In a season replete with ups and downs, positives and negatives, victories and losses, the Phoenix Suns have been anything but predictable. However, there is a major difference between unpredictable and inconsistent. Unpredictable can be the Indianapolis Colts offense, built on Peyton Manning's ability to read defenses and call audibles. Inconsistent usually means showing flashes of brilliance, yet displaying even more moments of ineptitude.
Choose for yourself what the Phoenix Suns are to you, but one thing is certain: just when we think we know this team, the rug is pulled out from underneath us. While the recent blowout loss to the Denver Nuggets wasn't the end of the world, as we were playing with a gimpy Steve Nash and without Channing Frye. But frankly, if the Phoenix Suns are to make a playoff push, these are the games that need to be won.
The Suns are still a respectable 6-3 in their last nine, with a 4-game winning streak thrown into that mix as well. However, when you consider that the Suns are just 2-3 in their last five, we find the more telling statistic: the Phoenix Suns are still figuring out how to play together.
The Suns will have to do more than pray for a Hakim Warrick explosion or a late game Jared Dudley parade in order to beat the visiting Orlando Magic, who are the exact kind of team that gives the Suns fits: a rebounding team.
The Orlando Magic currently rank 6th in the NBA in total rebounds per game (43) while the Suns stand at 24th, pulling in just over 40 (40.1). Not too bad, right? A differential of 2.9 isn't too bad, given the apparent lack of rebounding we as fans have come to expect from anyone not named Marcin Gortat.
However, that's just total rebounds. The differential between rebounds pulled in versus rebounds allowed for opponents is a bit more troubling. The Suns pull in 40.1 per night, but allow their opponents to pull in 43.8, a +/- of -3.7. The Magic, on the other hand, pull in 43 and only allow their opponents to grab an average of 40.1, a +2.9 for the Magic Men.
Undoubtedly, Marcin Gortat will be everywhere on the court during this matchup. He's playing against his former coach, team and mentor, Dwight Howard. And if there's one thing we know about Marcin, it's that he's not lacking in confidence, especially on the defensive/rebounding side of things. However, even he was quoted as saying, "I'm starting from the worst position: he's supposed to kick my ass."
The Magic also have Brandon Bass, Ryan Anderson, two guys that have the exact formula to beat the Suns. A rebounding big man who can shoot the ball.
- We all know Channing Frye is still out with a separated right shoulder. Old news.
- Steve Nash is listed as questionable for the game, saying the he "can't move ... [there is] just too much pain and immobility." Personally, I think Nash will probably gut it out. Realistically, however, it is probably safe to assume that he'll likely sit this one out. Updates to come, as we get them.
- From the Magic side of things, JJ Redick injured himself in Friday's shootaround at Golden State. The diagnosis is still uncertain, but the Warriors' team doctor mentioned the possibility of a sports hernia. If that's the case, he will likely miss a good deal of time. Count him out for tonight's game.
Keys to the Game
- Aaron Brooks is going to have to find a way to shake off the rust and start hitting shots again. Especially with the possibility of Steve Nash missing the game, the Suns will need Brooks in a big way. Look for Brooks to be more assertive on offense, and if not, well...the Suns don't really have a chance in this one.
- Play some (or a lot of) defense. The Magic love funneling opposing teams' guards in to their human eraser, Dwight Howard, and the Suns need to try and counter their defensive attack. Marcin Gortat is going to need a solid game from Robin Lopez to help counter the defensive deficiencies of Hakim Warrick.
- Keep the Magic off the three point line. When the Magic are hitting their threes, it's nearly impossible to beat that team. It's as simple as that.
- Limit the turnovers. I won't name names, but Hakim Warrick's two turnovers to end the first half were the worst consecutive turnovers I've ever seen in a basketball game. Did I say I wasn't going to name names? Oops.
- Don't accept excuses. This isn't really a key to the game as much as it's a key to the rest of the season, but after Thursday's loss to Denver, Vince Carter had all the right excuses going. "They gamble," Carter said. "When they're on, they're on. They're very good in transition. They rebound the ball extremely well so they make you take one shot and they're out. As far as the turnovers are concerned, they have quick guys who are in the passing lane constantly. When they gamble correctly, they're tough to beat." Carter should take a page from Gortat's book of accepting blame and promising to improve.