Tonight the Phoenix Suns face Channing Frye and the Orlando Magic (
7:00 6:00 pm AZ time on FoxSports Arizona (TV) and ArizonaSports 98.7 (radio)). The Magic feature 6 of their top 7 players being 24 or younger around Frye (31) as their only veteran influence playing more than 16 minutes per game.
The Suns were blown out in their last game, but have won 5 of their last 7 overall (six of which were road games) and return home for a couple of rare home games during this stretch of 22 of 31 on the road through the holidays. The Suns need to take care of business at home when they get the chance.
The Orlando Magic have started the season 6-12, and their major free agent signing to help them develop a winning attitude sees first hand how extreme youth can be unpredictable.
"It was a dangerous time, I don't know, how many losses ago,'' Channing Frye said after the Pacers loss on Friday night dropped them to 6-12. "We want to get better. That sense of urgency should start to get in people's guts now and we've just got to pick it up. We did some good things, but we can't have lulls and we're not good enough to completely (mess) up the third quarter like that, especially against a good team with veterans.''
Magic are facing a tough road schedule themselves, in the middle of a season-high six game trip through some tough teams. Working against the Magic is their youth, but unlike Philadelphia the front office has a strong desire to develop a winning culture and has provided the team with enough talent to compete in every game. They have veterans on the bench and in the locker room - Frye, Willie Green, Luke Ridnour and Ben Gordon - who can show the kids how to be professional.
Elfrid Payton - their youngest rotation player at age 20 - is not starting lately but is having a productive season with 6.6 points and 5 assists per game, but shooting only 38% from the field. He's exactly how he was billed coming out of college - a good prospect who cannot shoot straight.
Last year's prize pick, Victor Oladipo, is a bigger, shooting-guard version of Payton who can do a little bit of everything but struggles to shoot well consistently. This year's prize pick, Aaron Gordon, is out due to injury.
The Magic's two best players this season are Tobias Harris (22) and Nikola Vucevic (24). Vucevic, signed to a long-term deal this offseason, is a load under the basket on both offense and defense but does not protect the rim nor does he have the quick feet to actively defend the pick-and-roll staple that's prevalent in NBA game plans.
Can you guess what question is asked most often of the Phoenix Suns in the first month of the season? My guess is either "Can I get an interview with Isaiah Thomas?" or "Hey Isaiah, what do you think about your playing time?"
The latest reporter to publish an exclusive quote from Isaiah about his role on the Suns is Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe. The interview likely took place last week when the Suns were in town to play to Celtics.
"My teammates are good guys, the organization is great, and the style of play is perfect," Thomas said. "It's a big reason why I chose here because it favors my strengths, getting up and down, scoring and shooting at will, and using our strength, which is our guards."
Thomas has missed the last two Suns games (the team went 1-1) with an ankle bruise suffered on a three-point attempt in the closing minute of the Toronto game. Two days later, coach Jeff Hornacek was clearly still peeved that Thomas was called for an offensive foul there despite being hit hard in the chest and landing awkwardly on the ankle as a result. Suns beat writer Paul Coro reported yesterday from practice that Thomas played half-court and walked off limping. His status for today's game is "game time decision".
One bright spot of the blowout loss to Denver on Saturday night was the Suns' chance to play all four of their kiddies at once. Early in the fourth, before Alex Len was taken out for Shavlik Randolph, the Suns had Len (21), T.J. Warren (21), Archie Goodwin (20) and Tyler Ennis (20) on the court together with Anthony Tolliver. The kids were all fairly productive but looked admittedly ragged in execution because they don't get much time out there together.
The Suns are last in the league in free throws allowed per field goal attempt. It's as if the Suns can't stand the idea of only giving up two points on a possession. The Suns have put the opponent on the free throw line for 30+ FTs in 10 of 17 games (going 5-5 in those games), while going 5-2 in games they held opponents under 30 FT attempts.
"We've got to stop taking the dumb fouls," Markieff Morris said to Paul Coro after practice yesterday. "Sometimes, we've got to just let them have buckets and not just foul."
Coach Hornacek says it's all about being a step late on contesting the shot, which allows the opponent to begin the shooting motion before the defender arrives. He joked the other night that at least the Suns are trying to be aggressive, as opposed to the times they just stand there.
Last year's Suns-Magic series
The Suns swept last year's series, winning 104-96 in Orlando and 109-93 at home.
The early-season win in Orlando was without Bledsoe (shin) while Goran Dragic had a monster 23 points and 13 assists in only 33 minutes of play. Channing Frye made only 2 of 9 three-point shots on the way to 14 points.
In the home game on March 19, Dragic again had a good game (18 points, 6 assists in 33 minutes) but no one else in the Suns rotation played more than 25 minutes in the blowout win. Eric Bledsoe was good all-around (7 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists in 25 minutes).
For the Magic, Arron Afflalo (now with the Nuggets) was very good in both games. Tobias Harris was good in the spring game, with 23 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists off the bench in 32 minutes but really the Magic were no contest to the Suns last season.
How they compare
The most interesting matchup in this game is Markieff Morris vs. Channing Frye. Frye started every game last year while Markieff Morris came off the bench and put up better numbers (13 and 6 vs. 11 and 5) in fewer minutes. But Frye is deadly in terms of pulling a big man way out of the paint, while Morris has not been as successful in that regard because he's not making (or even taking) his threes enough to command the attention.
But the matchup that will decide the game is whether the Magic's leading scorer and rebounder Nikola Vucevic completely dominates the paint or not. If the Suns are focused, Plumlee and Len can hold their own. But if they lay an egg like they did against Jonas Valencuinas last Monday, the Suns will have a tough time.
Another interesting matchup will be the hyper-athletic backcourt of Oladipo and Payton against the Suns' Dragic and Bledsoe. Payton comes off the bench, but they will share the court on occasion unless Fournier has a great game (which he might).
Out on a limb
Markieff Morris was uncharacteristically bad on Friday night against Denver, but the Morris has been the Suns' most consistent player this season and will likely have extra motivation to prove himself against the guy who took his starting job last year. Frye will get threes up, but Morris will have the better all-around game.
The Suns are just a better basketball team and they are embarrassed by their awful showing against Denver on Friday night. Expect the Suns to come out with a ton of energy and put make this game more about the matchups than the final score. The Magic just don't have the offensive weapons to compete over 48 minutes for the win on the road.
Suns by 15.