Preview: Atlanta Hawks (18-11) at Phoenix Suns (12-17)


Atlanta Hawks 101, Phoenix Suns 99

Hawks

Suns

Both the Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns are coming off losses last night, and each of their excuses come with shaking heads.

“We got to the rim,” Hawks guard Jeff Teague told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after the Hawks’ loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. “That’s what we wanted to do. But we couldn’t finish.”

Meanwhile, the Suns struggled mightily without Steve Nash and Grant Hill in their lineup against the Denver Nuggets as both sat out the second game during a stretch of three games played in three nights. The Suns, like the Hawks, got to the bucket but only hit 12-of-48 shots in the paint to score 24 points up close in a 109-92 loss to the Denver Nuggets.

The two squads’ and their frustrations will clash tonight at US. Airways Center, but for the Suns, there’s obvious reason for optimism. Nash and Hill will return to the lineup that missed them so much, and while they’ve struggled at home with a 5-7 record thus far this year, the reinsertion of the duo could go a long way in the team’s psyche.

Last night, it was never more clear how much Nash’s Phoenix teammates value his presence.

“Peyton Manning didn’t play tonight,” Jared Dudley told Paul Coro, making a parallel to the Indianapolis Colts missing their star quarterback this past NFL season. “When Peyton Manning didn’t play, you saw what the Colts’ record was, right?”

In the last meeting between the Suns and Hawks on Feb. 6, Phoenix was rolling behind its Peyton Manning. Nash scored 24 points and dropped 11 dimes in a 99-90 victory, one of the Suns’ best wins of the season. The Suns had a 20-point lead going into the fourth quarter, and survived a 15-point final period to win by nine.

It was on the eve of Nash’s 38th birthday and the second game of a three-game winning streak that was the best stretch of the season for Phoenix.

Was it an anomaly? Maybe not. Atlanta does rank fifth in the league by giving up only 91.5 points per game, but the Hawks’ offensive production has gone awry in the month of February. After a strong start to the year, the Hawks have gone 2-5 this month and have only scored more that 90 points once in those seven games.

With Nash and Hill back in the rotation, the confidence for Phoenix to pull off a victory against a reeling Atlanta squad should be there. So too will be an opportunity to set things straight in US Airways Center.

Three keys for Phoenix

Push the tempo. While the Hawks have the ability to run with the best teams in the league, that’s not their M.O. Head coach Larry Drew wants his Atlanta team to execute in the half court on the offensive end and control the tempo enough to set up their solid defense. With fresh legs for Nash and Hill, controlling the tempo and getting out in the open court will help get the ball movement flowing, something that didn’t happen last night in Denver.

“The ball has to move and the ball didn’t move,” Dudley told Coro after last night’s loss to the Nugs. “We weren’t playing selfless basketball. The ball was sticking.”

Finding bench production. It’s got to come through at some point, right? Hustle hasn’t been good enough for the second unit of Phoenix, and the bench has struggled to points up in the second and fourth quarters. If the bench can stifle and turn over an Atlanta squad that is struggling to operate on the offensive end — losing bailout man Jamal Crawford in the offseason hasn’t helped a bit, I’m sure — it could lead to opportunities for easy buckets on their own end.

Continue controlling the boards. Zaza Pachulia and Josh Smith can work the glass. Phoenix did a solid job against an athletic Denver team in rebounding the ball last night, though the catch there is the Nuggets were missing their entire starting frontline. Especially with Channing Frye being at a matchup disadvantage against Smith, the Suns will need all hands on deck to rebound the ball to get their offense in a running mode.

  • Scott

    Agreed; hustle has not been good enough for the 2nd unit. The 2nd unit also needs an offensive plan that will work for who they have on the floor.

  • Cam

    Just wondering. If Redd continues to play well for the Suns, what kind of trade market would there be for him. Are the Suns able to trade him after March 1st? I think the Lakers, for some scoring for their second unit, the Celtics likewise, and the Clippers and Knicks, depending on who doesn’t end up with J.R. Smith. That’s the short list I came up with. Just looking forward to see if the Suns are able to get some picks or young talent through trades after the 1st. Unless something drastic happens, I think this back to back to back is going to put the Suns farther behind than management had hoped for entering All Star week. Go Suns.

  • Bill-in-Tokyo

    @ Valley of the Suns: What’s the skinny on Redd? Was he meant to be a potential keeper by the Suns? Except for Morris it seems the recent Suns’ contracts for Redd and the other recently signed players load the incentives to play well enough for themselves and not get hurt so they can sign elsewhere.

  • steve

    Another game blown in the 4th. Ouch. I’ve been at us airways for a couple of pretty pathetic losses this year. Maybe I should just stay away.

  • Scott

    Redd by himself wouldn’t make for much of a trade, as his contract is small. You could at best trade him for a first round pick, and if you’re trading to a contending team, that would presumably be a late pick … so not so good. Or you’d use him as trade bait to get a team to also take some of the harder to move Suns players.

    I think the Suns would like to re-sign Redd, and to a contract with more money and years, but both parties want to see how far Redd progresses before that occurs.

    My guess is that Redd still thinks of himself as a star and expects star money. I think that’s why he didn’t sign earlier, and why the Suns took Brown … because they didn’t know if they’d be getting Redd.

    My forecast is that Redd will stay with the Suns and then test the market as a restricted free agent, thereby determining his value.

    As for the specific trading date, Redd signed late, and his first trading date would be 2 months after he signed. So maybe he’d be available close to St. Patrick’s Day …?

  • Scott

    A bit more research has turned up the fact that Redd will be an unrestricted free agent.

