After the Suns defeated a Boston Celtics team without Rajon Rondo on Friday, the basketball gods keep shining hope upon a Phoenix team that could use any and all luck.
Dirk Nowitzki is out as the Mavericks face the Suns today at 6:30 p.m. in Dallas, but that’s not to say Phoenix will have as easy of a time as they did against the sputtering Celtics.
Nowitzki is expected to sit out four games, the first of which resulted in a 83-81 Dallas victory against the New Orleans Hornets on Saturday. In the German’s place was forward Lamar Odom, who helped soften the blow with a season-high 16 points.
Head coach Alvin Gentry and crew will probably take it.
Somehow, the Suns keep clinging to the idea of becoming a .500 team this season, and injuries hitting their opponents in a timely matter keeps that notion alive. In our 3-on-3 preview of the road trip, only an optimistic Ryan Weisert believed Phoenix would win more than a game, and the possibility of winning a third is in the Suns’ grasp at the last stop of the five-game swing.
While missing an All-Star power forward in Nowitzki is slightly different than Boston missing their motor in Rondo, we should once again expect a grind-it-out, defensive affair.
Although Phoenix has won two consecutive games while holding their opponents to less than 90 points, the victories came against teams that haven’t been offensive juggernauts. Still, the Suns are of a new identity that relies upon defense to make up for an up-tempo offense that just might not come, as Paul Coro writes, and perhaps those are the types of games they can consistently win.
Meanwhile, Dallas puts up the NBA’s third best defensive rating by giving up 96.4 points per 100 possessions, and they’ve gone 14 straight games without allowing an opponent to go over the triple-digit mark.
So considering the Suns’ newfound ability to win in somewhat close, low-scoring games, the guess here is that this one will likewise go down to the wire.
And with the Mavs missing their star, maybe Phoenix will have enough to pull off a winning record by the end of a road trip that looked like it would send the team into a tailspin.
Phoenix’s keys to the game
1. Soften Lamar like a Kardashian
I’m pretty sure the only episode of “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” that I intently watched involved Lamar Odom lazily creating a unisex cologne/perfume. That was pretty indecisive and weak of him, and the Suns must make Lamar look just as soft come Monday night. Coming off his best game of the season while starting in place of Nowitzki, it’s imperative Phoenix puts their sights on the one player that can single-handedly break down their defense. And considering Odom’s second-best game of the year came against the Suns in a 15-point performance on Jan. 4., a strong defensive effort would also act as a statement against a player that has historically given Phoenix fits.
2. A shot of testosterone
It’s obvious Phoenix is a jump-shooting team, and it’s clear it gets many of those open jumpers by way of Steve Nash assists. Still, it’s somewhat troubling that the Suns are second-to-last in the NBA by taking an average of 18.2 free throws per game. That smells of a team lacking aggression. Without many slashers on the team it’s understandable, but since the Suns are sixth in free throw percentage, the guess here is that guys like Grant Hill and Shannon Brown could get some easy points by attacking rather than settling for midrange jump shots. And while maybe they don’t have the one-on-one capability to make that happen, why not find a way to make those opportunities come by way of Nash assists as well?
3. Remember The Matrix
Seriously. Shawn Marion still has it. Behind Dirk, the former Phoenix forward has the second-highest PER on the Mavs for players who see at least 20 minutes of playing time. With Nowitzki out, head coach Rick Carlisle called Marion the team’s best player, and along with guard Jason Terry he is expecting The Matrix to carry much of the scoring load while the All-Star is out. Marion has taken at least 10 shots per game in the last four games, and he also has two double-doubles in that span.