Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached the halfway mark of the 2010-11 NBA season. Time flies when you're on a roller-coaster. What may seem like only a few seconds of twisting, turning, gradual rises and sudden drops is in reality a number of minutes. That experience kind of sums it up for me so far this year and I think I might speak for all when I say I hope the crazy roller-coaster we've been riding is coming to an end. That way we can get off and go ride the ski-lift into the playoffs.
Currently the Suns are riding a season high 5 game winning streak (3rd longest in the NBA right now) after their win last night over the Washington Wizards. This win streak right now is the longest the Suns have had since a 10 game winning streak last year from March 14-April 2, 2010. Now for the challenge - finish up the last two games of their 5 game road trip strong - the team has already traveled over 3,678 miles, but can they go... the distance?!
Tonight's back-to-back match-up features a team that in my mind sparked a transformation in your current Phoenix Suns. It was 11 games ago that the Detroit Pistons came into Phoenix, only 2 days after an embarrassing loss to the Philadelphia 76ers (to extend a season-long losing streak to 4) where defensive breakdowns allowed them to post 123 points against us. It was only 2 days after new guy Marcin Gortat brazenly called out his teammates for lack of effort and lack of defensive motivation. He muttered,
"We are the worst defensive team in the league..."
After a lengthy practice the day before Alvin Gentry announced that the defensive schemes would be simplified as they were last year. Grant Hill said,
"Are we going to be the best defensive team in the league tomorrow? No. But it's something that we talked about as players and we've got to commit to it and we've got to stay patient."
What was the result? Jump it to be reminded and to preview tonight's game!
The end result was a win and the best defensively played game of the year for the Suns. The final score read 92-75, not only was that win the first win for Phoenix this year when scoring under 100 points (1-9) but it was fewest points allowed since they held the Chicago Bulls to 74 points on November 9, 2004. It was 2 days earlier that the Suns scored 110 points and lost by 13 - now they had only scored 92 points and won by 17.
There's been a lot of talk about 'turning corners' lately here on the Bright Side. I see this game now in hindsight as a sort of a turning point, because after this defensive performance the Suns' offense took a nosedive. So why is it a turning point? Because things started to change. The Suns talked some talk - then they started walking some walk. The following 3 games were all disappointing losses (SAC, LA, NY) where the Suns failed to mesh offensively and failed to score over 100 points. Then for whatever reason a gritty win at home against the Cleveland Cavs prompted Alvin Gentry put his foot down on his 'rotation experiment' and decided to run a consistent starting line-up for 10 games over a span of approx. 2 weeks. Enter "The Two Weeks" of seasonal determination.
Until this point, Alvin's rotation experiment had called on 11 different starting lineups - it's now 12 with the current starting five of Nash, Carter, Hill, Frye and Lopez. THAT'S 12 DIFFERENT LINEUPS in 41 games... they used only 8 different lineups in 82 games last year. But the consistent lineup and growing chemistry between players is yielding results. The Suns are now 5-1 and tonight have a chance to return to .500 for the first time since they stood at 13-13. We've been talking and hearing about how the Suns are lacking chemistry and cohesion (those are the two most repetitive buzz-words) and how it will 'take time' - but the reality we're witnessing is that it really just takes winning. As awkward as it sounds, the recipe for winning and improved team camaraderie... is winning - and the Suns are doing just that. Now let's move on and remind ourselves of just who these Pistons are.
Let's take a look at some of the overall NBA ranked categories -
This might explain a bit why we were able to win by 17 and only score 92.. But still this team a potential threat just like any team in the NBA.
Steve Nash --- Rodney Stucky
Vince Carter - Tracy McGrady
Grant Hill ------ Tayshaun Prince
Channing Frye - Chris Wilcox
Robin Lopez --- Greg Monroe
Well... if fatigue was a concern for the Suns coming into this game, you can rest a little easier knowing that the Pistons are also playing their 2nd game of a back-to-back tonight. Last night they faced the New Jersey Nets -> and lost by 15. They shot a season low 33.3 FG% which included a 4th quarter meltdown where they only hit 3 field goals on 15 attempts. Yikes. About the only good part of their game yesterday was the double techs issued to Tracy McGrady and Sasha Whooservilleitch at halftime when the two exchanged some words. Apparently we aren't the only ones who hate the dude.
Here was their box score -
Detroit's Key Subs - Battle of the Benches
Interesting fact - Detroit's bench is averaging right around 39 points per game which is number 1 in the NBA. Our bench is averaging right around 37 points which is 4th or 5th. It's a good thing our bench is starting to play better because we will need their D and their O. Here's some of the reasons why Detroit's bench is so potent.
Will Bynum - he can score if he gets into a groove, and he's like speedy gonzales with hops.
- Austin Daye - He's draining threes this year... draining threes?
- Charlie Villanueva - He's draining threes as well, we've got to close out on these two guys (Daye, Villanueava) because they are bigger guys it might seem awkward, much like it is for opposing 4's to stretch out and guard Channing Frye out on the perimeter.
Ben Gordon - we know who you are - you're one of those Suns killers! He's averaging 25.6 points in his last 9 games against Phoenix.
- Rip Hamilton ? - in a normal universe Rip would be right up top on the scoring threat list... but recently he's been caught in some pretty nasty 'Melo-drama' (was supposed to somehow be part of a multi-team trade that would send Melo to NJ) and has recorded 6 straight DNP-CD because of undisclosed reasons... It's bugging Rip - no doubt it's weighing on his teammates and the staff as well. What the heck is going on? I don't know - but you can read more about it here. We'll take another DNP-CD though...
As for our bench - check this little tidbit also from Vince Kozar -
It's weird how we think they're struggling - but they seem to outscore the opposing bench with regularity.
Grant the All-Star
You better believe Grant Hill is on the front page of the Piston's scouting report. Well - at least I know for a fact that he is one of the main topics of discussion for Pete Skorich and Steve Perry in an NBA.com Piston's video titled, "Scouting Report: Pistons v. Suns". He's currently the team's 3rd leading rebounder and this year he's already had 11 20+ point games -> he had only 5 in 81 games all of last year. The man has been playing out of his mind this year and I think he deserves his own special paragraph in this preview. BAMF FTW.
Alright - with that all out of the way my final thoughts before the game are this -
Plain and simple, keep the ball rolling.
I leave you with my favorite tweet of the week - courtesy of @SteveNash
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