This season has been full of up's and down's and this was the week that typified the wild ride.
The boys won 3 of 4 and ran off their best defensive stretch of games holding teams to a combined 38% FG which is far better then league leading Boston's average of 41%. Don't look now but the Suns are 12th overall in this key defensive stat at 44% and that's still only about 1% worse then #2 Detroit who sits at 43%.
The story of the week clearly was the Suns performance on the defensive end. Unfortunately, that focus might have actually cost them the one and worst lose of the week. More on that later.
Here's a recap of the week's contests:
Friday Night in Cav-town:
The Suns beat back a tough Cav's team who had been playing very well winning 9 out of their last 10 and then going on to beat Kobe and the Trailblazer after losing to us. LeBron is far and away my MVP so far and his 1:1 destruction of Kobe was a thing of beauty. But the Suns played hard and managed to shut down the King in the 4th qtr where he leads the league in last stanza scoring. Throw in some timely 3's from Raja and Shawn's game winning bucket and this win is feeling a lot more pleasant then it did at the time. The team came out of this game feeling very good about themselves and apparently used the fourth quarter defense as a spring board for things to come.
Sunday Matinee in the Windy City:
This was an ugly game against an injury depleted team that could not find more then one player who could score. That certainly helped the Suns defense look good as they held the disappointing Bulls to 77 but only managed 88 themselves. At the time, I figured the early game contributed to a cold shooting late morning but maybe not. More on that later...
Destruction of the ATL in the PHX:
There's not too many ways you can destroy a team more then this. The Suns shot 64% and held the Hawks to 34%. That's an amazing differential and it showed up in the final 33 point blow out. Even more amazing was that the Suns only hit 2 three's in that game and still scored 125. Wow. On a personal note, I missed this game as I traveled to Minneapolis for some meetings. And let me tell you that there is no way to really describe what -14 degrees with 35mph winds feels like. Remind me of this come July and I am complaining about 110 degrees. But at least that heat won't cause you to lose an exposed ear in less than 10 minutes.
Losing to the Spurs Blows:
This one clearly still hurts. Mostly because it's the Spurs without Parker and Barry and playing poorly generally and because it drops the Suns to only 4-8 against Western playoff teams which is not going to get it done come playoff time. The game was bad but I think I agree w/ Coach's comments on this one that if the Suns problems are on offense then that's a good problem for the Suns to have. I guess I am saying that there was nothing about this loss that makes me think we can't take a series from these bums.
Then, just when you are feeling good about things...
Spaniards Reinvade So-Cal:
There's no team in the West that has improved itself more this year than the hated Lakers. The Ariza deal was a great move getting them an athletic wing man replacing the very non-athletic big shooter Cook and some other guy I can't remember. Then Pow. There's Gasol.
This is really a great move for both teams as Memphis is primed for some serious shopping in the off season once Kwame is sent out to pasture. (Let's not forget that the Lakers traded Caron Butler for Kwame. I guess you could spin that by saying they traded Butler for Gasol with a three year lag....)
For the Lakers....well, this should improve their team if Pau can avoid whatever crappy training staff or LA environmental threat seems to consistently cause injuries to their players. I still think the Suns will hold them off and win the division and I doubt that this year the Lakers will get it together enough to make it to the WCF but it all depends on the match-ups and how well Kobe decides to share the ball. It takes more then talent to win in the NBA. Just ask the Nuggets. And Nets. And Knicks. And Bulls. And Hornets and Blazers for that matter who aren't exactly stacked with proven talent.
Restating the Obvious: The West is Tough:
Just when you thought the West was getting a bit easier with KG gone...now we've got two very good young teams in NO and Portland and a rapidly improving Lakers that narrowly avoided implosion in a ball of Kobe-fury. And don't forget that the Clippers with Brand and Livingston back are going to improve and the Kings are healthy and playing well too. Do you think the Suns can switch to the Eastern Conference?
Offense versus Defense:
We talked about how good the Suns D was this week but we can't overlook the fact that the Suns points total dropped from a season average of 109 to 101 this week and if you take out the ATL game the FG% dropped to 46%.
I think this was very evident in the Spurs game where I had a very clear gut feeling that the Suns on offense weren't trying at all and were actually anxious to get back on D so they could go to work. I can't say I ever recall thinking that while watching the Suns.... And based on some of the team comments there seems to be some truth to my gut (speaking of which, at least I didn't have to eat two Jack in the Box tacos after this game...)
So, let's see if the Suns can manage to put a solid defensive and offensive game together in the same night against a good team. Wednesday against the Hornets would be a great time to see that.
Overall, I am going to give the team an "A". I know, with the Spurs loss they probably deserve worse but 3-4 overall and some really solid defensive efforts earned the "A" for the week. Oh, and let's not forget that we finished the month with only 5 loses in 16 games and still (technically) on top of the West. That's something.
Update [2008-2-4 10:50:42 by srp]:
I forgot to look up Skinner's minutes over this stretch as he clearly has been playing less. He logged under 7:00 min/game in all of last week's games except for the ATL blowout which was stacked w/ garbage time.
Why are his minutes down?
Is Coach trying to get Diaw more time to get him going?
Is Skinner dinged up?
I haven't heard anything about this. I would certainly be a good question for Paul Coro to look into. Paul. I know you read this blog! Get on it! Perhaps the most interesting thing about this is that while Skinner's minutes are down the Suns D has been up. Is this a fluke helped by playing a bad Bulls team and a Parker-less Spurs or is this the start of a trend? As the great band once said....