Well, well, well...our beloved Suns roll into the town of the team with the worst record in the NBA. Yet in last night's text poll question asked by Eddie Johnson about which team would be the most dangerous on this trip, 58% said the Bucks, and 19% of people said it was the Nets. That was more than the Bulls (18%), who are fighting for their playoff lives, and the Pistons, (18%), who, I'm sorry, are just bad. Eddie even said that he thought the fans were wrong. Yes, the Bucks are the most talented out of the four teams listed, but the lowly 10-64 New Jersey Nets have been on a tear as of late and are easily overlooked.
Winners of 3 of their last 4, the Nets have simultaneously gotten themselves out of the conversation for worst team of all time and have even had people wondering just how good this team will be. They are assured a top 4 pick in next year's draft, with the best odds at getting the number 1 overall pick. They have slowly battled through injuries to find a sense of cohesion, mixing young talent with a new coach. They have a new billionaire owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, who is just crazy enough to make this whole thing work.
That being said, the Suns should win this game. The Nets, while having instilled at least a semblance of confidence, are still the worst statistical team in the league. The Suns are 4th in the Western Conference. The Nets are last in the Eastern Conference. I could call this game a "must win". I could even call it a "should win". But we all know that. This is a game that the Suns need to continue rolling into the playoffs, with or without our Robin.
The Nets, while avoiding becoming the worst team of all time (sorry, 1972-1973 Sixers), still have a lot of ground to make up. They are a young team without any bonafide go-to scorers. The Suns, on the other hand, have plenty of those. Jason Richardson. Amare Stoudemire. Steve Nash. Grant Hill. All of these players are veterans in the league, and can be counted on when the game goes down to the wire. That's not to say that Devin Harris can't put up big numbers or that Courtney Lee can't hit a game winning shot. Both are capable of doing so. However, if the game remains close down the stretch, I would expect to see our Suns come out and eliminate the opposition like we did the Bulls last night.
Amare Stoudemire, despite losing his Robin, is still on a tear, and despite shooting just 40% in the last game, he found other ways to dominate. He got to the free throw line a total of 12 times, and converted on 9 of them. He picked up 7 (yes, 7) offensive boards, and ended with 11 total. I know the Nets' front line doesn't exactly strike fear into the hearts of many teams, but that Lopez kid knows how to play. If we don't concentrate on the boards, New Jersey could swoop in and pick up a few easy buckets.
The key to this game against the Nets will be keeping pressure on them defensively. At 91.3 points per game, they rank last in the league. However, over the past 4 games (in which they went 3-1), they have raised that average to 96, including a 118-110 explosion over the Detroit Pistons. That's not awesome by any means, but it does show improvement. The problem with the Nets is consistency, however. They went from blowing out the Pistons on one game, getting blown out by the Bulls the next, and beating the San Antonio Spurs squad the next.
Keys to the Game
- Make Brook Lopez work. We all know that he has been touted as the "better of the brothers" for quite some time. While we won't have that fun little matchup to watch tonight, he is still capable of doing ample damage, as evident by his line against the Pistons: 37 points on 14-17 shooting, 10 rebounds, 1 assist, and a blocked shot. Oh, he shot 9-9 from the free throw line, too.
- Keep up the intensity, and don't let off. If there has been one thing that we can remember this season by, it's been the defensive improvement and ability to grind out victories when needed. However, if there have been two things we can remember this season by, it's jumping out to an early lead, and letting the teams claw their way back in. The Suns need to step on the gas pedal, and don't stop to let the Nets catch their breath.
- Go to Amare early and often. Amare had a sensational first quarter against the Bulls, so let's ride that train. It's no secret that Amare has been straight up destroying the competition lately, and Yi Jianlian isn't exactly a defensive specialist.
- Exploit the matchups. The Suns have veteran players that know their games much more than the Nets' young players do. Take advantage of the fact that the Nets are a young, rebuilding team, whereas the Suns are a veteran team looking to gain spots in the playoff race. You don't do that by dropping a game to a far less superior team.
Other Suns-related Links, for your entertainment
NBA Power Rankings: Where We Wonder How Much A GM Matters - SB Nation
Movin' on up! The Suns moved up from 7th last week to 6th this week. Somehow, no one knows how we keep winning, but we do...so we keep getting moved up. Sounds about right.
Cappie Pondexter Heads to New York in 3-Team WNBA Trade -- NBA FanHouse
I know this isn't Suns related, and half of you couldn't care less about women's basketball in the first place, but I do...and I'll be the first to say it: NOOO! Cappie will be sorely missed in the PHX, and I wish her the best of luck. On that note, everyone welcome Candice Dupree, who is actually pretty good.
Hey, Mister Hill, can you sign this? | StarTribune.com
Video of Suns signing or not signing autographs outside their hotel in Minnesota.
Phoenix Suns equipped with pads and more
Amundson wears two pair of socks for warm-ups and a fresh pair for games. Amundson also is the only one on the team who needs hair bands for his ponytail. The right kind is as essential to him as Carmex lip care is to Stoudemire or Bubbaloo gum is to Barbosa. On a March game day in Los Angles, he searched for the rubber sport hair band for hours before finding it at a Whittier, Calif., Target store.
Basketball Prospectus | Articles | No Lopez Tonight
Kevin Pelton takes another look at the with and without Robin Lopez numbers and concludes that maybe the Suns will be ok and maybe not.