This might be a game Suns fans are checking off as an "easy win" on their Count Down to Come Back charts, but you might want to tell that to the LA Lakers who got beat last night by these young athletic 76ers.
The Elton Brand-less ballers from Liberty City come into this game sporting the same number of losses (31) as the Suns and a 4 game win streak including wins over the Heat and Bulls to go with their road win over the West's top team.
They are athletic as hell and powered by THE MOST UNDERRATED point guard in the game, Andre Miller. Andre Iguodala dropped 25 (out his team's 94) last night and rookie big man Marreese Speights torched the Suns in the team's last meeting just before the all-star break. He out worked and out shot Amare and if he's on will present match-up problems again for the Suns.
The good news is that Speights is a rookie and not a very consistent one. And the 76er's did play last night and won an emotional buzzer-beater game. And...and this is the most important thing...they are young and athletic but they are not very big. In other words, they are us but with less experience and talent which makes this not only a game the Suns MUST WIN but a game the Suns SHOULD WIN.
[Note by Phoenix Stan, 03/18/09 3:51 PM MST ]
"All present and accounted for at shootaround, including Jason Richardson who had a 9am court date," according to Sports 620 KTAR. Coach Gentry talked a bit about how well the 76ers are playing and how pointless it is to scoreboard watch.
Steve Kerr on his weekly radio show talks about Amare's health and the development of his young players.
Match-ups by position
Point Guards: In the back court both teams feature veteran floor generals known for their savvy and passing and while Andre Miller is the MOST UNDER RATED PG in the game he's also not a former two-time MVP.
Backing up Miller is the kind of small, super quick point guard that can give the Suns fits. Remember JJ Barea? Lou Williams is averaging about 12 points in 22 minutes and will give the Suns fits if he's hitting his outside shot.
Backing up Nash will be a combination of Barbosa and Dragic. Both are longer and more athletic then Williams and will have an advantage on the offensive end but will need to be locked defensively to stay in front of the 6-1, 175 speedster.
Advantage: Toss up
Shooting Guards: The Suns have a clear advantage here with the larger and more skilled Jason Richardson up against 6-3, 200lb Willie Green (who?). Backing them up are Kareem Rush who is probably a better defensive match-up on JRich given his size and for the Suns Barbosa and perhaps a smidgen of Tucker.
Small Forward: This is the key matchup of the game. Grant Hill once again draws the toughest defensive assignment and should matchup well against AI. We don't need Grant to do anything more then his usual stellar effort on defense and his smart play-making on offense. Holding AI to under 20 pts will be a win for the Suns
Advantage: Toss-up. AI will put up more points then Grant but his defense and play-making should make up for that.
"Power" Forward: Neither of these teams will play a traditional big bruising power forward or even on of the more modern long mobile types of the LaMarcus Aldridge variety. Instead, we will get see the high-energy constant motion of Barnes and Dudley against an extremely athletic but very raw Thaddeus Young.
This is a good match-up for both teams in that neither will be undersized as they often are against other opponents. If Barnes continues to play well he should turn this into a wash. Behind Young is where we might see some trouble.
Reggie Evans is basically Lou Amundson but better. Huge motor. Great rebounding and more experience. This one worries me because he outweighs Dudley by quite a bit. I would almost rather see Dudley's better perimeter defense against Young but that's not going to happen.
Center: Shaq vs. Dalembert. Enough Said
Backup Center: This one is another worrisome match-up. Speights has the potential to cause problems if he's hitting his jump shot being aggressive on the boards. He's longer then Lou and more mobile. You would almost want to see Stromile on Speights but then again, chances are the rookie won't have another great game against us. Let's hope not anyway.
The 76ers are playing well but will be coming in off an emotional win over the Lakers last night while the Suns are well rested. Both teams need wins but clearly the home team needs the W much more.
Another high-scoring affair is quite likely. The Suns should take this game and will if they come out playing hard and fast and continue to find that balance between using Shaq in the post and keeping the perimeter guys involved. Points in the paint has been a huge plus for the Suns recently and mostly that's from fast break layups and slashing wing play from JRich, LB and Barnes.
Suns win 127 - 112
Besure to check out Liberty Ballers for their preview