Preview: Nets (3-37) at Suns (24-18)

Suns 118, Nets 94



If there is one game that the Phoenix Suns can use to bounce back from a four-game skid, it has to be at home (where they are 15-4) against the lowly New Jersey Nets, right?

The Suns have fallen off the map as of late. They entered their recent four-game road swing sputtering, but a heartbreaking Indiana loss in which they dropped a 24-point lead pushed them even further down the totem pole and set the tone for what proved to be their worst stretch of the season.

But on the bright side, the Nets are in town, and they are just 1-20 on the road. They are also on pace for the worst record in league history, and if the Suns can’t use New Jersey to break their fall, this is going to be a long season.

The most interesting story line to follow has to be the Lopez reuinion. After starting his first game of the 2009-2010 season on Monday, Robin Lopez will have the task of defending “the better brother,” Brook Lopez.

If this were a week ago, I would laugh at the idea of Ro-Lo even having an impact on this game. But after his 19-point, seven-rebound, three-block performance in the loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, Lopez proved he can play at a high level.

All of the grueling one-on-one games in the Lopez family backyard may pay off for Robin tonight. He is going to be key in this game, as Brook is leading the Nets in points and rebounds, at 18.9 points per game and 9.5 boards per contest. In fact we should maybe worry about Robin being too hyped up, something Gentry has spoken to him about.

After all, if facing off against your twin brother at home isn’t enough motivation, Ro-Lo also has the opportunity to prove why he deserves to be the Suns’ starting center.

With all of that said, Lopez deserves to start his second consecutive game as he will, but Gentry’s other surprise starter may be a different story.

I was somewhat shocked to see Gentry throw Leandro Barbosa into the starting lineup two nights ago. The move, however, made sense, as Jason Richardson is struggling — 11.6 points per game in his last five games — and the Suns were in need of a change of pace.

“We needed a change,” Gentry told The Arizona Republic before the Memphis game. “For the most part, we’ve played well at the start of games. This gives us an opportunity to change the whole makeup of our rotation and maybe that’ll help us develoop some consistency. We’re not locked into this by any stretch.”

Barbosa wasn’t able to be that spark against the Grizzlies — 6-of-16 shooting — but LB brings a type of instant speed to the starting lineup. Is it a coincidence the Suns posted their highest fast-break point output of the season (53) with LB in the starting five?

But the problem with starting Barbosa doesn’t come from LB, but rather the significantly decreased role of J-Rich. While LB is at least comfortable in a sixth-man role, J-Rich is pedestrian to the thought. He has spent his entire career as a prolific scorer (until coming to Phoenix), and I just don’t see him making the proper adjustments to be successful coming off the pine. But maybe it is a sign that J-Rich is halfway out the door?

The starting lineup carrousel will be an interesting story line to watch, but not nearly as interesting as the Suns’ gradual decent into the outside looking in.

The Suns are only a half game from dropping out of the playoff picture, so taking care of three winnable games at home — New Jersey, Chicago and Golden State, teams that boast a combined 33-85 mark — is a must. Phoenix is also two games behind the Spurs for fourth place, but with the way the Suns are playing, I would be much more worried about the idea of falling out of the playoff picture than the prospects of shooting up the standings.

But Gentry and the Suns refuse to think about the possible downfall.

“We always look at the glass as half-full,” Gentry told The Republic. “We don’t ever look at it as half-empty. We look at where Denver is and Dallas and teams like that and feel like we could have a run where we win five, six in a row, and we’re right there where they are. We refuse to look at the other option.”

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