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Game Preview: Alex Len, Phoenix Suns host Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers

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Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns return home for a two-game stand before hitting the road again. The first game of the home stand should be an easy win against an Eastern Conference bottom dweller.

Where have we heard this before?

Tonight, the Suns, coming off tough losses to their direct competition for the 8th playoff spot, face a team ripe for the picking. But the Suns have found a way to lose to four of the East's bottom dwellers at home already this season. Let's hope 2015 brings a renewed energy to the home team and they put away the Sixers like they should.

The Sixers

The Philadelphia 76ers are in perpetual tank mode, with their GM sending off any warm body that could contribute to a winning cause but wasn't drafted in the last two drafts.

The upside of this strategy is getting years and years worth of good young players with high ceilings, and getting the healthy ones a lot of playing time. The downside is that you are not setting those players up into a winning culture (Michael Carter-Williams, Tony Wroten, K.J. McDaniels). They are learning bad habits as they try to win games with any trick in the book because there's just not enough good players on the floor. The other downside is drafting injured ones (Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid) or those who are staying overseas (Dario Saric), thus slowing down the rebuild.

Sam Hinkie's first draft pick of the 'tank era' was Michael Carter-Williams, who came into the league as a tall PG who couldn't shoot and couldn't really run a team but could put up a triple-double on any given night just on effort and talent alone. A year and a half later, he's that same guy. He went from shooting 40% from the field last year (26% on threes) to 38% this year (24% on threes). His assists are a up a bit (7.3 from 6.3) while his scoring is down, steals are down and fouls are up.

Their bright spot this season is rookie K.J. McDaniels, a second round pick who was projected by many to go in the first round last year. But McDaniels didn't want to spend any more time in Philly than he had to, and signed a one-year qualifying offer so that he can be a free agent next summer. That's a blow to Philly, considering their bright spot of the season wants to leave as soon as he can.

Robert Covington is also a bright spot. He's a good shooter who has really helped the Sixers stay in some games. But he's a career journeyman, and if in year two of your rebuilding phase has Robert Covington as a bright spot, you're doing something wrong.

Most interesting to Suns fans is that we get to see Nerlens Noel up close and personal. He's who the Suns skipped in order to draft Alex Len last summer. Noel is putting up 8 points and 7 rebounds a game for the Sixers in 30 minutes a night. And this is a team who will take scoring from ANYONE. Where Noel shines is in his all-around game. He can't score, but he averages 1.7 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.4 blocks per game in addition to the scoring and rebounding. He's got a high ceiling, but his lack of offense and lack of bulk will hinder him in the coming years.

Let's see how Len and Noel compare. I'm hoping Len gets really up for this game.

The Suns

Oy. Two killer losses on the road this week against their direct competition for the 8th playoff spot. The Suns played hard, but just could not close out the games.

In each, a pattern arose. Coach Hornacek finished each game with Markieff Morris at center (as opposed to Alex Len and Miles Plumlee), opting to stretch the floor as much as possible to improve their scoring. You see, the Suns all season had been okay defensively in the clutch but had trouble scoring. Hornacek managed to flip the script though, turning the Suns into an offensive machine in the closing minutes but a defensive/rebounding sieve. Let's see if Horny can find a better matchup. It seemed to me that the 3-PG lineup (as long as Thomas is engaged) with Len/Plumlee and Keef is the best closing lineup.

How they compare

suns-sixers-compare

Lineups

suns-sixers-lineups

Prediction

Suns by 20.

And, Alex Len outplays Nerlens Noel.

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