What: Phoenix Suns vs. Orlando Magic
When: 7:00pm AZ time
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, AZ
Local TV: FoxSports Arizona
Local Radio: 98.7 FM Arizona Sports
On the up side, the Phoenix Suns return home to the friendly confines of the Stick riding a wave of confidence from finally hitting a buzzer-beater of their own to pull out of tough win in the road.
On the down side, they have to play the surging Orlando Magic, who may have finally turned the corner of winning games after rebuilding for years in the wake of Dwight Howard's forced departure.
Let's see how the Suns do against a brash, energetic Magic team that fights and claws every game.
Head coach Scott Skiles was brought in to transition the Magic from talented losers to talented winners, by channeling their athleticism and high energy into a top defense. A year ago, their defense was rated a lowly 24th in the league while the offense was even worse (27th) and they floundered to once again one of the league's worst records.
This year, their defense has soared to 5th overall (points allowed per possession). They are 4th in opponent field goal percentage, and 7th in opponent three-point percentage while being mid-pack in most other areas.
They are using this defense to ride out to a 12-9 record, though they've been helped by playing the 5th easiest schedule so far on the season.
The young Magic's top 5 leading scorers are all 25-and-under, with Evan Fournier (do NOT google his last name. Seriously, don't) leading the way at 15.6 points per game at the shooting guard spot. Victor Oladipo has recently moved to the bench to make room for Fournier in the starting lineup, a nod to traditional lineup balance with a shooter at SG versus a secondary playmaker.
Many folks' favorite rookie shooter, Mario Hezonja, is buried on the deep end of a deep rotation in Orlando behind many other deserving players, including Fournier and Oladipo. That's how deep, but not star-studded, this Magic team is.
Thanks to Paul Coro of azcentral.com, we have some reaction to Monday's win.
"This is a huge lift for our team and something we can build off," Brandon Knight said. "You look at our two wins (Toronto and Chicago) on the trip were against good teams and it's not like we got blown out (four losses by a total of 13 points). It's about minor things. That's a positive for us.
"Our guys continue to fight no matter what the situation is. We don't always make the smartest play or do the right things but our team always gives consistent effort and a lot of teams don't do that."
Knight sparked Monday's comeback with 17 points in the 4th quarter alone, starting with a long three-pointer off a Devin Booker pass. He continued from that point on like a pilot light had burst into flame, forcing the action against Jimmy Butler to make a number of jumpers and drives to the rim. Against Jimmy Butler, a perennial candidate for league's best defender.
Devin Booker contributed as well, and Mirza topped it off, but it was Knight that made that win even possible. Now he just needs to find more consistency. He spends too much time thinking the game (he's incredibly smart) right now. Age and maturity will hopefully help teach him to think less and just execute, like he was doing in that wonderful 4th quarter.
The Suns will be bringing Tyson Chandler back very soon, and it can't be soon enough. While Mirza and Leuer are great spacers and energy guys, the Suns interior defense suffers tremendously without Chandler or Len in there all the time covering the paint.
Chandler will get minutes, as will Len, which will make it nearly impossible to play three-deep at the PF position. I'm thinking the Suns would be better served finding a starting caliber replacement for Tucker at small forward than another starting-caliber power forward, if they do trade Morris after all.
At guard, it appears that we all will get our wish and Devin Booker will be the regular third guard all year long. And if he keeps playing smart like this, he'll be the closing small forward next to Knight and Bledsoe on a regular basis.
The Magic could easily win this game against the Suns, but I really think the Suns will pull it out. The Magic are on the second game of a back-to-back while the Suns are riding high on emotion from that big win at the end of a tough road trip.
Suns win, 100-92.