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Game Preview, Preseason Game #4: Suns Host Utah, 7PM AZ Time

Finally, a real home game! The Phoenix Suns play the Utah Jazz tonight at US Airways Arena in downtown Phoenix with a 7pm tipoff.

Unfortunately, it's not scheduled to be on anyone's television set, despite the fact that the Suns would almost certainly get a high number of viewers. Let's all gather 'round the transistors tonight and listen to Al's silky voice tell us how wonderful the Suns' full court press is ruining Utah's best laid plans.

Seth should be at the game, as will other local reporters and maybe even some of you season ticketholders. (I, for one, will not. I get partial-season tix via a friend, and tonight's game is not one of those I "drafted" last weekend. My preseason game is the Golden State matchup next week.)

I'm sure the players are geeked up for the first home crowd they've heard in 4 months. I hope the arena is rocking, but likey it won't be. Fans are just like players. Preseason has no comparison to early regular season, which has no comparison to post-all-star games, which has no comparison to any round of the playoffs.

In fact, our game thread might have more "umph" than anywhere else. BSotS rocks.

So, what should we expect tonight?

Jazz notes

Word is that Utah will play something akin to a regular season rotation. No idea whether that will include regular-season intensity. 

The Jazz (2-0 this preseason, both against Portland) are still trying to incorporate new C Big Al Jefferson into the lineup. Tweets from Jazz reporters indicate that the transition has not been 100% easy yet, noting things like spacing and offensive flow as areas on which they need to work.

The Jazz also has Raja Bell as their new starting SG. He has not played regular basketball since the 08-09 season in which he was traded midseason from Phoenix to Charlotte.

In their first preseason game, they had 14 different players put points on the board, led by Deron Williams and Paul Millsap. Jefferson and Bell combined for only 11 points.

In their second game, also a win over Portland, they used 15 players (14 of whom scored), this time led by Fesenko and Williams. Jefferson was better (14 pts, 6 rebs) this time.

In both games, Portland seemed to play an only-slightly elongated rotation but still lost.


Suns notes

For their part, the Suns are on opponent #4 and game #4 overall and, for the first time, are playing in the friendly confines of US Airways Arena.

According to coach Gentry, expect the Suns to play harder than they have in any preseason game to date. The home crowd should certainly have some kind of effect on this effort as well, so I doubt we will be disappointed.

It's even possible the Suns will start making shots - like maybe more than 20% of their 3-pt attempts. I'd point out who's started cold this preseason, but the list is too long. Don't be surprised if the Suns sink 50+% of their 3s tonight. The lid can only stay on the hoop for so long. A flood's a comin'.

Seth has written a few articles (on Hedo and Childress) in the last couple days - check them out on BSotS and SB Nation AZ.

Hedo is still trying to fit in, as are Warrick and Childress. And Hill, Nash et al are already playing the "its going to take us a long time to gel" card.

Apparently, what appears to be schoolyard bball with no plays and the PG magically creating every shot attempt off his own dribble is in reality a lot more complicated than that.

It took Raja Bell more than a month to take open shots without a conscience. Same for Channing Frye. Jason Richardson took even longer, as did Shaq (in his own way). Heck, Dudley, Dragic and Lopez didn't even find their niche for months after coming to the Suns.

So give Hedo Turkoglu, Josh Childress and Hakim Warrick some time to fit in.

In the meantime, if the team just comes out and plays harder than the other team every night, the Suns should still be able to rack up a lot of wins.

Something I noticed during the Mavs game (on TNT last weekend) was that the Suns were aggressive in the passing lanes, getting deflections and steals at a high rate. And since then, Gentry has said that he wants active defense to be a hallmark of this squad.

I am excited to see this development, because I think it's a great way to offset the rebounding problem. In fact, take a look at this article I wrote over the summer on the topic as well as this one three days later.

Excerpt here (for data to support this, click the links above):

There seem to be 2 parts of overall Defensive Efficiency: initial defense (resulting in a shot attempt, shooting foul or turnover) and second-chance defense (otherwise known as defensive rebounding).

A team can be good at defensive rebounding, but that doesn't matter if the opponent makes a lot of shots. In other words, you can't rebound a shot that goes through the hoop. Conversely, a team can mitigate their rebounding deficiency by playing better defense before the shot even goes up.

Initial Defense is the 'Pts/Play' column in the above table. As you can see, the Suns were tied for worst in Points Per Play among playoff teams. But being middle of the pack (15th) overall in the entire league helped them make the playoffs, despite being the second-worst defensive rebounding team in the NBA.

Second-chance defense is the prevention of offensive rebounds to extend the play. The Suns were very bad at preventing these, proven in their 29th-ranked 'defensive rebound rate'.

Defensive Efficiency - the 'Pts/Poss' column in the above table - takes both initial defense and second-chance defense into account.

The Suns initial defense ranked 15th, second-chance defense ranked 29th, resulting in an overall defensive efficiency (pts/poss) of 19th. Being the second-worst defensive rebounding team hurt the Suns, but not as much as you might expect.

Take a look at OKC and Portland. Portland was a much better defensive rebounding team than OKC (4th vs. 16th), yet finished with a worse overall Defensive Efficiency (13th vs. 8th) because Portland's initial defense was poor by comparison to OKC (15th vs. 1st).

So what does this mean to the Suns?

This: If our favorite team is going to struggle to rebound the ball, they can offset some of that with better initial defense.

Looks like the Suns feel the same way.

So get 'em, guys!

[Note by Seth Pollack, 10/12/10 2:39 PM MST ]


Phoenix Suns Preseason Home Opener Tonight, Jazz Time At 7 P.M. AZ - SB Nation Arizona
Gentry says we can expect the Suns starters to play in the low- to mid-20 minute range. The Suns face the Jazz again on Wednesday in Utah and then on October 28 in the second game of the regular season. Three times in two weeks is a lot of Jazz for Gentry.

"They beat you up pretty good so there's no reason to get all beaten up in the preseason. I'll limit Steve (Nash) and some of the other guys' minutes some what and be able to take a look at some of these other guys in those situations," Gentry said after this morning's shoot around.

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