When: 7:00 PM AZ time
Where: downtown, at Talking Stick Resort Arena
Watch: Fox Sports Arizona
Listen: 98.7 FM Arizona Sports
The Phoenix Suns host yet another playoff hopeful as a season-long six-game home stand continues on Saturday night against the 7-4 Minnesota Timberwolves.
Playing at home should make it easier to win, right? The Suns had recently notched wins against the Sacramento Kings and Utah Jazz at home, but have now lost three straight on this home stand (and five overall).
The Wolves, on the other hand, had won five straight before getting predictably blown out by the Warriors.
(Record: 7-4, Offense: 10th, Defense: 28th, Pace: 14th)
The Wolves have gone heavy on the veterans in search of their first playoff appearance in 15 years.
Aside from 22-year old scoring stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, the Wolves top rotation players are all 28-37 years old this season. Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson round out the starting lineup, while Jamal Crawford, Gorgui Dieng and Nemanja Bjelica are first off the bench.
If you’re looking for how to succeed with a rebuild, the Wolves model is to hit it big on a pair of top picks (literally #1 overall), hire a playoff-experienced coach, and dump the rest of the kids in lieu of veterans who can help you win. Gone are high picks Zach LaVine, Anthony Bennett and Kris Dunn, while Shabazz Muhammad and Tyus Jones are way down the rotation totem pole. The Wolves ran out of patience with their own version of a #Timeline.
Andrew Wiggins has $150 million coming to him over the next five years as the Wolves try not to waste his prime in a perpetual rebuild effort. Karl-Anthony Towns is one of the best big men in the game.
(Record: 4-9, Offense: 25th, Defense: 29th, Pace: 2nd)
It’s getting ugly again.
After a dead-coach bounce of five games (4-1 record, including wins over the Jazz and Wizards), the Suns are wallowing back in the holy-crap-we-suck mode.
In three home losses this week, the Suns have found themselves 10-20 points down by the third quarter of each.
During the good 4-1 stretch, they displayed a moxie to overcome deficits with effort and determination. Both road wins came after getting down 10+ points in the first half. In this 0-5 stretch, that moxie has been replaced by petulance and slumped shoulders at the first sign of big trouble.
Opponents are now daring the Suns other players to keep them competitive while they swallow up Devin Booker with dedicated defense. It’s not even that hard to take Booker out of the game: Just face guard him with your best perimeter defender and slide double-teams at him when he touches the ball. He had a pair of 9-point games in the past week compounded by frustrated petulance: techs, dumb fouls, waning effort to run off picks. All that should be expected of a 21 year old who know he’s the only real threat in the Suns offense.
Coach Triano indicated the blame is on everyone for Booker’s struggles.
“He’s going to be the focal point of every team’s defense,” Triano said last night. “We have to continue to find ways to give him the basketball, and he has to continue to find ways to make plays out of it. His passing, he had 5 assists again, his passing, when he gets double-teamed he’s making the right plays, we just have to figure out ways to get him more open space.”
“He’s a great player,” Magic forward Nikola Vucevic said of Booker. “He’s their best player and a lot of times they go as he goes. So we were trying to put a big emphasis on limiting him as much as we can.”
The problem is that the Suns don’t have any other real threats in the lineup.
T.J. Warren has basically disappeared since knocking his head again last week. Warren scored 60 points on 60% shooting and was a major game-changer in the two road wins. Since then, he’s just been “there”. Tony Buckets is still getting 18 points on 18 shots a game but he hasn’t been a threat.
The Suns other players are wilting under the added pressure to score when Booker is taken out of the offense. Mike James is the only other player regularly scoring in double figures, while rookie Josh Jackson leads the up-and-down kiddie corps with just over 10 per game this season.
Lots and lots of growing pains.
“They’re just a very young team,” Vucevic said of the Suns. “And it’s going to take some time for them to mature but they have a lot of good pieces.”
Maybe Saturday night is break through night?
On the plus side, expect Devin Booker to have a good game despite Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins trying to limit him.
Why? Because KAT is in town, and Booker and him are close buds. Booker should be energized to perform well.