20 December 2010
Despite sporting a depleted roster after the trade that sent Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson to Orlando yesterday, the Suns looked relatively solid against the Thunder on Sunday night. Grant Hill led all scorers with 30 points and also chipped in 11 rebounds as Phoenix earned a hard fought road win in an 113-110 triumph.
With newcomers Marcin Gortat, Vince Carter, and Mickael Pietrus all still awaiting physicals (and likely not playing until Thursday vs. the Heat at US Airways Center), the Suns' starters all got some serious minutes in the game. Jared Dudley got a rare start at the shooting guard spot and played 29 minutes, and Channing Frye also got the starting nod and played 29 as well. Back-up point guard Goran Dragic also got some rare time on the court alongside Steve Nash in the game, and he made the most of his 32 minutes by scoring 11 points and dishing out five assists.
The star of the evening, however, was Hill. Even though he has garnered a reputation this season as Phoenix's go-to guy for stopping the opposing team's scorers, Hill managed to have himself a very good night on the offensive side of the court as well. He played 37 minutes, and he got to the free throw line a lot, knocking down 12 of the 14 charity shots that he took in the game. His 11 rebounds were all hard fought as well, and the fact that he was doing all of this while guarding one of the premiere scorers in the league in Kevin Durant makes it even more remarkable.
"I was really just thinking about defense and having a lot of energy and trying to chase around Kevin," Hill told reporters after the game. "I wasn't really thinking about scoring but I hit some shots early and got in a rhythm."
Hill also acknowledged the short-handed nature of Phoenix's effort, saying "even though we lost two really skilled players and guys that we count on for scoring, we still can put up points. I thought the most important thing was we believed and we had good energy and fought hard," he said.
Grant's night was also lauded by head coach Alvin Gentry as further proof that he should be in consideration for the Western Conference's All-Star team in February. "Nothing surprises me that he does," Gentry said. "Me personally, and I know I'm probably a little biased, but if anybody should be on the All-Star team this year, it should be him."
While Gentry's words probably are on the biased side, Hill's statistics do warrant some consideration for inclusion in the game. He is really earning a reputation as a two-way player this season, and he is bolstering his defense with some solid offensive numbers. He is scoring 14.2 points per game, pulling down 4.7 boards per contest and dishing out 2.3 assists as well. While those numbers don't exactly scream "All-Star", they are made to look even better when you consider that he has guarded everyone from Durant to Kobe Bryant to Derrick Rose this season. He even guarded Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki on Friday night, a further testament to the responsibilities that Gentry has trusted him with this season.
The road doesn't get any kinder for the Suns on Monday night, as they will take on the San Antonio Spurs in the Lone Star State. Tim Duncan had 25 points and 17 rebounds in the team's last meeting in Phoenix, so expect the Suns to try everything in their power to slow him down in this one. Also, Suns Rising will have a Q and A with Project Spurs' Jeff Garcia before tomorrow night's game, so you can expect some solid insight on the enemy in that piece.
In the meantime, here were Sunday's Bright and Dark Spots for the Suns:
Steve Nash - Two days after leaving the Suns-Mavericks game with an injured neck, Nash did not look like it was bothering him in the slightest on Sunday. He scored 20 points and dished out 10 assists in the contest, and he knocked down both three-pointers that he attempted. He ran the offense well even without a true shooting guard on the floor to spot up, and he shared the court very well with Dragic.
Nash's days in Phoenix might be drawing nearer to ending considering the direction the team seems to be headed with the trade they pulled off on Saturday, but he hasn't let that uncertainty affect him on the court. It's still a long way to the trade deadline, so don't expect the trade rumors to stop swirling any time soon.
Robin Lopez - With Monday's match-up against Duncan looming, and with regular Thunder starting center Nenad Krstic still sidelined with a groin injury, it would have been understandable if Lopez had been guilty of looking ahead and let his performance on Sunday suffer. Instead, Robin had one of his best games of the year, going 9-of-10 from the field en route to a 19 point performance. He also grabbed four rebounds and was a game-best +23 on defense, so it was an all-around good game for the up-and-down center. We'll see what kind of confidence he can carry over into tomorrow night's grudge match.
