I started digging through various stats to see if I could figure out what would be the key area to watch in tonight’s game against the Blazers. I started out by looking at this page, which is a handy little guide for comparing the per-game stats of two different teams. Here is how a big pile of per-game stats break down for the Suns and Blazers:
If you look at counting stats (not percentages), the Suns have the edge in almost every single category…and the Blazers have the edge in almost every Opponent category. However, this is really misleading, because of some other stats that matter even more. Let’s talk about pace. The Suns are fourth in the NBA with a pace factor of 98.1 (pace factor is simply the average number of possessions a team has in a game). The Blazers? Yeah, they’re 30th out of 30. They play slow, grinding, boring-as-hell basketball, averaging only 90.2 possessions per game. So the Suns have almost nine percent more possessions per game, which means there are more opportunities for counting stats. The Blazers’ opponents tend to have fewer possessions per game, leading to fewer counting stats for opponents.
Now I thought, looking at the final scores of the first two games the Suns and Blazers have played this year, that the numbers were screwy. Both teams scored in the low hundreds in both games, and I thought this meant that the games were played at the Suns’ pace, but the Blazers had beaten them anyway. Nope. In the first game, December 17th, each team had 89 possessions. That’s definitely the Blazers’ pace. Second game (2/10)? 92 possessions each. Advantage, Blazers. Both teams have played efficiently against each other, shooting high percentages and doing lots of scoring, even with fewer possessions.
So that’s the key for tonight, right? I mean, the Suns have played some slower-paced games lately and won, but it seems like the Suns really need to play their game and impose their will on the Blazers. If the game is played at the Suns’ pace, the Blazers won’t be able to keep up. If the game is played at the Blazers’ pace, the Suns could win, of course, but they’re just making it more difficult on themselves, aren’t they?
The other factor, of course, is that this Suns team is a whole lot different than (especially) that team that lost to the Blazers in December, and the Amar’e that’s showing up to games right now is a whole lot different than the one who scored 21 on the Blazers in February. I loved the way the Suns just pounded on the Jazz the other night, and I expect the same thing to happen tonight. Step on their necks, Suns. You can do it!