You dunk that ball, Earl! Yeah! (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
After what many considered to be one of the worst stretches of defensive basketball ever played by the Phoenix Suns, Alvin Gentry had had enough. He was "pissed off" at the team's lack of effort and concentration on defense, and it was time for a change. The team held consecutive practices for the first time in around three weeks, and there were two words were tossed around more than a Magikarp card at a Pokémon convention in 1997. These two words were, of course, defense and rebounding.
With the first game back from their duo of grueling practices, the Suns faced a team that would challenge both of those areas: the Golden State Warriors. With Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis being two capable dribble pentration slashers and Andris Biedrins and David Lee known for their rebounding prowess, the Suns had quite the progress test ahead of them. What did the Suns do? They went and outrebounded the Warriors en route to a much needed victory. On the road. Monta Ellis still went off, but the defensive pressure was there.
The very next night, the Suns returned home and faced a Pacers team with multiple quality wins in the early season. The Suns went on to fight their tired legs and put away the Pacers in a fourth quarter push that put them on top. Oh, and they held Danny Granger to 2-13 shooting and held Granger and Roy Hibbert to a combined 16 points. Not bad, considering where they had come from.
Tonight, the Suns will face yet another challenge, this time in the form of a potential Rookie of the Year candidate: John Wall.
John Wall. Two words that have been on everyone's tongues for years. Wall has been one of the most highly touted prospects entering the draft since LeBron James, and for good reason. The dougie-dancing player has already put up some incredible highlights in his young NBA career. Fortunately for the Suns, Wall is just shaking the rust off a couple injuries that kept him sidelined for 6 of the past 10 games.
Wall started and played 40 minutes in a win over the Blazers a few nights ago, but shot only 3-13 from the field with 4 rebounds and a season-low 2 assists. While the 40 minutes were an encouraging sign for the Wizards, the Suns need to look to take advantage of the possibly-ailing youngster. The Wizards are another team like Golden State. John Wall can drive and dish (or finish) better than most. Nick Young, while inconsistent, is an explosive athlete who can go off for 20 on any given night...or give you a complete dud. Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee are athletic rebounders with a hard nose for the ball - the type of players that usually give the Suns fits.
However, with the Suns needing to shake off their early season struggles and the Wizards wanting to try and forget about last year's drama, these are both teams that will be hungry for a win. Hold on to your seats, folks; we could be in for a wild ride.
Starting Lineups and Matchups
PG: Steve Nash / John Wall
PF: Earl Barron / Andray Blatche
C: Channing Frye / JaVale McGee
The matchups I'm looking forward to most are between the big men. Channing Frye is hot off his highest scoring output of the season against the Pacers, and Earl Barron is making the case for himself with his hustle, rebounding and overall aggressive play. Meanwhile, on the Washington side of things, Andray Blatche is coming off one of his better performances of the season and JaVale McGee is battling a back injury.
Neither of the Suns players are really going to punish the Wizards bigs on offense. Channing might get hot with the semi-hobbled (but still productive) McGee covering him, but what I'm looking at is playing big on the defensive end. Frye has been quietly solid on the defensive/rebounding side of things and Barron, well, that's the whole reason he's in the starting lineup. Both McGee and Blatche have the possibility of exploding if left unguarded, so it will be up to the Suns big men to stay out of foul trouble and do work defensively.
What To Expect
- The Wizards have lost 4 of their last 5 games and the Suns, while making steps of improvement, are still not a great defensive team. Both teams are struggling but both teams want this game. Expect tonight's game to be rough one.
- Expect Earl Clark to get a few minutes as some of the matchups (Al Thornton, Cartier Martin, Yi Jianlian) are favorable for him. Plus, after a head scratching entrance to the game against Indiana, he put together a few solid possessions in the middle of the Suns game-winning second half run.
- Expect Frye to get looks early to see if he can continue his hot streak. If he's unable to get a few early baskets, Jason Richardson and Grant Hill will likely be the favored targets from Nash.
Overall, I'm looking for the Suns to continue their solid defensive effort. If the trend can continue, the Suns should be able to continue winning. The Wizards, though they have talent, are still a sub-.500 team that should be beaten by a veteran team like the Suns. Then again, we've seen what taking a slumping team not seriously can do. Anyone remember the Bobcats game?
Phoenix Suns Welcome John Wall's Washington Wizards , 6:00 P.M. AZT - SB Nation Arizona
The Suns could opt to play Goran Dragic more in tandem with Steve Nash to counter the Wizards two-point guard line up when Arenas and Wall are on the floor together, but Gentry didn't seem inclined to do that
Phoenix Suns 12-Man Rotation Testing The Limits Of Gentry's Creativity - Desert Dirt - SB Nation Arizona
In the NBA it is normal for most teams to play with an eight-man rotation. Some teams play with nine or ten but it is very unusual to see a situation like the Phoenix Suns have with 11 or even 12 guys who the coach feels like he can and should be playing on a regular basis. This was a potential challenge for the Suns going into the season but has only gotten more confusing with the addition of Earl Barron to the starting lineup.