Preview: Phoenix Suns (19-21) at Washington Wizards (12-28)

Phoenix Suns 109, Washington Wizards 91

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Having won four games in a row and five of six, the Suns appear to have taken their hand off the panic button.

The Suns have notched good wins over Portland and New York, but have also benefited from a favorable stretch of opponents.

The stretch continues as the Suns take the floor at the Verizon Center on Friday night. Taking on the Wizards for the second time this season (the last a 125-108 Suns win), the Suns have the opportunity to move to just one game under .500.

A big part of the Suns’ recent success has been the play of 38-year-old forward Grant Hill. Hill notched his third straight game of 20 or more points against Cleveland on Wednesday, a feat he hadn’t accomplished since his Orlando days, in Dec. 2006.

Suns coach Alvin Gentry said Thursday on Sports 620 KTAR that Hill is part of what could get the Suns into the playoffs this season. Without him, Gentry said, the Suns will certainly play no more than 82 games.

In three games since returning from a knee injury suffered against Cleveland on Jan. 9, Hill has averaged 24.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Taking on the Wizards, who rank 20th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, Hill has a shot to make it four straight 20-point games.

Somewhat buried behind Hill’s resurgence, however, was the continued emergence of center Marcin Gortat as a reliable center. He may not become a go-to starter who plays 30-40 minutes each night, but he is providing an important post presence the Suns aren’t getting from Robin Lopez.

In 27 minutes against the Cavs, Gortat notched 16 points and 12 rebounds while also compiling a team-high +24. Gortat may not be the long-term answer at center, but he is the right now answer and it’s certainly showing in the minutes. Despite Gortat’s added strength in the post, the Suns remain the league’s fourth-worst rebounding team.

The other pieces that came over from Orlando are a bit tougher to place. Vince Carter will play well at times (29 points against the Knicks), but then he’ll turn in a total stinker (three points against the Cavaliers; didn’t score until the fourth quarter). Inconsistency is killing him.

Mickael Pietrus has, unfortunately, become an odd man out in Gentry’s rotation. After a good start as a Sun, he hasn’t gotten much of a chance, which seems strange considering his defensive ability.

The Suns have won their last eight meetings with the Wizards, with the last Washington win coming in Dec. 2006. If there’s any reason to believe the Wizards will end their woes against the Suns, it’s their home record.

Each of the Wizards’ 12 wins this season have come in our nation’s capital. They have also lost eight games at home, but are 10-2 on their own floor against teams with losing records.

The Wizard to watch in this game? Shooting guard Nick Young. Young has taken his game to a new level since moving into the starting lineup and is averaging 22.3 points per game in the month of January.

The Suns’ schedule remains pretty favorable overall for a while, but matchups with the likes of the Wizards, Pistons (Saturday) and 76ers (Monday) are must-wins so the team has some room for error in upcoming games with the Celtics, Hornets and Thunder.

Tags: Phoenix Suns Preview Washington Wizards

  • Kevin

    I see this game as a trap game for the Suns. I hope they don’t have a let down and allow the Wizards to score at will. Tyler also makes a great point, why did Pietrus all out of the rotation? I’m sure once VC is traded, it will allow him to move him to the starting lineup.

  • Kevin

    correction – once VC is traded, hopefully he’ll be moved to the starting lineup. He is agressive on both ends of the court and plays pretty good perimeter defense; as well as shoots the 3-ball at a decent percentage.

  • Zak

    Hill is a marvel. He and Nash are the foundation of everything this team does. Gortat will never be an all-star caliber center but I rate him as definitely above average in the NBA and a rock-solid foundation to build on in the future. Virtually everyone else plays inconsistently and you never know when any one of them will score 25-30 or 2-3 points in a game. I like the way Gentry has tightened up and solidified the rotation. Childress or Pietrus (or maybe both) will find their way into it as the season goes on but for now I think consistency is what the team needs most. Gortat deserves to start but I also think that they need him to keep the second unit steady too… at least for the time being. I don’t know what’s up with RoLo but I can’t help but wonder if it just not attitude. Maybe he’s feeling too much pressure to perform or maybe he just doesn’t have confidence in the Suns as a team anymore. Whatever it is he just doesn’t seem to be giving his best on the court this year. I still have faith in Dragic and believe that he’s not getting a lot of minutes this year simply because he’s not Steve Nash and this year the Suns need Steve Nash on the court as much as possible. As for tonight’s game, we shouldn’t take the Wiz lightly. If they take them seriously, the Suns should win. At this point I don’t think the Suns should take ANY game lightly.

  • Drew

    Tyler, you said Gortat may not be a long term answer. That’s the first I’ve heard that idea. Is there more behind your comment? I’d be really interested as I think Gortat is exactly what this team needs: a vocal, defensive minded bigman who’s a leader.

    With Nick Young so hot recently, I fear losing my voice tonight, yelling at VC for missed defensive assignments or lack of effort. Any chance we start VC like we do Lopez and play him only 10 min. Then allow Dudley and (dust off) Pietris, to keep Young in check?

    I think Dragic has to be on his game tonight as well. We need him in the game defensively on Wall. I’d love to see Nash only play 20-25 min tonight because Dragic is playing well.

  • Mel.

    I gotta disagree with the comment that Drew touches on above, that Gortat isn’t a “long-term answer.” Maybe that rings true for most teams, but as far as the center position for the Suns is concerned, I don’t think you can ask for more than a hungry, surprisingly mobile big man who doesn’t run away from rebounds and who is willing to mesh effortlessly with the team’s junior-varsity playing pace.

    The Suns are NEVER going to be a Center-focused offense. Period. You could gut the roster, replace every member of administration and the coaching staff, and the likelihood would still be on three-bombs and the pick and roll. An inside option is strongly needed (As is–AGAIN–a versatile, legitimate four)–but Gortat meets the franchise’s immediate and near-future needs handily.

  • Mel.

    That reads wacky. I disagree with the comment as Tyler posted it, not with the fact that Drew brought it up. Correct’d!

  • Daniel

    So, I realize this is now an old post but why are you crapping on Gortat?! If he’s not the long term answer at the 5, who is? He plays solid D (even off the PnR), has a good offensive game, can rebound at a rate of 10+ in fewer minutes than most, and is a vocal leader who isn’t afraid of confrontation. Maybe we can get Joe Klein or “Hot-Rod” Williams back in a Suns Jersey. Is Luc Longley still playing anywhere? OF COURSE NOT! The first true center we’ve had (not 10 years past his prime) that I can remember but he’s just not good enough, at least for your standards. Im just sayin guy, I don’t think Hakeem Olajuwon is going to get in a time machine and then sign with Phoenix

  • Steve

    I agree that Gortat is a part of the long-term solution. Would I rather have Dwight Howard? Yes. But plenty of teams have won championships without Shaq or Duncan. Gortat is a quality player who can play a significant role as a starter on a championship-caliber team as long as we can get a fantastic 2/3 to run the game in crunch time. The problem is that the Suns have never really had a truly fantastic 2/3. Thus, no championships.