Amar'e who? (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
The last time the Phoenix Suns took on the New York Knicks, it wasn't a pretty sight. The Suns had dropped six of their last seven games, the Knicks were one of the hottest teams in the league, and the Suns were still adjusting to the new additions of Gortat, Pietrus and Carter. The Suns were trying to look past the focus on Stoudemire's return and instead focus on righting their ship. I can't say whether they block the Amar'e talk out, but they definitely did not right the ship.
Let's just list some of the things that went wrong, shall we? The Suns were outscored in every quarter. Amar'e went into typical Amar'e beast mode and went for 23 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Raymond Felton dropped a triple double on us. The Knicks hit 17 of 33 3-pointers, matching a season high and tying their second most in franchise history.
This was when the Suns were in a freefall. Today's Suns, while still unsure of their true identity, have won two straight and are finding at least a semblance of traction on the slippery slope to irrelevance. Can they keep it up as they embark on their current 5-game road trip, or will they return to their losing ways?
The Suns are winners of two straight games, and while they were against the New Jersey Nets and Brandon Roy-less Blazers, wins are still wins. And aside from that, they have meant so much more than just another couple wins. This team is desperate, and to pull out come from behind victories in both situations shows that the Suns have enough grit and determination to not lay down and accept defeat. There is no doubt that Grant Hill's return was vital to the spirit of this team. Hell, even Vince Carter seems to be playing with more of a fire than he normally shows. Things are somewhat clicking on Planet Orange, and while it may not be the prettiest sight, it's a step in the right direction.
I'm only going to throw out a possible starting lineup for the sake of throwing it out there, but it may very well change on game day (see last game).
PG: Steve Nash/Raymond Felton
SG: Vince Carter/Landry Fields
SF: Grant Hill/Wilson Chandler
PF: Channing Frye/Amar'e Stoudemire
For all the small ball lineup madness that happened last game, I expect the two teams to revert to a more standard starting lineup. For one, Channing Frye has been hitting shots lately and adds a rebounding and defensive element to the starting lineup. (Yes, I never thought I'd use the words "rebounding" and "defensive" as words to describe Channing Frye) Secondly, the Knicks had their way with the Suns in the first quarter when the Suns started Nash, Carter, Hill, Pietrus and Childress. Don't expect Gentry to tread down that road again anytime soon.
The matchup I'm most interested in is Nash against Felton. As noted above, the last time Felton came to town, he netted a triple double, notching 23 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds and hitting 5-of-10 from 3-point range. That absolutely cannot happen again if the Suns want to have a puncher's chance at a victory. Nash could perhaps be hidden on Fields, having Carter take on Felton, but Fields is one of this year's most surprising rookies, averaging 10.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game.
Playing To Win
The Suns, in their two game win streak, have played to win. Were you one of the doubters in the Nets game, when we fell down by 15 in the 3rd quarter? I know I was. And then, before my own eyes, I witnessed the Phoenix Suns happen. Jared Dudley hit a 4-point play. He snared an offensive rebound and got the hoop and the harm. Goran Dragic got a few timely steals. Steve Nash and Vince Carter played hard and rallied the troops. It was truly a sight to see.
Then came the Blazers game. The Portland Trail Blazers are a team the Suns historically have had problems with, especially in the past few years. They play slow, they rebound, and they emphasize defense. They are, for lack of a better term, the anti-Suns. But the boys in purple and orange stuck it out and gutted out a win. This is the Phoenix Suns team we want to see. This is the team that can make the playoffs.
If we don't see this team tomorrow morning, though, we're doomed for another loss. The Knicks are a very good basketball team. Wilson Chandler and Raymond Felton, in my mind, are winning the race for Most Improved Player. Amar'e is at or near the top of the MVP voting. If Blake Griffin didn't exist, I think Landry Fields would be my choice for Rookie of the Year. They are a young team, hungry to win...and if our old bones don't come out and compete for a full 48 minutes like we have been doing, we'll get run out of town.
The thing about this Knicks team is that it seems like it's too reliant on its star (or near star) players (Stoudemire, Felton, Gallinari/Chandler). But, if you'll recall the game in Phoenix, it was Bill Walker coming off the bench to score 8 points and grab 9 rebounds. Or Shawne Williams, also coming off the bench, to score 15 points on 4 3-pointers, grab 7 boards, dish out 2 assists, steal 3 balls and block 2 shots. The two players combined had a +31 on the game. For a point of reference, Grant Hill by himself posted a -31.
Keys to the Game
- Play some defense! If the Suns are filling passing lanes, contesting the rim, and trying to eliminate dribble drives, they'll have a shot at winning. If not, it'll be tough to pull out a win.
- Don't get beat by 3-pointers. The Knicks have a balanced attack on the perimeter, but aside from Amar'e, they don't have a ton of inside scoring. If we can take away their threes, we might take away a win.
- Play a team game. There's no doubt that the Suns are at their best when everyone is involved. If there gets to be an extended stretch of too many Vince Carter iso's, too much Nash dribbling, or too many Jared Dudley pull up jumpers, we're in trouble.
All in all, I'm expecting a good game. It's an early one, but hopefully the Suns will reward those of us who will be watching feeds or commenting away in the game thread during work hours. Go Suns!