I kept rolling my eyes during Tuesday night’s game whenever the Heat and Suns were referred two as “two of the NBA’s hottest teams.”
They’ve only played three games each! And of their six opponents, only one (the Philadelphia 76ers, who the Magic beat a week ago) made the playoffs last season. Can you really, legitimately call either team “hot” yet?
But beating the Eastern Conference’s No. 5 seed from last season? With defense? Now we can start to consider “hot.”
That’s right, the Phoenix Suns played defense. I know I was impressed. They were down by 12 points in the third quarter and then stepped up the defense to get themselves back in the game. They had to. (It also helped that Steve Nash took over the game once again with 30 points and eight assists. Captain Canada has been invaluable so far.)
They may have to play even better defense tonight against the Orlando Magic. The Heat were the Suns’ first test, but Orlando is their first big time test. The two teams split the series last year, winning one game apiece.
There is one big — no, huge — thing that will work in the Suns’ favor: Dwight Howard isn’t 100 percent. He said after a loss to the Pistons (in which he collected just eight points and five boards on his way to fouling out in 17 minutes) that his shoulder was “very, very sore.” A mere 24 hours rest won’t do a whole lot to help it. However, you can’t count the guy out. He could just as easily have a monstrous night.
If the Suns, and particularly Amare Stoudemire, can exploit the fact that one of the scariest big men in the league — on both ends — isn’t all there, they might just walk away with a still untarnished record. The Suns might take note from the Pistons, who forced Howard into foul trouble and extra bench time.
I note Stoudemire specifically because he is all alone in the post. Channing Frye seems to have forgotten that he is a center. His shooting has been fantastic and very much a factor in their 4-0 record, but the center is being out-rebounded through four games 41-19 by Grant Hill, a 37-year-old small forward. Hill actually leads the Suns in rebounding
It also helps the Suns that Orlando is still without Rashard Lewis, who is serving a 10-game suspension stemming from a positive test for a performance enhancing substance. Lewis dropped 29 points and 12 rebounds the last time these two teams met at Amway Arena.
Jason Richardson has come on strong the past two games, showing a real hunger to win after sitting out the first two. He should be able to top J.J. Redick, who has actually shown signs of improvement. Redick and Orlando can shoot the three ball, but so can the Suns. This game is likely to see plenty of deep balls.
With a lot of pain due to a cyst in his wrist, Leandro Barbosa could miss his second straight game. The bench will likely have to try to continue its recent productivity and reliability without LB.
Starting this road trip 2-0 would be big for the Suns. Beating the Heat and Magic to get to 5-0 would certainly qualify as “hot” — it would match the Suns’ best ever start after all. But more important than wins and losses is the momentum they would gain from five straight wins as they head to Boston, Washington and Philadelphia.
Tags: Dwight Howard