Well, Suns fans, here we sit at a precipice: our beloved 14-3 Suns team was drubbed by the 3-14 New York Knicks in a game that should have been a definite win. But, as we've found out, you can't overlook any team in the league (even if it is a struggling Hornets team without Chris Paul). Then, we played a game the very next night, against a team that, depsite some early struggles to integrate the Shaquille "Win a Ring for the King" O'Neal, is a very legitimate title contender. Oh yeah, we played on their court too. Where they went for 30 consecutive victories last season. Ouch.
What the Suns cannot do is drop a game to a streaking Kings team, who, while spending the entirety of last season in the dregs of the league, have found a mini-resurgence with the help of their 4th overall draft pick (and strong Rookie of the Year candidate), Tyreke Evans.
More after the jump...
PG: Steve Nash vs. Beno Udrih
Every possible stat that you can possibly find on the interwebs will tell you that Nash has got this battle locked up. Udrih is almost enjoying a career year (his stats this year are pretty comparable to his stats from 2007-2008), but Steve "Two Time" Nash needs to show Udrih up in a big way in this game. After the last few games, Nash stated that it wasn't from a lack of effort, but from a lack of confidence. How you go into a game holding the best record in the league and lack confidence is beyond me, but from watching the games and hearing the players' commentary, I think we can take him at his word.
Nash is the motor that makes this team go, and our team needs to trust that he will find them in their hot spots and set them up for success.
SG: Jason Richardson vs. Tyreke Evans
Tyreke Evans, who, before the season started, I called as my prediction for Rookie of the Year, has not only benefitted from switching from the point to the two-guard slot in Kevin Martin's absence, he's flourished. In the 12 games since Kev Mart went down with his injury, Evans has either led the team or tied for highest score on the team in 6 of them. He's been the assists leader 6 times. And, on top of that, he's boasting an average of pulling down 5.0 rebounds per game, while averaging over a steal (1.25 per game). If that's not impressive, I don't know what is.
Meanwhile, JRich has had a bit of a resurgence here in Phoenix this season as well. After being unsure of his role last season, Rich has done just about everything we could expect from the guy. He's putting up career highs in both FG% categories (overall FG% and 3P%), most likely coming from working with a point guard who can hit you in the exact way you need to be fed the ball. He's stepped up his defense from last year, like he said, and is no longer as big of a liability on the defensive end as he was last year.
I look for this to be a great matchup, and JRich is going to need to display that improved defense to slow down the explosive rookie out of Memphis if we're going to have a shot at blowing out these guys, which we should.
SF: Grant Hill vs. Andres Nocioni
What can be said about the Ageless Wonder that is Grant Hill? He's one of the best competitors on our team...remember when he was put back in the game against the Knicks in the second quarter? He was a force to be reckoned with. Driving, being aggressive, you name it. He understands exactly what this team needs from him, and relishes that role. On the other hand, Nocioni is trying to reestablish himself in this league. He's known for his defense and his ability to knock down the three ball. Hill is one of the most reliable perimeter defenders on the team, and I foresee Noc having a rough game when paired up against Hill.
PF: Amar'e Stoudemire vs. Jason Thompson
Jason Thompson is one of my favorite young players in the league. I thought Sacramento got a HUGE steal when they landed him at 12th overall...if only he could've fallen just a few more spots to 15 (the Suns' pick, for those who don't care to think much right now). There are two major differences to these two players' games: Amar'e is a beast on the offensive end, and Thompson can rebound the ball. Thompson isn't known for being a shot blocker, though he's averaging 1.2 per game this year. I look for Amar'e to take it in to the young player, who's averaging 4.2 fouls per game this season, which, shockingly, is just as much as Greg Oden. Expect to see Amar'e engaged in taking it inside early in this game to try and take out Thompson. One thing I've noticed with the Kings, is it seems like when both of their young players (Evans and Thompson) have good games, the team is pretty successful.
C: Channing Frye vs. Spencer Hawes
Hawes was the receiver of tons of flak from head coach Paul Westphal in the preseason, and I'm not exactly sure why. He played well, though inconsistent, in the minutes he received last year's dismal Kings team, and played fairly well in the preseason. Hawes, while putting up pretty solid averages, has had a rough start to the season. He plays a similar game to Frye, in that Spence can hit the 3 ball, but I think Hawes has a bit of an advantage on the post up game than Frye.
Frye will likely be open for more threes than if there were a more mobile 4 or 5 playing him, as both Thompson and Hawes are more back to the basket type players, even if Hawes has the range to stretch the defense. Look for Frye to have a solid follow up to his 22 point, 4 3-pointer, 7 rebound performance against the Cavs.
Phoenix Suns: The Phoenix Suns bench has been one of the biggest surprises this year, and nobody on this site can or should contest that statement. Dudley has improved every facet of his game, Amundson (while still shooting 58% from the charity stripe) has improved in most areas, and Dragic finally looks like he's got a bit of swagger and confidence under his belt. Lopez is still working his way back into full game speed shape, and Alando Tucker, while putting up a solid all-around 14 point performance against the Knicks, will likely not come play in this game.
With our former 6th Man of the Year likely out until Christmastime, we've hit a bit of a snag as far as bench production goes. Our bench hasn't been able to build leads like it was in the beginning of the year, and is struggling to maintain the leads our starters have gotten (or not gotten, see: the past two games). While our bench does have the edge in comparison to Sacramento's bench (just wait for it...), this is a game all of our players need to come out fired up for.
Sacramento Kings: Donte Greene and Sergio Rodriguez are about the only two players on the bench that are worth noting, and that's saying something. Donte is an intriguing player who has shown flashes of being able to be a solid, productive player, but due to his youth and inexperience, will put up a stinker in the next game. And Sergio only really warrants a place in this conversation due to a string of 3 or 4 solid games, capped by his 24 points in 24 minutes breakout against the Hornets. Aside from those players, you're looking at rookie Jon Brockman, Kenny Thomas, and Ime Udoka, who has played his way into anonymity after leaving the Spurs.
Bottom Line: This is a must win for a struggling Suns team. I really only say "struggling" because we've hit a two game rough patch where our camaraderie and confidence on the court have equated into us losing by a total of 44 points in two games. The Suns should very realistically come out with the "W" in this game, but the Kings should not be discounted. They are a very much improved team from last year, and if they can continue to build on the success they've had so far with key players like Kevin Martin and Francisco Garcia out, there's no reason to think that they can't make the playoffs, or at least challenge a few of the borderline teams in the West.
The Suns can't afford to take this game off, but I think they know that. I look forward to watching this game and seeing a fired up Suns squad returning home and gaining some momentum before they head off to Los Angeles to face the always dreaded (yet exciting) match up with the Lakers.
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"That's why it's so important to win games like #Sacramento#," Nash said. "A team that we have a better record than. We're playing at home. You've got to win those games so it takes pressure off. You don't have to win all those back-to-backs against top teams. Obviously, you want to go in there and try to win them. We've got to win the New York games, Sacramento games."
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