Game Preview - Phoenix Suns vs. Dallas Mavericks

So, after a creampuff of a schedule so far in terms opposition, the Suns finally get a chance to prove they belong in the discussion of Western Conference powers.  Those 2 losses to the Lakers?  Totally expected.  It's going to be the rare team that gives that Laker squad a run for their money. Anyone who expected the Suns to do more than compete for 2 or 3 quarters in either of those games was probably a little delusional. 

But the Mavericks?  They're the proverbial "someone our own size."  In addition to hoping for similar seeding in the Western Conference play-off picture, the Mavericks have even had some of the same early season challenges/knocks the Suns have:

  • The Mavericks have played 12 of their first 21 games on the road.  The Suns have played 14 of 21 away from Phoenix.
  • The Mavericks have had an even softer schedule than the Suns.  Opponents winning percentage is .457 vs. .487 for Phoenix.
  • The Mavs have only played 7 times against teams with a record better than .500.  The Sun have only played 7 times against teams with a record better than .500.
  •   The Mavericks are 5-2 in those games.  The Suns are 3-4 in those games.

And that's where these two teams diverge in terms of early season success.  The Mavericks even notched an early win over the Lakers (a 94-80 thumping at Staples Center) who have proved... how shall we say this... challenging to the Suns.

Let's go to the match-ups and see how else these teams stack up.  

Guards

At the point, Steve Nash squares off against one-time benchmate Jason Kidd.  Both long in the tooth and wizards with the ball in their hands, Nash is a better scorer and Kidd is a better defender.  And according to a panel of basketball expert types, Kidd holds a slight edge in "basketball IQ."  This is basically a push and should be a fun match-up to watch as the two veterans try to out-wile each other.  Off the bench, it's J.J. Barea vs. Goran Dragic.  Barea's been logging heavier minutes than Dragic, but serves the same role: holder of serve while the starting maestro catches his breath between virtuoso performances.  Hopefully, confident Dragic shows up and can use his size and speed to over-match the smaller Barea.  Again, there's no discernable advantage for either team here.

At shooting guard, the Mavs roll out French rookie Rodrigue Beaubois against Jason Richardson.  Beaubois is fast as all get out and can leap tall guards in a single bound.  Look for the Mavs to get him going early with their now-trademark alley-oop play they run for the little guy.  Whatever.  The real story at the 2 for the Mavs is Jason Terry, who notoriously lights it up against the Suns.  J-Rich will have his hands full preventing Terry from getting his and better remember to pack his offense if he hopes to out-gun Terry.  The Suns may miss Leandro Barbosa's scoring punch here.

Forwards

Well, well, well... if it isn't our old friend Shawn Marion.  I expect to see a motivated Matrix against Grant Hill tonight.  Off the bench, Jared Dudley versus Quinton Ross is fairly even match-up of hustle guys who trade on their defense.  

At power forward, we have both teams big guns, men who, when playing at the tops of their games are virtually unguardable.  Dirk Nowitzki is a one man wrecking crew from all over the court and while Amare Stoudmire doesn't have Dirk's range or ability to create off the dribble, he's a handful from 20 feet inwards.  Slight edge to the Mavericks here.  Off the bench, the Mavericks have Kris Humphries and former Sun Tim Thomas.  Is tonight the night we finally see Lou Amundson back in the line-up?  The Suns could probably use some of his energy on the road after a tough loss to the Lakers.

Center

True story: when Erick Dampier and Steve Nash were free agents a few years back, I wanted the Suns to throw gobs of money at Dampier after his career year at Golden State and nearly tore my hair out when they offered Nash his massive contract.  Let's just say that was not my best basketball moment.  That said, despite his tendency to mail it in from time to time, Dampier can do his damage down low.  If he gets physical, Channing Frye could be in for another long game.  While more athletically gifted, Robin Lopez needs to stay in control of himself and not pick up cheap fouls against Dampier or veteran back-up Drew Gooden.  This is an opportunity for him to show his stuff against some veteran competition and a very manageable match-up if he can keep his wits about him.  

Predictions

On paper, this is a good quality match-up for both teams and an opportunity to shed early season "soft" labels.  As usual, the teams square up well against one another on a position by position basis.  For the Mavs defensively, I expect we'll see a lot of Dampier and Gooden staying home down low with Amare while Dirk floats to the perimeter against Channing Frye. 

Also, I expect the Mavs will continue the trend of switching longer defenders out on to Nash to disrupt his passing game.  Nash will have to figure out how to shake his former partner-in-oop Shawn Marion to keep the Suns offense from stagnating.  

