Preview: Spurs (12-9) at Suns (16-8)

Suns 116, Spurs 104

Spurs

Spurs

Suns

Suns

After a short break from a grueling December schedule, the Suns start a home stretch tonight against the rival San Antonio Spurs, winners of three straight.

There are a number of questions surrounding this game, chiefly the status of Jason Richardson.

Richardson sat out Monday’s practice with his right hand wrapped up and is questionable for tonight’s game, although the shooting guard told The Arizona Republic at this morning’s shootaround, “I don’t sit out unless I can’t walk. So most likely, I’m playing.”

J-Rich sprained the hand in Saturday’s 105-99 loss to the Denver Nuggets. According to The Republic, X-rays on the hand were negative but Richardson is struggling to flex his hand.

If Richardson does indeed sit out or is limited by the injury, the Suns would lose a key scorer (16.4 points per game), despite his recent inconsistency. Should Richardson miss the game, more pressure is on Grant Hill to pick up the slack, and Jared Dudley could get a start. Goran Dragic would likely see more backcourt minutes as well alongside Steve Nash.

With Leandro Barbosa still out, the Suns’ offense is already missing an important scorer. The bench will need to provide more of an offensive contribution than usual against a very capable San Antonio offense.

Tim Duncan is currently scoring 19.0 points per game and pulling in 10.2 rebounds. Tony Parker is notching 16.7 points and 6.2 assists a game. Beyond that, there aren’t any hugely impressive numbers, but the Spurs do have one of the league’s most balanced offenses and most versatile benches.

Backup point guard George Hill is averaging 10.7 points per game and rookie forward DeJuan Blair is providing a spark with 6.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per game in just 14.5 minutes a game.

A return to US Airways Center has thus far been the cure for the woes that have plagued the Suns on the road recently. The Suns are 2-5 over their last seven games, with the two wins coming at home, where the Suns are still the NBA’s only undefeated team (8-0).

While a home win over the Magic last week made a statement about what the Suns are capable of, a meeting with their arch rival at home could be their biggest home test yet.

San Antonio’s 12-9 record reflects that the Spurs aren’t quite what they have been in recent years, and much like the Suns, the Spurs struggle on the road (2-5, compared to 10-4 at home). However, the Spurs have bested the Suns in three of their last four meetings both overall and in the Valley of the Sun. The Spurs are also a team that’s no stranger to slow starts, and with their current streak, they may just be hitting their stride.

One of the keys to this game could be how the Spurs match up with the Suns. In the past, Bruce Bowen was tabbed to guard Nash, which proved relatively successful most of the time. With Bowen retired, Richard Jefferson may be tasked with defending Two Time.

Nash’s ability to make plays on offense has been crucial this season, as the Suns are undefeated when he has more than 10 assists and only 7-8 when he has less than 10. Obviously, Nash’s knack for getting everyone involved has been and will certainly continue to be an essential arm of the Suns’ offense.

With the 6-foot-11 Duncan and 6-foot-9 Antonio McDyess in the paint, the Suns may look to Robin Lopez for increased minutes purely because of his size. But as with any matchup with the Spurs, it’s likely to be a very physical game and Lopez has trouble staying out of foul trouble.

The Spurs play notoriously good defense, which could certainly tip this game in their favor if the Suns play anything like they did against the Nuggets. Sloppy play and 21 turnovers that went for 31 points caused the Suns to blow a 17-point lead and eventually the game.

If the Suns team that played the Magic at home last week shows up for this game — meaning they limit Tim Duncan and execute when it counts — they may very well snap their losing streak against the Spurs.

And1

  • Rookie forward Taylor Griffin rejoined the Suns at practice Monday after a brief stint with the Iowa Energy of the NBA Developmental League. Griffin averaged 13.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 4.0 steals per game while shooting 69 percent from the floor in two contests.
  • The Suns will hold their second annual Tweet-Up at tonight’s game.

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