If ever there was a trap game, this one has to be a trap game.
I know, I know. We at ValleyoftheSuns have called a lot of games “trap games” this season. And it wasn’t that they weren’t justified, it just ended up that the Suns won most of them.
And I know, it’s hard to call a game against a team with 19 wins a trap game.
But this game is different. This is in no way a prediction that the Suns will lose. But, under the circumstances of this game, the Suns need not take a rest.
Thirteen games remaining. One game away from the four seed in the Western Conference, which is crucial for home-court advantage in the playoffs. Two consecutive wins over good, playoff-bound teams. And a lull in the toughness of the schedule.
That enough to make a case for a trap game? If not, consider the following.
The Suns may have won 12 of their last 15 games and the Warriors have lost 11 of their last 15, but in the NBA, that can mean nothing on any given night. Two of the Warriors’ four wins in that stretch have come against playoff teams, the Toronto Raptors and the East’s No. 4 Atlanta Hawks.
Maybe even more impressive than wins over playoff teams when it would be easy to stop trying with such a bad team was the Warriors’ play against the West’s best. As the Los Angeles Lakers tried to get their stars some rest with what seemed like a safe lead, the Warriors started thinking upset.
Pulling within three with just over seven minutes remaining, the Warriors forced L.A. to reinsert Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. The stars pushed the lead back to 11 with two minutes to go. But Golden State and particularly a hot-shooting Stephen Curry, who finished with 29 points, refused to go quietly. Down three with eight seconds left, Curry missed an overtime-forcing three-pointer by about an inch and Monta Ellis’ next attempt was a lucky bounce away from dropping.
If the 19-win team can scare the Lakers like that, what are they capable of against the No. 5 Suns, who have struggled at times on the road?
Although he failed to score 19 points for the first time in 23 games in a win over Portland Sunday, Amare Stoudemire has been extremely focused lately. The focus he has had over that stretch has been greater than any he has had this season and probably greater than any he’s had in his career.
That focus will be key in this game. Stoudemire has remained focused against every opponent be it basement dwellers like Minnesota and Indiana or NBA elites like Denver and Utah. No reason to believe he can’t keep it up now.
Sunday’s win against the Trail Blazers saw the Suns shoot worse (38.8 percent) than they have in any game since Jan. 22, when they shot 38.5 percent against Chicago. Since that game, the Suns have shot 42.5 percent or better. That is how playoff teams shoot during the most important part of the season.
Something to watch during these final 13 games though is the Suns’ three-point shooting consistency. As of late, it hasn’t been there. There have been a lot of peaks and valleys. From 12-of-23 against the Clippers to 5-of-19 against the Jazz the next night. From 15-of-31 against Minnesota to 6-of-17 against Utah on Friday. The Suns haven’t been able to stay in three-point grooves from game to game consistently.
The Suns we see each night at this point are not the Suns that lived and died by the deep ball. They have proven that with good defensive play, rebounding and crucial performances from role players. But the three-pointer is one of this team’s greatest weapons and they’ll need it in the playoffs.
Although a meeting with the Warriors doesn’t mean the Suns should let their guard down, it may offer a chance to rest guys like Steve Nash and Grant Hill (as the next five following games realistically should as well) before matchups with teams like San Antonio and Denver.
With such a favorable stretch, it is just like Suns coach Alvin Gentry has been saying — the Suns control their own destiny. Especially with the Jazz taking on teams like the Celtics and Lakers, and the Mavericks taking on squads like the Nuggets and Magic, now is the time to capitalize.