The grave was dug, the eulogy was written, and we were all coming to terms with viewing the 2014/15 season as a 'developmental' year, which is a polite euphemism for 'it ain't happening, folks'. A six-game losing streak coinciding with the inevitable resurgence of the Oklahoma City Thunder, plus the New Orleans Anthony Davises waiting in the wings, saw our Phoenix Suns below .500 in a super-stacked Western Conference.
Suddenly, the Suns had an epiphany: How about we just win all the basketball games?
Khris Middleton launched an off-balance prayer that hit every hard surface in the Talking Stick Resort Arena before falling through the cylinder as P.J. Tucker crumpled to the floor in agony, and the Suns haven't lost since.
That was 15 days ago.
Since then, the Stupid Suns of 2013/14 have resurfaced, and no matter what events might unfold and no matter who it is they're playing, they just win. The convenient storyline to attribute this sudden emergence to would be the triple-PG rotation of Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas, but the truth is that these guys have been bringing it all season long.
If you're looking for a catalyst to this winning streak, you'll have to dig a bit deeper.
The wins began in Charlotte back on December 17, and that game was the first to feature the shortened lineup that the team has obviously stuck with since. Anthony Tolliver found himself out of the rotation and his minutes were soaked up by Marcus Morris. Surely no coincidence, Tolliver was traded shortly after.
This is not a condemnation of Tolliver -- he is a consummate professional with an NBA niche that simply was the weakest link on a team with an overcrowded rotation that had lost their identity. He'll land on his feet somewhere, rightly so.
What had been missing from the 2014/15 edition of the Phoenix Suns was a solidified rotation, and since rectifying that situation by cutting down to 9 players, they haven't lost. The 3PG lineup has gotten -- and will always get -- the bulk of the headlines, but there are three key ingredients that have translated this unorthodox experiment into wins (in order of who I felt like writing about).
1. Marcus Morris
Marcus serves as a less spectacular, more controlled, more consistent version of Gerald Green for this team. He can score in bunches, but doesn't quite have the same propensity for hijacking an offense as the aforementioned Green. During the winning streak he has gone 10-15 on 3PA's, but has refrained from blindly firing away from deep: he didn't attempt a single 3 against the Lakers or the Hornets.
Overall he has shot 25/37 from the field since 12/17 @ Charlotte, and has continued to show a strong determination to defend his position despite his natural shortcomings in this department. He has proved to be much more than just Markieff's brother who knocks down 3's, and on the contrary has carved out a nice niche as a kind of 'controlled' microwave scorer that can hit from anywhere.
Count me in as a Marcus Morris convert.
2. Miles Plumlee
The Plumster is another Sun that suffered a demotion recently and responded well. Overexposed as a starter, he has flipped the script as a reserve and suddenly doesn't look nearly as overwhelmed. During the month of December, the Plumdinger is grabbing 10 boards and swatting 2 shots per 36 minutes. He is, and perhaps always will be, a flawed player -- not to mention undersized for his position, but he serves as a highly capable backup that can perhaps leave more of an impact on the court as a reserve.
The center position belongs to Alex Len (more on him shortly) for years to come, and Miles enables the Suns to bring the Big Ukrainian about at the right pace. Maybe that's a back-handed compliment to Miles, but either way, cheers to the Plum Of All Fears.
3. Alex Len
During the winning streak, Len has blocked more than one shot 4 times, has scored in double-figures 3 times, and has grabbed at least 7 rebounds 5 times. If those numbers don't impress you much, consider that he didn't play more than 27 minutes in any one of those games.
Has the long-coveted franchise center finally arrived for the Suns? Time will tell, but in the meantime the young behemoth provides Jeff Hornacek with enough beef in the paint to go as small as he wants at the other 4 positions, thus creating matchup nightmares for opposing teams across the board. He also throws down vicious fast-break tomahawk dunks on the side.
If you have any qualms about being overly excited and/or optimistic about this kid, drop me a line. I'll join you in your giddy celebration and if it doesn't work out, you can blame me. I serve the people.
December 23 vs Dallas Mavericks, W 124-115
It was hard to take the 3-game winning streak out East too seriously, but the second beatdown of the Mavs this season left little doubt. Dallas was on the second of a back-to-back, and had no chance of keeping up with the Suns' feverish pace. One hope for the Suns' success before the season hinged on their ability to blow road-weary teams out of the water with their relentless guard attack, and that hope is coming to fruition. Even the addition of Rajon Rondo did little to stem the Suns' guard-centric attack, as Dragic, Bledsoe, Thomas and Green combined for 75 points. Game over.
December 26 @ Sacramento Kings, W 115-106
Isaiah Thomas made an emphatic return to Sacramento, scoring 17 points and wailing like a banshee throughout. The Kings did their best to beat up on the Suns inside, but without DeMarcus Cousins they were dead on arrival. The Slash Triplets netted 41 points and the Morris twins broke loose for 37.
December 28 @ Los Angeles Lakers, W 116-107
The Suns improved to 3-0 against the moribund Lakers, who made it interesting by uncharachertistically sinking 12-20 from deep. Going 3-0 against any team is tough, even the Lakers, who fought tooth-and-nail the whole way through. Clutch buckets by Bledsoe and Markieff put all fears to rest, and the Slash Triplets notched 61 points. There is a theme here...
On The Horizon
- Tuesday, December 30 @ New Orleans Pelicans
- Wednesday, December 31 @ Oklahoma City Thunder
- Friday, January 2 vs. Philadelphia 76ers
- Sunday, January 4 vs. Toronto Raptors
The Suns next two games are against the two teams that happen to be closest to them in the standings. The Pelicans, or as I call them, 'Anthony Davis plus some other guys', have been struggling to find any consistency despite possessing one of the greatest basketball players on the planet. The Pelicans, Timberwolves and Blazers are the only Western teams the Suns have yet to face this season.
One can only hope that the New Year's Eve matchup with the Thunder goes better than last time, which would mean that the Suns are at least still in the game by halftime. Like last time it'll be the second on a back-to-back, so don't pin your hopes too high, even without Kevin Durant.
Two matchups at home against Eastern teams whom the Suns have already played will wrap up the week. The Sixers are still the Sixers, despite the fact that they've notched a small handful of wins since we last saw them, but the Raptors game is one to circle on your calendar, provided you like basketball.
Stat Lines of the Week
The Good: Alex Len
The minutes played is the key here. The Lensation notched a double-double with 5 blocks in only 23 minutes. As said before, if you want to throw caution to the wind and get ridiculously optimistic about this kid, I'm there with you. Let's do this.
The Bad: Gerald Green
The awesome spectacle of Gerald Green comes with a price. He will have some absolutely dreadful games. Fortunately it didn't cost the Suns a win, perhaps because they were playing the Lakers, but as wondrous as Green can be at times, his bad games are equally pitiful. Thankfully they aren't quite as frequent.
The Ugly: Reggie Evans
This was the most Reggie Evans statline in the inglorious career of Reggie Evans. 16 rebounds, 9 offensive, but 5/13 from the field despite the fact that 12 of those attempts came from directly at the rim. Unfortunately it doesn't show in the stat sheet that he was whistled for a foul for trying to physically yank Alex Len away from contesting a layup attempt, which is exactly the kind of bush-league bullshit that Evans has made a career out of.
Make no mistake: If you hate basketball, Reggie Evans should be your favorite player.
Until next time, good night and good luck, Suns fans.