Preview: Cavaliers (20-8) at Suns (18-9)


Cavaliers 109, Suns 91

Cavaliers

Cavaliers

Suns

Suns

PHOENIX — With nine of the next 11 games at home, you would think the Suns would finally have a chance to take a deep breath. But according to Alvin Gentry, there is no room for relaxation.

Gentry explained that there is no way that his team can think about its home record and become complacent during games at USAC, especially considering the level of competition the Suns have coming up on their schedule.

The Cavs, the Thunder, the Clippers, the Lakers and the Celtics will all travel to Phoenix to wrap up the month of December, starting with the Cavs tonight.

Cleveland is coming off of a road loss to a Mavericks team that was without Dirk Nowitzki, but King James is in town, Shaq Diesel returns and the Suns have won 19 straight at home. If they can’t get up for this game, they deserve to lose.

“It’s a big game (tonight),” said Amare Stoudemire. “We’ve got to make sure we take care of King James and the old Shaqtus.”

The last time these two teams met on Dec. 2 it was the Cavs that came out firing, blowing the Suns out of the water early. LeBron and company took a 28-point lead into the Q locker room and coasted to a 107-90 victory.

But tonight’s game has more implications than the first meeting in Cleveland, starting with the return of the big man formerly known as Shaqtus. The Big Fella’ will be back in US Airways Center for the first and only time all season.

He averaged 17.8 points and 8.4 boards per game last year with the Suns — far better than his current averages of 10.9 and 7. But half-jokingly, Amare mentioned some Twitter rift between @Amareisreal and @THE_REAL_SHAQ.

“I’m not talking to Shaq at all, not even a little bit,” Stoudemire said with a smile on his face. “He needs to follow me on Twitter — he hasn’t followed me on Twitter yet. I’m upset with Shaq right now.

“He’s good he’s just got to make sure he sends out a tweet saying follow Amareisreal on Twitter, and once he does that we’re friends again. But until then I’m not talking to Shaq.”

There will certainly be some added buzz in the air with Shaq in the building, but I don’t expect him to be too big of a factor. In fact, I think the combination of Shaq and Zydrunas Ilgauskas at center will create a matchup problem for the Cavs.

Channing Frye will pull the immobile centers away from the hoop with his precision home-shooting — 15.3 points per game on 55.6 percent from the field and 58.7 percent (37-of-63) from three-point range.  The Phoenix offense should produce, but it will be interesting to see how the Suns will try to handle LeBron.

I would expect to see Grant Hill, some Jared Dudley and maybe even some Earl Clark mixed in. But no one man, nor monster, could stop LeBron, so STAT, Channing and the other bigs need to do a good job of rotating over from the weak side if they hope to capture their 20th consecutive win at home.

The Suns are 10-0 at home this season and gained some momentum from a convincing win two nights ago against the Wizards. They have been great at USAC and that added boost from the home crowd should certainly help the Suns tonight.

“If you can take advantage of playing at home and getting the crowd behind you, I think it allows for you to have a good season,” Nash said. “It’s important that we started well at home, and we’d like to build that environment where people dread coming in here. It’s been good to us so far, we just have to continue to take advantage of it.”

What to watch for…

  • How the Suns try to defend LeBron James.
  • Will Goran Dragic continue to thrive with LB sidelined?
  • Will Shaq be a factor?
  • Stoudemire is averaging 23.8 and 11.4 over his last five games. Will he continue to dominate?
  • Will the Suns continue to cruise at home or is their home record a byproduct of the mediocre talent they’ve faced?