PHOENIX — Once upon a time in November, the Suns were regularly steamrolling opponents on their way to a 14-3 start.
Then December came around, the Suns may or may not have had a little too much fun on a night out in the Big Apple and the Knicks shockingly throttled them by 27 points, to this day still Phoenix’s worst loss of the season.
The Suns’ lack of effort in that game was embarrassing. At the time I wrote that except for Nash and Dudley it didn’t look like anybody else was really trying. The Knicks got wide-open threes, uncontested layups, everything, and you know what a Mike D’Antoni-coached team will do with easy opportunities like that.
Although the Knicks sport a palindrome 26-45 record when compared to the 45-26 Suns, they have pulled off some shocking upsets. It was only a couple days ago that they took down the Denver Nuggets in MSG, and they even snapped the Mavericks’ 13-game winning streak in Dallas with a 34-point win a few weeks ago.
Although the Knicks have been playing for the Summer of 2010 for a couple years now, they still have some players. David Lee leads New York in scoring (20.1 ppg) and rebounding (11.9). Al Harrington, Wilson Chandler and emerging sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari aren’t bad either, and we all know about Mr. T-Mac.
This figures to be a fast game with both of the teams in the top-10 in pace (this is a D’Antoni team after all). However, it’s not a vintage D’Antoni team in that their offensive efficiency ranks near the middle of the league (it sure helps having Steve Nash). The Suns and Knicks are tied in defensive efficiency for the season, which isn’t good for either squad since the tie is for 24th at 107.6 points per 100 possessions. Of course, the Suns have been much better at that end during their current 19-5 run.
One of the biggest keys to that run has been the play in tandem of Amare Stoudemire and Robin Lopez. We’ve already gone through what Amare is doing at length, but much of his improved play on the defensive end and the boards and certainly some of his monster play offensively has to do with having a 7-footer like Robin doing work by his side.
“I think the two of them together help each other,” said Suns guard Steve Nash. “They both are threats, they both are causing different problems for the defense.”
Added Lopez, “I think we’re kind of able to open it up for one another. They have to block one of us out. I feel like on the pick-and-roll they have to guard one of us, and we just open the lane for each other.”
The Suns will need their bigs to continue to produce because you know D’Antoni will have his troops fired up for what surely is a revenge game in his second return to the Valley as the head man of the Knicks.
It’s also a mighty important game in the standings (as every game will be from here on out) being that teams above the Suns have finally started to lose. The Suns are now as close to the No. 2 seed as they are to the No. 6 spot; Denver, Dallas and Utah are all tied for second, 1 1/2 games in front of Phoenix and just one up in the loss column.
For the longest time it looked like the Suns were playing for the No. 4 seed at best, but now moving up to second or certainly third is at least realistic.
I have written in the past that it’s better to be sixth than fourth or fifth to avoid the Lakers in the second round, but the absolute ideal spot for the Suns would be second or third. With their next five games coming against losing teams, now is the time to make such seeding dreams a reality.
When the Suns and Warriors both scored at least 30 points in every quarter of Monday’s game, it was the first time that had happened since the Warriors (of course) and Grizzlies hooked up for a shootout on Jan. 3, 2007, according to ESPN Stats and Information. What’s more odd is that in Sunday’s win over Portland, neither the Suns nor the Blazers scored 30 points in even one quarter in a grind-it-out Phoenix win.
It astounds me that on back-to-back days the same team could win in two completely different fashions. These certainly aren’t your big brother’s Suns.
With Mike D in town, I have a feeling this one will be a lot more like the Golden State game than the Portland contest.