Steve Nash celebrated his 38th birthday by continuing his outstanding recent play, leading the Suns to a successful 3-1 week and being named to the All-Star team along the way. The Suns won three road games and hung tough with a Rockets team that had blown them out the previous week. In fact, the two losses to the Rockets are the Suns only losses so far this month, after they finished January with a thud. Things are looking up!
Record for the week (February 5-11): 3-1
Average Score: Suns 98.3, Opponents: 93.8
Beating the Bucks and Kings is nothing to uncork champagne over, but the Hawks are an upper-echelon playoff seed in the East and the Suns handled them with ease in Atlanta. This might have been the best stretch of Suns ball we've seen this year. Channing Frye came to life, Michael Redd provided some needed scoring off the bench, Grant Hill looks healthy and Steve Nash is, incredibly, playing as well as ever. The ceiling on this Suns team is low, but it's encouraging to at least see them not underachieving as they were early in the season.
Western Conference Position: 12th
The Suns have been hanging out in this area of the conference standings for most of the season and the longer it goes on, the more it looks like they're stuck here. However, it wouldn't take too much of a hot streak to make up ground. They're only 2 1/2 games back from the #8 seed, and the Nuggets, Blazers and Jazz are sliding a bit. It will probably take 35 or 36 wins out of 66 games to make the playoffs, meaning the Suns need to go at least 23-16 the rest of the way to have a shot.
Offensive Rating: 102.3 (19th out of 30), PPG: 93.4 (19th out of 30)
It's so simple, isn't it? Put the ball in the basket. The open shots the Suns were missing early in the season are now starting to fall, and the Suns made 37% of their 3s and 49% of their total FGs this week, both above their season averages. Channing Frye, Jared Dudley and Michael Redd are hitting 3s at a fairly consistent rate and the 3-point shot is key to the Suns offensive success.
The bench continues to struggle to score and the Suns are still prone to occasional long cold spells, both in evidence against Houston. But the core of the Suns offense, Nash/Gortat pick and roll, and 3-point shooters knocking them down from the wings and corners, is starting to round into form. We can hope that Shannon Brown will not be the team's 4th leading scorer in PPG before long. It's disturbing.
Defensive Rating: 105.2 (22rd out of 30), PPG Allowed: 96.1 (20th out of 30)
The lower third of the league in defense is nothing to be proud of, but it's an improvement from last season, when the Suns were dwelling in the league cellar defensively. So, there's that. And they've only given up 100 or more twice in 7 games this month, both times in wins. The Suns are never going to be the Bad Boy Pistons on defense, but defense isn't a glaring weakness with this team, and they've looked above average on occasion. Slow, measured progress with a long way to go, but progress nonetheless.
Pace: 91.3 (18th out of 30)
Run and gun was fun, wasn't it? Ah, those were the days. These Suns don't have the athletes to push it up and down the floor, and middle of the pack is what we can expect.
Game of the Week: Suns 99, Hawks 90
The Suns first win of the week was also their most impressive, as they went on the road to face a tough Atlanta team and led throughout, dominating long stretches of the game before a bit of a 4th quarter run by the Hawks made the game appear closer than it was. The Suns made 11 3-pointers, the bench produced well, and Nash scored 24 to go with 11 assists as the Suns got the rare blowout on the road against a playoff team.
Stud of the Week: Steve Nash
Who else? The Suns lone All-Star selection is shooting as accurately as he ever has in his brilliant career, and leads the league in assists. This past week, he averaged 15.0 points and 12.5 assists, shooting a gaudy 63.6% from 3 and 63.8% from the field overall. Seth, Wil, PHXgp and I all think he's a righteous dude. And, of course, he hit the game-winner on his birthday.
Dud of the Week: Entire Suns Bench
The only truly poor stretch of basketball the Suns played this past week was the second unit in the second quarter against the Rockets, and it was catastrophically poor. Yes, the Rockets bench is top-notch, but it was embarrassing the way they pillaged and plundered the Suns bench on Thursday night. A great performance from the starters, including a double-double from Frye and a perfect 7-7 shooting night from Nash, was wasted.
Can this team win 23 of its last 39 games and make the playoffs? Never say never, but it's unlikely. At least they're starting to work their rotation out and Frye's slump is temporarily over. They're competing and winning, amidst all the chatter about tanking and potential Nash trades and "is Gentry's job safe?" They continue to compete and play hard, which gives them a chance, and gives us fans a reason to watch.That resolve will be tested this week as they play a back to back to back starting Monday night in Oakland against the Warriors.