Derrick Rose might get 40 points. Joakim Noah might pull down 25 rebounds.
But as long as the Phoenix Suns don't allow anyone else on the Bulls roster to have a career night, the Thibodeaus can be beat. They just lost a late, hard-fought game to the Lakers less than 24 hours ago with their stars having played 40 minutes apiece. There should be a measure of letdown against a lesser team on the back end of a roadie back-to-back that the rested Suns have the opportunity to exploit.
Yes, it's come to this. Gone are the days where the Suns' fate is entirely in their own hands - that visiting teams not named Spurs were pretty certain to leave empty-handed regardless of how hard or well they played... at least in the pre-game blogosphere.
The Suns are no longer the most talented team on the court each night. They are no longer on the verge of a 10-game winning streak at the drop of a hat. They can no longer lament 'boredom' as the reason for an unexpected loss.
Now, the Phoenix Suns need to scrap, claw and shoot their way to a win. They need to fight harder than the other team, and when the game goes down to the wire they need to hope for that occassional defensive stand to seal the deal.
"We've just got to keep fighting and at least come up with the real important ones," Gentry says. "Which we did (Monday) and a couple of important stops."
That's what we've come to. The Suns are last or next-to-last in every measured defensive category. That is collective fail on a level we've never seen in Phoenix, making the past teams seem stingy by comparison.
But how? How has it gotten this bad, with a handful of defenders on the team willing to work hard on that end?
It has to be the scheme, or it's in the players' heads. When you play an overabundance of small forwards at the same time, you have the ability to switch on picks and screens which can give you an advantage.
Instead, this has bred confusion. Instinctually, these guys have all defended the same general area for their entire careers. That's okay if you're playing two small forwards at once, or one guy out of his natural position, because that player can see quickly where to go if the other four are in the right place and rotating as expected.
But if you've got three guys out of place in the same lineup, confusion runs amok. And that's what we've seen.
Guard Goran Dragic, after the Charlotte loss: "Sometimes it seems we don’t listen to him (Gentry) and do the opposite things."
Despite Goran's comment, I do lay some of this blame on Gentry. A team with this much skill should never be the worst in the league at defense. Sure, rebounding is a problem but it's ALWAYS been a problem. Gentry has to get his guys to pick their poison. You can't repeatedly call double-teams in the post or on the other team's best offensive player if (a) you know it's not effective and (b) that leaves someone else open by 15 feet.
Let's see if the Suns can right the ship.
"There's a mental lapse," said Suns forward Grant Hill, noting the straight drives they yield with no help in sight. "If you do what you're supposed to do and they score, you can live with that. But when we have those mental lapses, that's unacceptable and disappointing. You're going to have a couple of those a game but we're having too many. So we can get better."
Tonight's Opponent: Chicago Bulls
Luol Deng is having a consistent season. 18 points, 6 rebounds and 2.6 assists. He's not shooting all that well, but when he's on he can be a mid-range shooting fool. And guess what? The Suns LOVE to give up the midrange shot (or the dribble-drive to the basket if the player so prefers).
In fact, the Suns are like a fast-food restaurant - they love giving up anything the other team wants. Maybe we should call them the McSuns.
But I digress. Back to the Bulls.
Taj Gibson remains a surprisely good power forward given his true skillset. Gibson, you might recall, was taken later in the Earl Clark draft. Clark has a LOT more talent, but Gibson had the combination of "ready now" skills/mentality and opportunity. The Bulls had an opening at PF last year and filled it with a PF. Sure, he doesn't win you games, but at least he represents.
As I wrote above, Noah will probably get 20+ rebounds with the Bulls winning the overall rebounding battle by at least 10. Rose will lead the team in scoring, likely getting 40 or more (I can only hope that Goran dunks on Rose in transition).
Still, despite the talent on the Bulls, the Suns are talented too. And rested. And playing at home after a tough road trip.
Don't discount the value of embarassment, not only from the roadie results but from the derisive columns written about their record-settingly porous defense. The Suns should be tired of answering questions about 50% shooting percentages and 60+ points-in-the-paint after every game.
As long as Keith Bogans and Ronnie Brewer don't score 20 between them - which would double their collective season average - the Suns will win this game.
**Afterthought: By the way, has anyone else noticed that Hedo has hit the game-clinching 3-pointer in each of the Suns' last 3 wins, each time putting the Suns up by more than 1 possession in the final minute(s)? We're gonna love and hate that guy all season, but at least he can hit clutch shots.
Rebounding and Defense Once Again Hurting the Suns - azcentral.com/Coro
The Suns had to stop the bleeding and Monday's victory at Houston put a bandage on the wound.
But the way they won was no cure-all for what ails the Suns. They won with better offense but still have a diseased defense and rotten rebounding.
Bulls vs Suns coverage
[Note by Seth Pollack, 11/24/10 12:31 PM MST ]
Adding to Alex's great preview with some info from today's shootaround:
One thing I love about this Suns team is they don't run away from their problems. Unlike say, the Arizona Cardinals who keep insisting they are very close to playing well and nothing's really wrong.
There was a lot of good and specific quotes from today's shootaround about the need to improve rebounding and defense, what might have caused the lack of effort in Charlotte, and an update on Nash's groin.
Phoenix Suns Schedule Eases Up (A Tad) With Chicago Bulls In Town - SB Nation Arizona
"We're going to try and grow. The more you sleep, the more you grow," Nash said before talking about how the Suns need to make up for their lack of size and rebounding ability with desire.
Here's a few more quotes that didn't make it into that story:
"No excuse for it. We've got to continue to be a good defensive team even if we haven't been a good rebounding team and hopefully improve the rebounding and get ourselves to a good place rather than not be a good rebounding team and let the defense slip." - Steve Nash.
"A big component of rebounding is just desire. Especially when we're a team that doesn't rebound the ball really well, we've got to have a lot of desire. We've got to rebound together with all the guys doing their part and just try and make up for that discrepancy in size or our rebounding ability with desire." - Steve Nash.
"It's something that we're going to have to work on every day and continue to grow at it and we're going to have to keep pointing that out because it's hurt us in a lot of games." - Alvin Gentry.
Also, you will be happy to hear that Jared Dudley stayed late working on he's threes. I didn't get a chance to talk to him but he obviously knows there's a problem and is at least working to correct it.
I got my first up-close look at Earl Barron as well. The one thing that stood out was his skinny legs. He's a lanky fellow as my pappy would say.
Actually, my grandfather was from Queens, NY would wouldn't have said anything like that but, you know, poetic license.
Warrick and Dragic continue their reputation as gym rats, staying late once again. By the way, just because certain guys don't stay late doesn't mean they don't care or aren't trying. Guys know their bodies and what not and sometimes too much practice isn't a good thing either.