Sunday's Third Quarter - The Suns looked pretty good defensively through much of the contest, but the third quarter was a big-time exception. After going into halftime with a nine point lead, Phoenix let the Thunder get running on offense, and Oklahoma City charged to a 40 point quarter.
The frame featured a lot of poor decisions on the defensive side of the ball, and if the Suns hadn't been able to respond to the charge with 28 points of their own, the game could have turned out a lot differently. On a night when they were short-handed, Phoenix needed to make sure to keep the clamps on at all times, and they let their focus slip in the third quarter.
Phoenix's bread and butter this season has been the outside shot, but the past few games have not been kind to them in this area. If they are going to be successful and make a run into the playoffs, they are going to need to take smarter three-point shots and make them more often. Making 33% of them and having Frye once again have a rotten night behind the arc simply are not strategies that will be successful for this team.
18 December 2010
Coming into a game against a team that had won 13 of its past 14 games, the Phoenix Suns were going to need every ounce of talent and strength that they possessed to overcome the Dallas Mavericks. Unfortunately for the Suns, their ability to make plays was severely hampered not only by an inability to get things going from beyond the arc but also a scary injury to Steve Nash that came a mere five minutes into the game. Both of these factors contributed mightily to a 15 point defeat on Friday night for Phoenix, and as the team moves forward there will be plenty to look back on in disgust from this game.
The most important story of the night was obviously Nash. The injury occurred a mere five minutes into the game, when on a loose ball he was elbowed in the back of the head and then proceeded to plow head-first into Tyson Chandler's thigh. He immediately motioned for the trainers to come to him on the floor, and he waved off several helping hands as he lay on the hardwood. Ultimately, it was revealed that he suffered a neck stinger and was suffering from numbness and tingling sensations in his arms and legs. Fortunately, the injury is not suspected to be serious, and he did not suffer a concussion, which is also a positive thing.
Ultimately, the Suns were done in not by Nash's injury this evening but an inability to recognize where they were having success. During a good chunk of the game, the Suns were shooting horrendously from beyond the arc, and yet they kept trying to knock down threes to spark a rally that never came. In fact, Phoenix did not make their first three pointer until there were four minutes left in the SECOND QUARTER. Obviously for a team like Phoenix an inability to convert the three-ball is a kiss of death, but the reality of the matter was that they were having a great deal of success inside. Dirk Nowitzki picked up three quick fouls and sat nearly the entire second quarter, and so the Mavs' presence down low was compromised. The Suns took advantage of Dirk's foul trouble by scoring 48 points in the paint, and yet they still insisted on jacking up ill-advised threes from all over the place.
Phoenix ended up making only five three-pointers in the game, and their unwillingness to adapt to the realities of the game ended up spelling doom for them. In a stretch of games that is going to test this team to its ultimate limits, the Suns failed this first test because of their stubborn reliance on the outside game and an unwillingness to utilize what their opponent was giving them.
Lest this recap became too redundant, it would probably serve everyone well to move on to tonight's Bright and Dark Spots for the Suns:
Hakim Warrick - Warrick had a stellar game for Phoenix this evening, picking up a double-double for the Suns with 15 points and 14 rebounds. He ran the pick-and-roll to perfection with backup point guard Goran Dragic several times on the evening, and he showed some real flair around the basket. He has certainly been a real solid presence off the Phoenix bench, and Alvin Gentry will likely toy with inserting him into the starting lineup sometime in the near future if he keeps having games like this.
Channing Frye - In a game that didn't give Suns fans a lot of reason for optimism, Frye actually provided one to them. He actually played like a power forward throughout much of the game, and the 14 rebounds that he pulled down demonstrated how weak Dallas was on the interior of the court this evening. Now if only Phoenix could have exploited that (has that dead horse been thoroughly beaten yet?)......
Phoenix's Transition Game - Jason Terry commented during the game telecast that everyone in the league says that the Suns have the best run-and-gun offense in the game, and he indicated that Dallas was going to try to beat Phoenix at their own game.
