What: Phoenix Suns vs. Milwaukee Bucks
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena: Phoenix, AZ
When: 7 p.m. MST
Watch: FOX Sports AZ / NBA League Pass
For the first time in the Ryan McDonough and Jeff Hornacek era, the Phoenix Suns are below .500...a place most never imagined they would be, at least not this soon, after jumping out to a 12-8 start in the first 20 games of the season.
The Suns have lost five games straight since then, and now sit at 12-13. Those visions of 50+ wins, making the playoffs, or at least improving on last season, all seem in danger of becoming dreams instead of realities.
The good news?
Well, at least for now, they are still technically the eighth seed in the Western conference, with New Orleans also losing last night with a hurt Anthony Davis, and Oklahoma City still half a game behind after winning their last six straight.
But even the good news casts a shadow of gloom on the Suns current situation, realizing the Thunder's ascension into the top eight is merely a matter of time, while both the Pelicans and the Sacramento Kings also await their own opportunities to overtake the struggling Suns.
As for the Milwaukee Bucks, they are currently sitting at 12-12 in the much weaker Eastern Conference, good enough for the sixth seed for the time being. But they are feeling pretty good about themselves after a big win over the Los Angeles Clippers, a team the Suns suffered a heartbreaking loss to in overtime just last week.
The Bucks are led by Brandon Knight who is having a very good year, averaging 17.4 points per game, the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo (I still have to spell check this name every time), and star-rookie Jabari Parker (no spell check!) -- both averaging 12.5 points per game.
Here is the complete list of probable starting match-ups:
Eric Bledsoe vs. Brandon Knight
Goran Dragic (or Gerald Green) vs. O.J. Mayo
P.J. Tucker vs. Jabari Parker
Markieff Morris vs. Giannis AntetoKounmpo
Miles Plumlee vs. Larry Sanders
Keys to the Game:
- The other end of the court: The Suns are known for their potent offense, currently the fifth best in the league, averaging 104.7 points per game. But their defensive rating is 16th in the league, and for a team in the Western Conference fighting for a playoff spot, that just isn't getting it done. To quote former New York Jets' LB Bart Scott, the Suns "couldn't stop a nose bleed" last night against the Thunder. They were either fouling, out of position, or just flat-out not trying hard enough. Not having Goran Dragic wasn't the issue, the lack of defense was. If the Suns want to right the ship and get a win tonight, they have to play just as aggressively on the other end of the court.
- Low(ly) Post - Miles Plumlee is averaging only 5.4 points per game, and 5.7 rebounds in 22 minutes per game. Alex Len, who has shown some impressive flashes, has been plagued by inconsistency (normal for a guy who's basically a rookie), and is only averaging 5.3 points and 4.7 rebounds in 18.2 minutes. Although the Suns are driven by their back-court, they need better play by their front-court players, specifically the center position...especially rebounding.
- Find the spark - The Suns have too much talent to be slumping the way that they have been. Is it a mental thing? Is it a chemistry thing? Is it a coaching thing? Whatever the case, the Suns need to figure it out, and move past it. When the Suns are playing with energy and intensity, attacking the defense on offense and pestering/frustrating the offense on defense, Phoenix is a very hard team to beat. They don't need to out-muscle the opponents, they can out hustle them. The Suns did this last season, which is one of the reasons they over-achieved to 48 wins. If the Suns want to make the playoffs this season, they have to find that spark once again. Let's hope they can re-ignite that flame tonight.