It's at this time where I have to point out the one big discrepancy between the two teams.  While the Suns hold the offensive edge,  scoring 112.1 points per 100 possessions (1st in the NBA)  versus 106.2 for the Mavericks (12th), Dallas is a much, much better defensive team, allowing only 99.9 points per 100 (5th) versus a whopping 107.6 (24th) for the Suns.

While the Suns can win this game if they can return to the terrifyingly efficient offensive game that tormented opposing teams earlier in the year, I see them struggling against the Mavs relatively strong defense and slow pace.  The Suns haven't been able to push the tempo against quality opposition (Celtics game notwithstanding) and Steve Nash has yet to adjust his game to overcome bigger opposing defenders.  Until the Suns improve their sieve-like porous matador thus far weak defense, they are reliant on an increasingly tenuous jump-shooting offense to pull them through.

It pains me to do it, but while the Suns should be much more competitive in this game than previous ones against quality teams, I see the Mavs pulling away on the strength of big games by Nowitzki and Terry and their superior defense.  107-96, Mavericks.

That said, it should be a fun game, and after a couple days of rest the Suns will be looking to prove me all kinds of wrong, so getcha popcorn ready!  Head over to Mavs Moneyball to check out the view from the other side of the bleachers.

Game Day Links

  • Suns vs Mavericks coverage
  • Mavs Moneyball
  • HoopsHype.com NBA Blogs - Jorge Sierra » Most Valuable Tweeters
    the former Bobcat is the clear Twitter MVP. His trade to a relevant team like Phoenix and his impressive activity with the social media website have made him a recognizable face for NBA fans – which wasn’t the case one year ago while still in Charlotte. Dudley reports news (calls himself JMZ), gives away tickets and interacts with fans, journalists, owners and fellow NBA players.

  • azcentral.com - members
    They still might get there. But with the Lakers taking root in Los Angeles so far this season, the Suns playing a league-high 14 road games and "Phoenix at L.A. Lakers" coming up twice a night after a home game that was just a check-in from an East Trip, it's hard to make take any lasting impressions away other than that the Lakers are better.

  • Lakers rout Suns in LA again
    "They bottle up everything you try to do," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. "They switch, and they knock off. We could never really get anything going. We're not so much a fast-break team but a rhythm team and they just take you out of your rhythm."

  • Lakers 108, Phoenix 88: Second verse, same as the first | Lakers Blog | Los Angeles Times
    I think we can all agree that if asked to create NBA kryptonite for this year's Suns squad, it would look a lot like the Lakers. Length, mobility, dominating post play, and so on. Generally speaking I like to avoid grand proclamations so early in the season, but I'm comfortable declaring that there is absolutely no earthly way Phoenix would beat a healthy Lakers team in a playoff series. None. Something under zero, really. But the Suns are 15-4 vs. the rest of the league. That's worth something, and Sunday night the Lakers beat them by 20. That's worth something, too.

This one is a must read. A true basketball poet lays the Suns bare

  • Hardwood Paroxysm » Blog Archive » What a Feeling, To Be Mortal
    Maybe the hustle and the bustle of the Suns doesn’t quite fit your living style, but who could possibly claim that the exaggerated in-game highs and lows of the Suns — the 20-point lead built and swallowed by a 5-25 run, the 3-point barrages followed by defensive letdowns — aren’t basketball’s most fitting equivalent of life on the outside? It’s not about the 9-5 grind, and it’s not necessarily about winning all the time; the Suns’ existence is predicated on winning more than you lose, embracing who you are, playing by your own rules, learning to live through the ups and downs, and remembering that the line between work and play doesn’t have to be crystal clear. They work hard, they score points, and they play basketball like it’s a game worth playing. They may not have the talent of the Lakers or the convention of the Spurs, but this is a team of hard workers and ball players with a plan.
  • Suns hope to warm up in Dallas
    Suns fans must yearn for those 14-3 NBA darlings they had a week ago - probably as much as the Suns now yearn to rediscover their offense. That Suns team had three four-game winning streaks, an unflappable road mentality and shot 50.7 percent from the field.

  • azcentral.com blogs - Coro's Suns dish - PaulCoro - A fair fight for the Suns
    The Suns get some help with that tonight with Louis Amundson returning from his flu bout. His stomach still hurts but he going to play tonight and probably get to guard Nowitzki. Welcome back. His key is energy so we will see how much of it he has after a couple days in bed.

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