After a tough stretch featuring some of the East’s best teams, the Suns get a bit of a break when they face off against the Washington Wizards this afternoon.
That’s not to say the Wizards are slouches. They are a very capable team that is probably better than its record shows. The Wiz opened the season with a road win over the Dallas Mavericks (who beat the Lakers in Staples), and three of their four losses have come against playoff teams.
There will be a couple things the Suns can do to extend their road trip record to 3-1.
The first starts with Gilbert and ends with Arenas. He is the key to Washington’s offense, averaging 25.2 ppg. If he finds a groove, the offense has a chance to flow, but if Phoenix can frustrate him early and often, the Suns should be able to limit him. Of course, as everyone knows, defense is not always the Suns’ forte.
Also, while Brendan Haywood is not one of the league’s elite centers, he can surprise on any given night. In a loss to the Indiana Pacers on Friday, he pulled down 19 boards. Stoudemire is really the only one doing any work down low, and he should have no problem handling Haywood.
Stoudemire is averaging a team-leading 19.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Those are the kind of numbers this team sorely missed last season while STAT was out. With the way he is playing and what Nash is doing every night (19 ppg, 11 apg), this team is exceeding expectations so far. But it is still early.
The Wizards remain without their starting power forward. Antawn Jamison suffered a shoulder injury in the preseason and is expected back soon, but probably not until next week at the earliest.
In his place, Fabricio Oberto hasn’t done much more as a “starter” than stand there with his arms in the air. Seriously, I don’t know why the guy gets any minutes. I’d try to convince Vlade Divac to come out of retirement and play PF for my team before I went with Oberto. If you think I am exaggerating, check the guy’s stats.
Andray Blatche has been worlds better and actually gets most of the minutes (but hey, any chance to rag on a hack like Oberto ought to be taken), averaging 13.5 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. He went off for 30 points against the Nets on Halloween, so he will be a player worth watching and containing.
Another key for the Suns to keep the momentum going involves continuing their great shooting. They currently have the league’s second-best field goal percentage, at 50.1 percent, just behind the team they upset Friday night, the Boston Celtics. And just as impressive, the Suns lead the league in 3-point shooting percentage. With an average of 10.3 deep balls a game, the Suns trail only Orlando for 3-pointers made per game.
The Wizards are slumping with three straight losses and can’t seem to find a rhythm. The Suns are riding high after topping one of the NBA’s best teams and thus certainly have a rhythm going. They have won their last five meetings against the Wizards as well as their last five in the Verizon Center. A win here gives them some breathing room, which is important because things will only get tougher in the coming weeks.