When: 6:30 PM AZ Time
Where: American Airlines Center, Dallas, TX
Watch: Fox Sports Arizona
Listen: 98.7 FM
Back in 2010 the Suns made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals. The following year the Mavericks made it all the way to The Finals and won their first and only NBA championship.
Since then both teams have fallen on hard times. The Suns of course haven't been back to the playoffs since 2010 while Dallas has been stuck on the treadmill of near mediocrity since their championships season... good enough to get a low playoff seed 4 out of the 5 years but not good enough to get past the first round. And now the Suns are still working on a rebuild while the Mavericks are suffering the after affects of an aging roster and another failed attempt to "reload" their team with talent to surround their long-time star Dirk Nowitzki.
The two teams may have taken different paths but they've both made plenty of missteps along the way to arrive at the same point... the bottom of the Western Conference standings.
And tonight's game!
Although this might not be a pretty game to watch, it should at least be competitive. Both Phoenix and Dallas are at the bottom of the Western Conference standings and both teams are really bad at getting assisted buckets. The Suns are dead last in the NBA in assists at 18.4 per game and Dallas is almost as bad at 19.6 assists per game and ranks 27th. Both teams are also pretty bad at 3 point shooting. Phoenix ranks 24th in the NBA at 34.2% while Dallas ranks only slightly better at 20th at 35.0%. And neither team is shooting well overall but the Suns have a small edge there as they rank 22nd in FG percentage (44.2%) while Dallas is 29th (43.1%).
Dallas ranks dead last in points per game (95.6) while the Suns rank 10th (105.8). Defensively Dallas is ranked 5th holding their opponents to an average of 100.7 ppg while the Suns woeful at defense giving up 112.2 ppg and ranked 29th. At first glance it might seem as though this things might cancel each other out and create a fairly equal game but that would be oversimplifying. The real difference between these two teams is pace. While the Suns zip along at the fastest pace in the NBA (105.4 possessions per game), Dallas prefers a much slower pace and are in fact the next to last in the NBA (94.7 possessions per game). If the Mavs can keep the pace slow and keep the Suns playing a half court game Dallas' better defense will probably be the determining factor in this game.
One thing that could help the Suns in this game is that Dallas is actually a pretty bad rebounding team this year. They are dead last in both rebounds per game (44.9) and rebounding percentage (46.8%). The Suns' numbers for rebounds per game look much better as they are ranked 9th (53.5) but only 18th in rebounding percentage (49.8%). But they are still a better rebounding team than Dallas so the Suns should get some fast break transition opportunities off rebounds which could help them control the pace... as long as they don't throw away too many of those opportunities with bad pass turnovers getting the ball down the court.
Speaking of turnovers, don't expect the Mavs to make many. They commit only 12.3 per game which is 4th best in the NBA. The Suns are still terrible on turnovers ranking 28th with 16.1 per game.
As an interesting twist, Andrew Bogut has requested to come off the bench and Nowitzki will likely start at center instead of his usual power forward spot. They have rarely been playing in the same lineup, initially due to injuries earlier in the season but lately because they just don't seem to work well together on the court. A lot of the reason for that is that Dirk - never a bad defender but also never a great one even in his youth - has been slowed by age and/or injuries which makes him a liability when defending younger more agile/faster power forwards. But at his size (7 ft, 245 lbs) he can still match up well against many NBA centers defensively and make life very difficult for them on the other end of the court with his offensive skills.
Dallas also still considers the playoffs as an attainable goal so that might be a little extra motivation for them in this game. As Nowitzki said before the Mavs game with the Washington Wizards, "We obviously know we have a legit shot. We've got to put a little string together and we've got to play better. We've got to find a way in close games to close some of those out and not always come out on the losing end." As for the Suns, I'm not at all certain that many of the players still believe that the playoffs are a realistic goal for them.
The Mavericks (11-24)
With Dirk Nowitzki back on the court the Mavs have started seeing a little more success lately and have won five of their last ten games. Harrison Barnes is still their leading scorer at 20.6 ppg with Wes Matthews chipping in 15.7 ppg as their second leading scorer. Dallas may actually be a stronger team than their record suggests as they have had multiple injury issues this season with Nowitzki, J.J. Barea, Deron Williams, Andrew Bogut and Devin Harris all missing significant periods of time due to various ailments. But the have started to get healthy and only Barea will miss tonight's game.
G - Deron Williams
G - Wesley Matthews
F - Dorian Finney-Smith
F - Harrison Barnes
C - Dirk Nowitzki
The Suns (11-25)
Eric Bledsoe leads the Suns with 19.9 ppg followed closely by Devin Booker at 18.9 ppg. T.J. Warren has been up and down since returning from his head injury and Brandon Knight has been up and down since joining the Suns. Any one of them is capable of going off for 30+ points on any night but consistency hasn't been a word often spoken in the same sentence with the Phoenix Suns so who knows what will happen tonight.
If the Mavs do start Nowitzki again at the 5 tonight, I'd rather see Alex Len starting than Tyson Chandler. Nowitzki isn't going to play like a traditional center and I think a more mobile Len following him around the court than Chandler. Save Chandler for when Dallas brings in Bogut and rests Nowitzki.
G - Eric Bledsoe
G - Devin Booker
F - T.J. Warren
F - Marquese Chriss
C - Tyson Chandler
I split my time Tuesday night watching both the Suns/Heat game and the Mavericks/Wizards game. The Suns wore down an injury depleted Heat team to get a win while the Mavericks just out played a healthy Wizards team at home to get their win. That does not inspire much confidence in seeing a win by the Suns tonight.
Controlling the pace will probably be the key as to which team wins tonight. If the Suns can get the Mavs into an up tempo fast paced game then I expect a Phoenix win. But if the Mavs can force the Suns to play at a slower half court game the Mavs will come out with a win. Plus I also have to give Dallas a slight extra edge since the game is on their home court.
Mavericks over the Suns 102 to 94.
All stats courtesy of Team Rankings.com