the way and, at 18.2 percent, have the worst odds of any of my 11 Western playoff contenders." - John Hollinger, ESPN.com

With that simple statement, Hollinger pretty much summed up the rough road that is ahead for the Phoenix Suns. Even after two solid wins against the Boston Celtics and New Orleans Hornets, the team still finds itself with a 22-24 record and on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff race. It isn't exactly a stretch to say that they are in a tough spot, but Hollinger does provide some reasons for optimism for the Suns' faithful: 

"So it's an uphill battle, but they can take away some optimistic signs. For starters, they've played much better lately. Phoenix has won seven of 10, including their past two wins over Boston and New Orleans......

"The best part is that the Suns appear to finally have figured out their rotation, something they struggled with to a maddening extent in the immediate aftermath of the Jason Richardson trade. Although I'd still argue that Marcin Gortat should start in the middle ahead of the Robin Lopez, the more crucial matter is that the Suns are playing with two real power forwards and two real centers. As a result, they're no longer an offensive juggernaut, but they no longer need to be."

While the odds may be stacked against Phoenix, Hollinger does bring up two excellent points. Head coach Alvin Gentry certainly has figured out the best way to sub his players into the game (including giving some big minutes to Jared Dudley and Gortat), and he also has been cutting the minutes of players like Josh Childress. This has really helped the players develop some of the chemistry that was a hallmark of the team that came within two wins of the NBA Finals a season ago, and with the team also starting to get healthier, things are really starting to come together at this point.

The other point that Hollinger referred to was the difficult schedule that the team has coming in. The Suns still have two lengthy road trips out east remaining this season, which will include stops in cities like Boston, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Chicago, and New Orleans. Their home slate looks a little easier, but still features games against tough opponents in Orlando and those pesky Spurs. While the ability to play teams within conference could ultimately work out in the Suns' favor if they can win them (and put their rivals further back), it could also leave them ripe for setbacks. The next couple of weeks will be the big test, as the team looks to build some momentum against a relatively weak portion of their slate.

In Other Suns News.....

In Paul Coro's blog "Orange Slices", he published some interesting quotes from Suns Managing Partner Robert Sarver. In the piece, he defended several of the controversial moves that the team made this off-season, including one particularly interesting nugget on the performance of Channing Frye after he signed a 5-year, $30 million deal this summer: 

"I feel good about Channing's contract. Channing, like any player, has his strengths and weaknesses but Channing plays very hard and delivers 100 percent every game. I think he's done a good job and he's becoming more comfortable in his situation now." 

In all honesty, the first part of this season was a big disappointment for Frye. He looked ill at ease on the court, took a lot of bad shots, and really didn't use his height to his advantage when it came to trying to rebound near the basket.

Over the last few weeks, he has started to come around. He has raised his rebounds per game average to six, and he is scoring 11.3 points per contest as well. He is still shooting only 33.3% from the field over his past five games, but he has been a lot more judicious with his shots over that time, and that can only mean good things for the Suns.

Finally, a Video for Your Viewing Pleasure 

By now you've certainly heard of Nick Corrales, the member of the Suns' Sol Patrol who managed to dunk himself through the hoop at a recent Suns game. CBS News was kind enough to post the video on YouTube, and here it is: 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0NP1Qj4l8j4 

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