It's that time again! Time for our beloved mostly loved frustrating beyond all belief (yet we still love them to no end) Phoenix Suns to enter the fracas with (one of) their Western Conference rival Dallas Mavericks.
I think I speak for everyone when I say this: I sincerely hope this game is nearly as exciting as the March 14th, 2007 double overtime thriller. I think I also speak for everyone when I say this: to hope for even half of the excitement of that game would be a little lofty. But these Suns sure do know how to find a way to make a game interesting.
More on this matchup after the jump!
Any time the Mavs come to town, it always seems to hold the same clout that a matchup with San Antonio or the Lakers brings. After dropping two straight to the Lakers and the Jazz, the Mavericks have come back to win 6 of 8 games, including the 50 point domination of the New York Knicks. They are gelling more than they have all year, and with another stellar year from Dirk Nowitzki, consistent (if unattractive) production from likely future Hall of Fame point guard Jason Kidd, and the addition of Shawn Marion. Marion still receives warm welcomes every time he comes back home, but don't be surprised if he goes off for season highs tonight. For some reason, former Suns players seem to do that when they come back and play in the Purple Palace. (Someone should compile a list...just sayin'.)
Anyway, let's get to the good stuff:
Records, Standings, and Overall Team Production
The Mavericks sit comfortably as comfortable as they can be atop the Southwest Division at 30-15, with the Spurs 3.5 games back. The Suns are in second in the Pacific, with the record of 26-21. As it stands right now, Phoenix is 9th in the conference (if the season ended today, we'd miss the playoffs again), and Dallas is in 3rd. Dallas is on the up and up, while the Suns, after the amazing 14-3 start, have come crashing back down to earth, and it hasn't been a pretty sight.
We all know the story. The Suns get up, they score, they gain a huge lead, then blow it and try and salvage a win before the final buzzer sounds. Sometimes it works, but more often than not, it doesn't. Not having watched many Mavs games this year, I can't say much about their team, but I know they've been playing well lately. They've been getting fairly consistent production from all their players, and when was the last time you saw an alley oop play drawn up for a rookie?
The TNT Curse
Seriously, the Suns have got something weird going on here. As much as I don't believe in curses, hoaxes, or anything like that, there's just no reason at all that the Suns have lost 17 (or is it 18? Pretty sure it's 17) straight on TNT. It's uncanny. The Suns are bound to break this so-called "curse" eventually, but tonight doesn't seem like an easy (or probable) night that it'll happen.
We have seen, at times, throughout this season (and many seasons before), that the Suns play up or down to their competition. Right now, the Mavs are clearly the better ballclub. Does that mean the Suns don't have all the tools to beat them by 20? No. I expect this Suns team to pick themselves up after a huge overtime letdown against the Bobcats. I have a feeling Amare is going to come out angry and attacking the rim (whether it's to help the team win or boost his own trade value), and expect Captain Nash to try and right the ship. The storm may be too violent for him to right this course, but stranger things have happened. (Sorry...that was super lame. Continuing onward...)
The matchup I am looking forward to most is the battle of the boards. I'm interested to see if Robin Lopez, who is playing extremely well and not showing many signs of letting up anytime soon, can battle with one of the better rebounders in the league in Erick Dampier. Dampier, while unable to sustain his fantastic start to the year (he actually looked like he was worth the huge contract he netted a few years back), is still a very legitimate basketball player, and can still rebound and defend with intensity. This could be a good test for Lopez, to see if he can maintain his current production level and not pick up silly fouls on the offensively lacking center.
I'm also interested in seeing the battle of the aging (and likely Hall of Fame) point guards. Nash has been nothing short of fantastic this year, and especially at his age. However, that doesn't mean that you can count out Kidd. We know Kidd can play. While he's not exactly the offensive force he was while he was here (or even in New Jersey), he's still one of the best rebounding point guards in the league (I might say the best, but I don't want to eat my words), and can still pass the ball with great skill. Look for Nash to lay off his shot, try and get his teammates involved, and then strike when Kidd is lulled into a false sense of security.
The bottom line for tonight's game is simple. The Mavs are a good team. The game is being played on TNT. The Suns are struggling. There are so many things stacked against us, that we could just mail it in and call this game a loss. To be honest, I can't say the team won't do just that. But, we're playing at home, against a conference rival, and need to find a way to stop the bleeding. If we come out with a win tonight, great. But if we don't come out with a win tonight, you have to be sure that people will be getting antsy in Planet Orange.
I don't like to call many games "must wins", but this game is a "probably should (for the mental health of the team) win".