The Phoenix Suns are coming off of a home win against the Charlotte Bobcats on Saturday night to improve their record to 9-14. The Suns have been struggling to find the right mix of players in their starting line-up and off the bench, specifically at the shooting guard position. After Michael Redd's impressive return to an NBA starting line-up while filling in for the injured Jared Dudley, and his first start for the Suns in which he scored an impressive 17 points on Saturday, the Suns will go back to Dudley in the starting lineup but will likely give increased minutes to Redd tonight as well.
The Atlanta Hawks are coming off two straight losses in large part to the absence of a reliable post player since the injuries to both Al Horford and now Jason Collins as well. The Hawks are currently sitting at 16-8 on the season and will be looking to avoid their third straight loss tonight. They have also lost their last three consecutive games against the Suns, and will be looking to snap that losing streak as well.
Read on after the jump for an analysis of what to look for from each team tonight.
Here's a look at the Hawks:
Without Al Horford who is out for at least two more months with a torn left pectoral muscle, and also Jason Collins who sprained his left elbow last Thursday in a loss at home to the Memphis Grizzlies, the Hawks will rely on Zaza Pachulia and Ivan Johnson to carry the load at center. Pachulia is averaging 7.8 points and 6.5 rebounds a game since he took Horford's spot in the starting line-up. But their biggest x-factor could be rookie Ivan Johnson who has been very impressive off the bench, even racking up a double-double (14pts, 13rbs) in Saturday's loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Other than that, the Hawks will mostly rely on the production of star players Joe Johnson and Josh Smith to carry them through tonight's game, as well as contributions from fellow starters Jeff Teague and Marvin Williams. Former Suns' player Joe Johnson is the teams leading scorer, and he's stepped it up even more since Horford's injury...averaging 20.2 pts, 4.7 rbs, and 3.8 asts over the last 13 games.
Steve Nash vs. Jeff Teague - Nash is still defying all odds as he approaches his 38th birthday tomorrow and continues to play at one of the highest levels of any point guard in the NBA. Nash still leads the league in assists on a team with no real go to scorer other than himself; a testament to his truly remarkable ability and skill. Jeff Teague is no Steve Nash, however he is having a very nice season thus far and is being talked about as a potential candidate for the most improved player award. His stats of 12.9 points, 5.2 assists a game are pretty good, but Nash is simply in a league of his own. (Advantage - Suns)
Grant Hill vs. Joe Johnson - Joe Johnson is one of the best two-guards in the league who still makes Suns fans upset at the thought of what could have been if only he stayed in Phoenix. If Gentry sticks with his usual approach, Grant Hill will likely be asked to guard Joe Johnson again tonight in an attempt to keep him as quiet as possible. Even with Hill's uncanny ability to successfully guard even the best players in the league, it's hard to imagine JJ not having another great game against his former team (Advantage - Hawks)
Channing Frye vs. Josh Smith - This is about as one sided as a match-up can be. Frye has been a disappointment in the starting line-up this season but the Suns really don't have a better option at this point. Josh Smith on the other hand is an athletic scoring and rebounding machine who is also a very effective passer. His only drawback is his tendency to take ill-advised jump-shots at times, but he's been doing much better in that regard this season. (Strong Advantage - Hawks)
Marcin Gortat and Robin Lopez vs. Zaza Pachulia and Ivan Johnson - This is one of the more difficult match-ups to predict based on the play of both reserves Lopez and Johnson. One one Hand, Robin can be a force in the paint as we saw on Saturday night when he scored 13 points and closed out the game. However, Lopez has been anything but consistent and could follow up a very good game with a non-existent one. Ivan Johnson on the other hand has been playing great in the minutes he's earned. He's a tough, mean, physical player who has mad the most of his opportunities and even started in the second half over Pachulia in last Saturday's game. Marcin Gortat is obviously better than Zaza Pachulia though, so the Suns should use this to their advantage as often as possible. (Advantage Suns)
Suns' Bench vs. Hawks' Bench - The Suns' bench has the ability to be very good at times, but in other instances they can be downright awful. However, lately the Suns' bench unit has been playing fairly well, especially since Josh Childress has been freed and has found a way to help the team with his athleticism, slashing, and rebounding. Outside of Tracy McGrady and Kirk Hinrich, and maybe Willie Green, the Hawks don't get much contribution from their bench. If Shannon Brown, Ronnie Price, Markieff Morris, Michael Redd, Josh Childress, and/or Hakim Warrick can continue to play well together, they should have an advantage tonight. (Advantage Suns)
Summary - This is a game the Suns can win tonight, but they will have to play at their best in order to do so. Even without Al Horford, the Hawks are still a very good team and one of the contenders in the Eastern Conference. This is the perfect chance for the Suns to seize the opportunity to build on their recent success and continue to work toward getting better. If the Suns can take advantage of their favorable match-ups, hold Joe Johnson to under 20 points on the night, and get increased production from their bench, then I like their chances.
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