Time: 1:30 pm (Phoenix time)
TV: Fox Sports Arizona
Radio: 98.7 FM
Welcome to the final day of winter here in the Northern Hemisphere. I, for one, cannot wait to say goodbye to the frigid grip of winter here in Phoenix. These 90-degree days get old after awhile.
But the 22-47 Phoenix Suns aren’t in Phoenix today; they’re in Michigan to take on the Detroit Pistons (33-36) as the Suns continue their relentless march for the playoffs…I mean winning games…I mean collecting paychecks. Yeah, that works.
The Pistons have lost three straight games, dropping them out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture for the time being. Their most recent loss saw P.J. Tucker and the Toronto Raptors hold them to a measly 75 points, including only nine points in the 4th quarter.
Detroit doesn’t have that one player who is the unquestioned leader of the team. Andre Drummond is being paid like it, but while he is second in the NBA for rebounds per game (13.9), he hasn’t shown much growth as a player this season. He also remains a liability in close games, with his 40.6-percent shooting from the free throw line. Reggie Jackson starts at point guard, but he is having his worst year since joining the Pistons, averaging just 14.9 points and 5.4 assists. Tobias Harris is Detroit’s leading scorer at 16.3 per game. Marcus Morris (14.1 points), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (14.0), and Jon Leuer (10.9) also score in double figures for the Pistons.
The Pistons have been a strong rebounding team all season, but they lead the NBA in that stat since the All-Star break, pulling down an average of 47.2 per game. They also rank seventh in the league for steals since the break. That’s good for them because without it, all anyone would point to is how they are also 21st in scoring, 28th in field goal percentage, 29th in 3-point percentage, and 30th in free throw percentage since the season entered its home stretch. Detroit is only a game behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the 8th seed, but they are running out of time to kick it into gear.
Points: Tobias Harris (16.3)
Rebounds: Andre Drummond (13.9)
Assists: Reggie Jackson (5.4)
Winning hasn’t been a priority for the Suns since the All-Star break — or at least not for management. Tyson Chandler and Brandon Knight were both shackled to the bench starting in late February, and once management saw other teams were still doing a better job of tanking, Eric Bledsoe was also shut down. It seems like only a matter of time before Devin Booker develops some nagging injury that requires a precautionary week or two of rest.
In the absence of winning, Earl Watson has his team playing hard again — much like he did to close last season. Tyler Ulis and Alan Williams have seized on their opportunities the fiercest, with Derrick Jones Jr. giving it his all despite almost no discernible offense outside of arm’s reach of the basket. T.J. Warren also looks rejuvenated, notching back-to-back 20-point games for the first time since Oct. 28-30 of this season. Booker, on the other hand, looks like the pressure of being the last remaining option on a sinking team is wearing on him, as his 9-of-39 shooting over the two games sans Bledsoe attests.
Points: Eric Bledsoe (21.1)
Rebounds: Tyson Chandler (11.4)
Assists: Eric Bledsoe (6.3)
Leandro Barbosa (Suns): illness (QUESTIONABLE)
Dragan Bender (Suns): right ankle surgery (OUT)
Brandon Knight (Suns): right ego contusion (OUT)*
Eric Bledsoe (Suns): severe allergy to gorilla dander (OUT)*
Tyson Chandler (Suns): inverted jawline alopecia (OUT)*
Michael Gbinije (Pistons): left ankle sprain (DOUBTFUL)
*may not be official
Phoenix prevailed over the Pistons 107-100 back on Nov. 9 on the backs of Bledsoe’s 14 4th-quarter points, Jared Dudley’s 19 points off the bench, and a strong starting performance by Alex Len in place of Tyson Chandler (16 points, 14 rebounds).
The Pistons probably view this as a get-well game after a recent stretch of poor performances on their part. The Suns can thwart that thinking and sweep the season series from Detroit for the first time since the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season if they continue to play with the spirit they’ve shown lately and Booker can regain his shooting eye. Phoenix must be prepared for a battle on the boards, though. Drummond, Aron Baynes, and Boban Marjanovic (who has been spending an inordinate amount of time atop his beanstalk instead of on the court this season) can and will present rebounding challenges when shots go up.
T.J. Warren vs. Marcus Morris
Morris, the Sun who never was, has been one of Stan Van Gundy’s most dependable scorers this season. That hasn’t been the case recently, however, as Morris had just eight points on 3-of-15 shooting Mar. 15 against the Utah Jazz and followed that up with an even worse three points on 1-of-13 shooting against Toronto on Mar. 17. Can Warren make it three bad games in a row for Morris, or will Marcus take revenge against that team that totally doesn’t mean anything to him at all?