When athletes lose in a painful fashion, they'll often say they can't wait to play their next game, to have another chance to compete, to prove themselves again as soon as possible. The Suns will have that opportunity, as it were, after playing about 2 1/2 quarters of great basketball in Oklahoma City last night before collapsing down the stretch in a 115-104 loss to the Western Conference leading Thunder.
Tonight, the Suns face last year's NBA champions, the Dallas Mavericks, at home and will hope to both start and finish strong to be able to split this challenging back to back. This will be the Suns last matchup against the Mavs this season after the Mavs won the first three, and the last eight overall against Phoenix. The Suns last defeated the Mavs on January 28, 2010.
Even at 17-21 and in 12th place in the West, the Suns remain only 3 games back of the #8 and final playoff spot.
Tonight's game will be televised nationally on TNT.
More after the jump.
Let's review what happened in the first three meetings between these teams:
In the January 4th contest, the Mavs dominated the boards, Dirk was Dirk, and even the usual strong performances from Steve Nash and Marcin Gortat couldn't save the day, as 7footer detailed the Suns 98-89 loss for us.
Former Sun Shawn Marion provided the difference in the second game later in January, again covered by the prolific 7footer, as a "new and improved" Suns line-up (remember Markieff Morris and Ronnie Price as starters?) dropped a 93-87 decision to the Mavs.
Steve Nash missed the third meeting with a thigh bruise and, for some reason, the Suns used that occasion to play horrible defense. Wil had the honor of covering the ensuing 122-99 massacre.
And now the Suns will have to bounce back from a game on the road last night, and a loss that had to be deflating. The Mavs are only 23-17 and 6th in the West, not exactly looking like World Champions this season as Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea departed via free agency, Dirk Nowitzki hasn't been as dominant and trade pick-up Lamar Odom has been a headcase.
Here are the Mavs numbers so far this season.
Jonathan Tjarks from SB Nation Dallas and I exchanged questions and answers leading up to tonight's game. My answers to him regarding the Suns can be found here, and his regarding the Mavs follow:
Q: Is the Lamar Odom situation in Dallas salvageable? Was his heart simply not in it from the start?
Jonathan: I don't think it would be fair to speculate on whatever off-the-court issues, which forced him to miss 4 games last week, are bothering Odom.
However, most of his on-the-court struggles have come because he's playing out of position. In LA, he played at the 4 and blew by bigger opponents but in Dallas, he's at the 3 with Dirk at the 4 and he's not nearly as comfortable posting up. However, despite his poor stats, he's been very valuable to the Mavs in terms of upgrading their length/athleticism defensively and giving them a second shot-creator off the bench. It's no coincidence Dallas went 0-4 with Odom gone.
One of our writers had a pretty even-handed take on his time in Dallas earlier in the week.
Q: How big has the loss of Tyson Chandler been for the Mavs this season?
Jonathan: Chandler was as important to Dallas defensively as Dirk was offensively last season. It hasn't been born out by the statistics this year because of how the Mavericks upgraded their perimeter athleticism and the decline in offense due to the lockout, but it's going to be a significant issue come playoff time. Chandler has the best qualities of all three Dallas centers (Haywood's post defense, Mahinmi's rim protection and Wright's finishing ability) in one package and he was the far superior rebounder.
Q: Dirk Nowitzki has a lot of mileage on the odometer in his 14th NBA season, and will be 34 this June. Does he have another MVP-type season left in him?
Jonathan: I'd use the analogy of a sports car. If Dirk has a quarter tank of gas left in his engine, an MVP season would be throttling him to 90, which would deplete his tank far quicker than going 60 for 3-4 more seasons. The Mavs are going to try and extend his career as far as possible, similar to what the Suns and Spurs do with Nash and Duncan, so I don't think Dirk will have the statistics to get another MVP in his career.
Q: Do you see the Mavs as legitimate Western Conference contenders this season?
Jonathan: It depends how you define "contender". I don't think they'll get out of the West but, if healthy come playoff time, they're right there with all of the teams chasing OKC. How far they advance, with the WCF probably being their ceiling, will depend on match-ups. The one team I don't want to see is Denver because they are so athletic on the perimeter and can really put pressure on your interior defense w/so many players who can penetrate and finish at the rim.
Q: Will Deron Williams be a target of the Mavs this off-season? If so, what do you think the chances are the Mavs land him?
Jonathan: He's a Dallas native and he's one of the top 3 PG's in the NBA so it's a pretty obvious connection. It sounds like Williams is going to try and team up with Howard in 2012 so I think it will all come down to Otis Smith's decision in Orlando over the next two weeks.
You never know what a man is going to do when you put him on a decision for all his chips, so it's hard to put a percentage on Dallas' chances for Williams and Howard. I think we'll have a much clearer idea of what's going to happen on March 16.