While how much Dallas actually had to do with the Suns' struggles in this area is impossible to quantify (certainly Nash's absence had more to do with it than anything), the sad fact is that the Suns still failed miserably all night in terms of generating offense through their potent transition game. They only scored nine fast break points in the contest, and that simply is not going to get the job done when you have a defense that allows 110 points per game. Period.
Channing Frye - You are reading this correctly. Frye was not only a Bright Spot for his excellent work on the boards, but he is also a Dark Spot for his weak efforts from beyond the arc. This entire recap has essentially been one big complaint about the Suns' failure to adapt during this game, and Frye was no exception. He was 2-of-8 from three point land, and he kept hoisting up shots even when it was blatantly clear that he was going to be unable to convert any of them.
Frye needs to increase his awareness when he is struggling shooting the rock, and if he is unable to make that leap in maturity, then Gentry needs to remove him from the starting lineup ASAP. He cannot stand idly by while Frye continues to shoot come hell or high water. At this point there are probably plenty of Suns fans who half-jokingly feel that Robin Lopez would be a better option from downtown than Frye.
The Suns will next take to the court on Sunday night when they play the Oklahoma City Thunder. Tip-off is scheduled for 5pm MST, and the game can be seen on NBA.TV.
17 December 2010
It isn't a common thing for people in the media to actually tell personal stories about the team that they follow, but if you'll oblige me, I'd like to do just that. We'll get to actually covering the team in earnest starting tonight when the Suns take on the Dallas Mavericks, but for right now, here's a brief history of why I became a Suns fan, and a little bit about what I'm hoping to accomplish by writing this blog.
As you can tell by the by-line, my name is Jim Neveau, and I am a 25 year old student who lives in Illinois. Growing up, I was naturally a fan of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. One of my favorite memories growing up was my dad jumping up and down like a fool when John Paxson, his favorite Bull of all time, nailed a three-pointer that sank the hopes of the Phoenix Suns in the 1993 NBA Finals.
After the Bulls finished off their second three-peat, and GM Jerry Krause began the painful process of gutting the team and starting over, I girded myself for the inevitable hardships that would come my way. After all, I am a Cubs and Blackhawks fan, so I'm used to disappointment (with the exception of the 2010 Stanley Cup win by the Hawks), so I was ready and willing to wait for things to get better.
The turning point for me was a two-pronged event. The first event that turned me toward the Suns was the Bulls' trade of Elton Brand to the Clippers. The reason this turned me off to the Bulls was that it represented a huge step backward for a team that really hadn't made any steps forward since Jordan hit the shot over Byron Russell. As of that moment, I was no longer a Bulls fan, but I needed a new team to satisfy my craving for NBA basketball.
The second part of the "turning point saga" was my father moving out to Arizona. I had always had family in the Valley, but my father moving there caused me to travel out there frequently, and I really fell in love with the city of Phoenix. People there always take things like the mountains and cacti for granted, but to me they were all beautiful. It really created a soft spot in my heart for the area, and it just so happened that a fast-paced exciting team was taking the court there.
It was at a game where I first saw Steve Nash that really hooked me on the Suns. The way he passed the ball effortlessly, nailed shots from all over the place, and the best part was that he looked exactly like any guy who dreams of the NBA in their local YMCA, but he was still a premiere player.
Through the ups-and-downs that have followed, I have followed the team closely and really taken a shine to the way they play the game. The up-tempo style they play with is incredibly entertaining to watch, and even when the era of seven-seconds-or-less finally goes away for good, my affection for the Suns will still be there.
Since you've so politely allowed me to tell my story of how I became a Suns fan, I figure I'll return the favor by cluing you in as to what you can expect from this blog. Sure, you'll get your fair share of game recaps and commentary on how the team is playing, but the game of basketball is meant to be a fun thing, so I'll also feature videos and articles that catch my eye about the Suns. I'll also bring over another facet of my old Suns blog (the now defunct SunsSpot.com) and have the occasional article concerning fun trades I create on the ESPN Trade Machine. It may not be the most intellectually stimulating exercise, but it's a lot of fun, and I hope that you'll enjoy reading those as much as I enjoy creating them.
Well that's my story and I'm sticking to it. I'm excited to start covering the team here, and I hope that we can have an on-going dialogue about the team in the weeks and months ahead.