After their first disheartening loss of the season Thursday in New Orleans, the Suns return home to start a five-game stretch of winnable games before the schedule takes a turn for the worse.
That starts tonight against a struggling Detroit Pistons team that’s lost four in a row to Western Conference teams, the last three of which came on the road. While the Suns are barely edging out the Lakers for first in the Pacific, the Pistons sit dead last in the Central.
After this contest, the Suns host last-place Memphis (4-9) before visiting last-place Minnesota (1-12). Following these three straight games against respective last-place teams, Phoenix will face tough Toronto (6-7) and the lowly Knicks (3-9). I would be surprised if the Suns aren’t at least 14-4 after this stretch, and aside from maybe the Toronto game that I see as a toss-up after the last matchup, there’s no reason to think the Suns can’t run the table.
And they better make hay now because December as a whole will be a downright brutal month. There’s a stretch that goes Lakers, Dallas, Orlando, Denver, Spurs, Portland. The month also includes both Cleveland games, another Lakers game and a Boston game, as well as a potential toughie against Oklahoma City and a sometimes difficult trip to Golden State.
When the calendar hits 2010, a home game against the Lakers in March following five days off will be Phoenix’s only contest against the NBA’s theoretical top four of LA, Boston, Cleveland and Orlando.
But first things first, the Suns face a Detroit team that’s just 2-6 away from the Palace. The Suns are one of only three undefeated teams at home (4-0), but no NBA team has played fewer games in their building than Phoenix. The Lakers have played more than twice as many games at Staples, racking up a 7-2 record in the City of Angels.
Richard Hamilton (knee) and Tayshaun Prince (back) have been out most of the year with injuries, so these certainly aren’t your big brother’s Pistons with Chauncey Billups in Denver and Rasheed Wallace in Boston as well. Big Ben, he of the Shaq trade and subsequent Phoenix buyout, has returned to Motown and contributed 9.2 boards per game. Suns Summer League standout Jonas Jerebko has made 10 starts (4.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg), and doesn’t that say something about the downfall of this Detroit team.
Free-agent pickup Ben Gordon leads the squad in scoring at 21.4 a game, with fellow offseason signee Charlie Villanueva right there also at 15.8 ppg. I still wonder what the Pistons were thinking by paying so much money to these two guys. They’re good scorers, sure, but not the kind of guys that will take an otherwise mediocre Detroit team to the level they were at earlier in the decade.
As a team, Detroit has struggled to put points on the board, averaging just 92.6 points per game and reaching the century mark only twice. The Suns, by contrast, have hit 100 every game (averaging 109.8 ppg) and have done so in 30 consecutive home games dating back to last year.
For Phoenix, keep an eye on Channing Frye, who has been lights out at home and pretty cold on the road. He’s shooting 65.6 percent (21-for-32) from behind the line in his hometown but just 29.4 percent (15-for-51) away from home after Thursday’s 1-for-7 stinker from distance. Yes, Frye has made six more threes in 19 fewer attempts in the Valley while playing five fewer home games.
When Frye spaces the floor for the Suns like he has at home, this team is damn near unguardable. On the road, teams are baiting Channing to shoot that shot (which the Suns want him to take), but he’s only been beating the Suns.