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Game Preview: Struggling Suns host playoff caliber Hawks

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The Atlanta Hawks may be struggling, but the Suns are struggling even more. Read more for game details and predictions.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns host Atlanta Hawks

When: 7:00 PM AZ Time

Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, AZ

Watch: FoxSports Arizona

Listen: Arizona Sports 98.7 FM


The Phoenix Suns, struggling all year to score the ball efficiently, face the league’s best defense on Wednesday night in the Atlanta Hawks. You’d think that means the Suns, 5-13 on the season, will certainly lose the game.

But despite having the league’s top defense, the Hawks have lost six of their last seven games due to their own problems scoring the ball. They have not shot better than 34% on threes in any of those games, and made only 31% of all shots against the Utah Jazz last week.

The Hawks

Unlike the Suns, who have already missed starters T.J. Warren and Tyson Chandler for chunks of time, the Hawks have been largely healthy this season. They began the year 9-2 but have since lost 6 of their last 7 games.

After shipping Jeff Teague to Indiana and giving the starting point guard spot to Dennis Shroder, and then effectively swapping Al Horford for Dwight Howard, the Hawks defense improved but they are still trying to find their best offense.

Their starting lineup is a -34 on the season on the scoreboard and their top 10 two-man lineups are all negative to start the season. Kyle Korver is missing too many threes and spot up shots, and Schroder is still learning on the job at PG.

Of course, the Hawks are built to win 50 games or so, and make it to the second round of the playoffs comfortably, so let’s not play the violin for them.

But while they are currently in the midst of a shooting struggle, maybe the Suns can steal one like they did over the Pistons in their last win that seems like a lot more than a week ago.

The Suns

A close look at the Suns most common lineups this season shows that, basically, the most positively impactful player on the Suns this season is 34-year old Tyson Chandler.

I know we all want Alex Len to become the next Tyson Chandler, but let’s not forget that Tyson Chandler is still largely Tyson Chandler already.

Chandler by himself is a +0.9 points per game, which is best among the Suns top rotation players with the most minutes.

Among two-man pairings with at least 200 minutes on the court together this season, Chandler appears in all three positive pairings. He’s net-positive points with Bledsoe, with Booker and with Warren. By comparison, there are 14 other two-man pairings with at least 200 minutes together, and all are net-negative.

The same is true of the three-man groupings with high minutes. Chandler is the only player consistently coming out positive on the scoreboard in any three-man lineup, though he hasn’t meshed well with Marquese Chriss yet.

Finally, in four-man lineups, there’s a Bledsoe-Booker-Dudley-Warren combo as the second-most played four-man grouping that has a net-positive impact on the scoreboard. But that’s it. Since Chandler is in the other two top four-man groups, you can probably guess he was the 5th guy in most of those minutes.

Feel free to spend some time on those links I’ve included here. It’s interesting to see how different lineup combinations have played. There’s a nice correlation in the second unit with Barbosa-Bender-Tucker-Dudley as well.

Matchup to watch

Is Dwight Howard washed up or reborn in Atlanta? He’s had a nice start to the season, and it will be a good matchup for Tyson Chandler and Alex Len.

Howard is averaging his most rebounds per game (12.8) in six seasons, thanks to one more offensive rebound per game putting him over the top. Other than that one rebound, he’s largely producing the same season he did a year ago in Houston, statistically.

Meanwhile, both Tyson Chandler and Alex Len are rebounding quite strongly this season as well, though Chandler is the only one approaching Howard’s numbers (both are at 16 rebounds per 36 minutes).

Howard is the better - more forceful - offensive weapon, scoring almost as many points per game as Chandler and Len put together.

No longer are the Suns the team that can run Howard off the floor and force the opposing coach to go small. These days the Suns focus on their rebounding (#3 in the league in rebounds per game), so expect to see a LOT of Howard, Len and Chandler unless there’s big foul trouble.

Prediction

I’d like to think the Suns will get up for this game against a clear playoff opponent who isn’t playing all that well right now.

But then again, the Suns have managed to lose three straight home ga—-

Screw it. Let’s just predict a SUNS WIN.