The Phoenix Suns returned home and held true to their new resolution to only blow one fourth quarter lead per week, this time letting the Portland Trail Blazers do the honors. They were able to secure victories in the other two games of the homestand, bringing their record to 11-14 on the season.
While 11-14 certainly isn't anything to write home about, in this new and weakened Western Conference it's only 4 games out from 4th place. And for those who are already counting ping pong balls, it's also only 3 games ahead of 14th place in the loss column.
Despite their unassuming record, the Suns are now ranked 11th in ORtg (105.4) and 18th in DRtg (105.1) and their expected win/loss record is 13-12, according to basketball-reference.com.
This week signals the unofficial start of trade season in the NBA, as those who signed free agent deals over the summer are now eligible for trade starting on Tuesday. Of course the Suns and Markieff Morris are widely expected to part ways, as the mercurial power forward has only appeared in 2 of the last 7 games. Sometimes he is assigned an injury or illness, most times it's just a DNP-CD.
The big guy is currently shooting 38.6% from the field with a PER of 9.4.
The Suns have stayed afloat at power forward with a platoon of Jon Leuer and Mirza Teletovic, who are shooting a combined 43% from 3 on a robust 7 attempts per game. Having at least one stretch big on the floor at all times is invaluable to the Suns' system, and it begs the obvious question: does this team even need a power forward in return when Morris is inevitably traded?
The answer is probably yes since it's probably unwise to expect Leuer and Teletovic to sustain their current numbers, which are by far the best of either player's career. Yet with the Suns recently securing the return of Tyson Chandler from an eight-game absence, perhaps the frontline is just starting to get its mojo working.
Chandler came off the bench on Sunday night for the first time since his brief tenure as a Charlotte Bobcat during the 2009/10 season and immediately had the kind of impact on the game he is known for -- providing big contributions without big numbers.
One game, but this is the type of impact you hope Tyson can bring to the Suns. pic.twitter.com/tbNme1yhY4— Bryan Gibberman (@Gibberman10) December 14, 2015
That's an ORtg of 115.7 and a DRtg of 88.8 during his 23 minutes on the floor.
The 33-year-old Chandler was supposed to hold down the center position while 22-year-old Alex Len developed behind him, but Len has scored in double-figures in 5 straight games, including a monster 20 point/14 rebound/3 block performance Wednesday against Orlando, meaning it might be time to let Chandler try on a sixth man role for a bit.
Either way, the important thing for the Suns is that they can have either big man on the floor at all times if they so wish. While Len's development makes for a more exciting storyline, the team is 3-6 without Chandler in the lineup. With the Morris situation hopefully approaching its end, things are coming together nicely up front for the Suns.
Monday, December 7 @ Chicago: W, 103-101
Wednesday, December 9 vs Orlando: W, 107-104
Friday, December 11 vs Portland: L, 96-106
Sunday, December 13 vs Minnesota: W, 108-101
Winning 3 out of 4 is always a damn good thing, but watching C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard rain down a plague of 21-footers in the fourth quarter of Friday's game was almost enough to ruin the whole week. As wonderful as it was to see the Suns flip the fourth-quarter script in Chicago with a dramatic comeback win, in the ensuing 3 games they were outscored in the fourth by an average of 11.3 points.
That they still went 2-1 on the homestand is a testament to how good a team they are during the first 75% of the game, but whatever it is the Suns need to do to reverse this trend needs to be done quickly. This is a difficult thing to watch.
Stat Lines of the Week
The Good: Eric Bledsoe
It's amazing how quietly efficient Bledsoe is. He comes a steal and a block shy of a 5x5 game, and throughout the whole thing it just felt like another day at the office.
The Bad: Brandon Knight
The 10 assists were great, but the Suns stand very little chance of pulling out a win when one of their starting guards puts up a bagel. Making matters worse, his vapid shooting performance came against a Blazers' backcourt that is hardly known for their defense.
The Ugly: C.J. McCollum
Sorry Brandon, we're not through just yet. Thanks to some absurd shooting from McCollum, who apparently doesn't need to venture within 20 feet of the basket to go nuclear, the Blazers won the scoring match of shooting guards 26-1.
Stuff this game in a trash can and light it on fire.
On The Horizon
Monday, December 14 @ Dallas
Wednesday, December 16 @ Golden State
Friday, December 18 vs New Orleans
Sunday, December 20 vs Milwaukee
This week looks...interesting. The Suns will kick things off tonight against a Mavericks team that depants them on opening night before taking their inevitable lumps at Oracle Arena. Then it's back home for another matchup with those pesky Pelicans, who apparently only the Suns find to be pesky since they still have managed only 6 wins on the season, with 2 of those coming courtesy of Phoenix.
Finally, the Suns wrap up the week with their first look at the intriguing yet underachieving Bucks, who have a stable of rangy athletes but not enough shooters and no rim protection. This will probably be the most enjoyable game of the week.