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Game Preview: Phoenix Suns look for improved play against Minnesota Timberwolves

Phoenix has won four of their last five games, but it feels like they've only played well once in the past two weeks. After sweeping two at home, a tougher opponent on the road will require that the Suns bring a much better effort.

It hasn't been pretty.
It hasn't been pretty.

When: Sunday March, 23, 2014, 12:30 PM local time (3:30 EST)

Where: Target Center, Minneapolis, MN

Watch/Listen: TV: FSNAZ Radio: 620 AM/98.7 FM KTAR


Last Meeting:

Minnesota got the best of Phoenix at US Airways Center back on February 25th with a come from behind 110-101 victory. The Suns actually led 91-83 with 7:30 remaining before being waylaid to the tune of 27-10 in one of the team's most spectacular blow ups of the season.

Kevin Love nearly notched a triple double for the Timberwolves with 33 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists. Love and Corey Brewer, who scored 18, had 17 of Minnesota's points in the run to close the game. Then there was Shabazz Muhammad. He managed to score 20 of the 100 points he has scored the entire season in one game against the Suns. In his other 28 games Muhammad has averaged 2.9 points per game... meaning he scored seven games worth of points against Phoenix.

It turns out this was not my favorite game of the season.

P.J. Tucker was a bright spot for the Suns as he managed to corral a career high 16 rebounds. His herculean effort helped give the Suns a dominating 50-38 edge on the boards. Markieff Morris led the Suns with 24 points. Incidentally, the Suns made a season low of just three 3-pointers in the game (3-15 from deep). It seemed to me like that may have had something to do with the loss, but they've had three games where they only made four 3-pointers and they're 2-1 in those...

I guess I'll just have to pin the loss on the collapse instead.

The teams also met back on January 8th in Minnesota.  That was a much better game.

Channing Frye basically made Kevin Love his, well, you know... holding him to just 4-20 shooting. Gerald Green hit a cold-blooded game winner from the baseline with four seconds left to give the Suns a 104-103 victory.

This will be the third and final meeting between the teams.

Team Bios:

Minnesota Timberwolves: 34-33

Points per game: 106.3 (4) Points allowed: 103.1 (23)

ORtg: 108.8 (9) DRtg: 105.5 (11)

Full team statistics.

Minnesota's disappointing season sees them participating in the stretch run of the season playing the role of "not mathematically eliminated."  But even though their postseason chances are minuscule, I saw them around ~4% on one predictive model, they can definitely play the role of spoiler for the teams competing directly ahead of them. In fact, Minnesota just did the Suns a huge solid by handing the Dallas Mavericks a demoralizing loss in overtime on Wednesday night.

Despite getting bludgeoned 126-109 by the Houston Rockets in their last game, the Wolves have actually been playing pretty good ball lately and have gone 10-5 since hitting their nadir of the season at four games below .500 (24-28).  Minnesota likes to push the ball (fourth in the league in pace) and can find the basket without a map and compass, so look for them to challenge the Suns' renascent defense that stymied the vaunted Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons.

Nikola Pekovic is questionable for the game with an ankle injury. Gorgui Dieng had 22 points and 21 rebounds last game while keeping his spot in the starting lineup warm.


Phoenix Suns: 40-29

Points per game: 105.2 (7) Points allowed: 102.7 (22)

ORtg: 109.2 (8) DRtg: 106.6 (15)

Full team statistics.

The Phoenix Suns have only played about one quarter of inspired basketball out of the last two games combined. That was enough to defeat two very bad basketball teams.

The Suns allowed the Orlando Magic to hang around for three quarters and actually trailed 75-74 before spontaneously combusting and torching the shorthanded Magic with a 23-3 run. A Magic team without their starting point guard and center. A Magic team with the worst road record (4-33) in the entire NBA.

I had the pleasure of watching the game in person, but it was definitely of the genre that if you watched it on DVR you might find yourself fast forwarding through the game to watch the commercials. I guess it was kind of nice that the arena was quiet enough that I could converse with the people next to me in library voices... Don't you just hate it when the crowd is so loud you have to yell?

There was a little bit more brio and vim at USAC on Friday for Star Wars night.  The Suns (franchise) really did themselves proud with the production of that event. The Suns (players) were a little bit less impressive as they struggled to get past a Pistons team that might lose a free throw shooting contest to a grade school squad. That level of ineptitude is insulting to the brand of the game. The Pistons should be ashamed of themselves.

Since 1985-86 there has only been one team that had a worse percentage from the line with at least as many attempts. On February 11, 2005 the Orlando Magic went 10-27 from the line, granting the Pistons relief from owning the dubious distinction.

Overall, the level of intensity and quality of the game was superior to the Magic fiasco. The home crowd actually got down right obstreperous down the stretch as they cheered the Suns to victory. Bledsoe did his part to garner the noise as he poured in 15 in the fourth quarter to propel the Suns to victory.

The common theme between the games was a general malaise that almost made the Suns seem disinterested at times. The Suns were lucky they played who they did because they wouldn't have beaten many teams playing they way they did.

What To Watch For:

Kevin Love - I had to fit him in here somewhere. It's probably not entirely coincidental that he was completely negated in the Suns win and went off in the Suns loss. Hopefully the Suns can make him feel uncomfortable again. I have no qualms at all with Channing Frye and Tucker getting as chippy as possible within the spirit of the rules.

Eric Bledsoe - Let's see if Eric can build on the fourth quarter of the Pistons game and bring that type of presence to the court earlier on. A complete game from him would be huge and might help the Suns get off to an...

Early Start - Not just the game time, the type of way the Suns need to get off the block. A week ago, the Suns seemed perfectly fine playing a day game and had one of their more solid recent outings. They put up 37 in the first quarter and seemed engaged from the outset. Hopefully the can duplicate that effort, as they have been less effervescent in the three games since then.

The Final Word(s):

Ideally, the Suns will win this one going away so the Timberwolves will have a chance to empty the bench and keep their starters fresh for a back-to-back at Memphis on Monday night. Given the recent struggles the team has had at finishing off lesser opponents, though, any kind of win will suffice.

The Suns haven't been playing lots of clean games, but they have been winning enough to keep themselves in the hunt. Hopefully this is buying them enough time to shake out of the funk that I still feel is very much present despite their current 4-1 stretch.

Phoenix did good enough to get past a couple very beatable teams at home, but the Suns flat out need to play better.

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