  • Tony

    Geez, this Suns team is just awful. How does Josh Smith, a guy listed as 6-9 who’s probably really 6-7, get 17 rebounds while Gortat only gets 6? I know some Suns fans picked him as the second best center in the league, but the guy is no more than a good center at best. In fact, the Suns gave up too much for him in the deal with the Magic.

    The backup pg spot is just killing the Suns more than anything else now. Price and Telfair are not even second stringer quality players, they are barely 3rd stringers. At this point, Gentry needs to try someone else at point with the second unit. He might try using Hill more with the second unit as a point-forward. If Brown learned how to handle the ball and wasn’t such a stupid player who hates to pass, he would fit nicely. Either way, something has to be done.

    Suns fans, stay away from U.S. Airways, don’t give that SOB Sarver one penny of your money. The Suns already rank in the 20s in terms of home attendance and their TV ratings are the lowest in years. Hopefully, even more public pressure from Suns fans forces Sarver to sell.

  • steve

    Sarver isn’t the sole owner, but no ownership group is going to sell in this down time anyway, especially when they bought just 8 years ago. Spent a happy $80 to see my team tonight, btw.

    Calling Gortat good “at best” should have tipped me off that the rest of your post was going to be a cow pie, but I just couldn’t resist reading for the sake of the laughs you provide. You really are that clueless, aren’t you?

  • Grover

    Thank you, Tony! Somebody else who is seeing the light on Gortat. Good player, not great. On a team used to trash at center, the first hint of some skill gets a lot of fans in a lather.
    Centers I’d rather have than Gortat in close to rank order (just off the top of my head):
    - Howard (obviously)
    - Bynum (though an injury risk)
    - Gasol (the fat one)
    - Chandler
    - Lee (would have to go small ball)
    - Hibbert
    - Monroe (not so much for this year but for long-term potential)
    - Jordan (again for long-term potential)
    - Lopez (the one that used to be good, not the genetically neutered one on the Suns… risk here since he sucked this year and is out with a broken foot if I remember right)

    The more I think about it, the more I’d put Gortat somewhere in the range of the 6th to 10th best center in the league. That’s not bad, but this isn’t a guy you build a team around… its a guy you add to an already good team to make them better. My point is his name should be included on the list of potential trades to bring back some younger talent.

    Look at that list of centers again and think about it… I think only Chandler and maybe Lee are older than Gortat. Everyone else there has more room to learn and get better and a longer career ahead of them. If we can attract free agent talent next year plus do well in the draft and manage to keep Gortat at the same time, perfect. But if we need to trade Gortat to a contender in order to bring back players who are in the top 5 at their position instead of 10th, I’d say you have to do it.

    BTW, I’d disagree with the comments about staying away from the Suns to hurt Sarver. Sarver won’t sell, certainly not while the Suns are in a death spiral. If he ever were to sell, he’d time it for when the future of the franchise was looking up. All getting down on the Suns will do is chase away potential free agents and show disrespect to the current players. I’ll bag on the Suns all day long for their performance on the court, but I do have to say this is a really high character team. I’m proud of them as human beings, I just wish they weren’t genetically screwed as basketball players.

  • GoSuns

    I’d take gortat over everbody on that list except for howard, hill hibbert still need a lot of work, monroe has the potential but gortat has potential left also, id say hes tied with the fat gasol, and id def take him over chandler for his more complete game

  • Grover

    We need to start a movement to make that his new official name – Fat Gasol. Has a ring to it.

  • Tony

    Grover,

    Steve is just another pro-Sarver troll, who knows absolutely nothing about basketball. He actually picked Gortat as the 2nd best center in the league, ahead of even Bynum??! Haha, what a clown he is.

    Gortat doesn’t box out, which is a big reason for the rebounding problems with the Suns, he doesn’t have very good hands, which is why he usually drops easy passes a couple times a game, and his mid-range shot is worse this season than even last season.

    Anyone who believes the Suns should build around Gortat, or that he’s a top 2 center in the league, has no clue about basketball. He’s a good player I’m not denying that at all, but he’s not a franchise type player.

    By the way, I wouldn’t put Chandler ahead of Gortat.

    The only reason why I argue in favor of not attending Suns games is to at the very least, make a statement to Sarver and the rest of the Three Stooges that Suns fans are pissed and demand a better roster. At best, Sarver no longer can afford the team and sells it, although I do know that’s unlikely. The problem is dummies like Steve who believe they are Suns fans but instead are just sheep, are willing to continue putting money in Sarver’s pockets. As such, Sarver won’t have the incentive to really improve this team and will be satisfied with a mediocre team.

    I do admire the high degree of character on the Suns team. Nash, Hill, Gortat, and all the way down the list of the roster are filled with some of the classiest players in the league. It’s what makes rooting for such a talent-deprived team bearable. I will continue watching and rooting for them to win even though they are probably the third worst team in the western conference.

  • Cam

    With a supposedly loaded draft, I would think te Suns would be all over trading Redd for a late first round pick. About Gortat, let’s not forget he has only been starting for a year or so. He has had the same, if not less minutes at center than almost all those players listed above, save for a few like Jordan and maybe Monroe and Hibbert. He may not have as high a ceiling or be as athletic as guys like Jordan but he seems like a player willing to blue collar it and doesn’t smell of prima dona. I don’t get that same vibe from Hibbert and Jordan when I watch them. Go Suns.

  • Grover

    If you were evaluating centers only on offensive skills, I’d agree Chandler is well behind Gortat. In terms of impact on a team, however, I’d put Chandler well ahead of Gortat. Chandler’s defensive skill far outclasses Gortat and the leadership and locker room presence he brings is top notch.

    I’m ashamed to admit I’ll continue going to Suns games regardless of how bad they get. Why? I love basketball. Here’s how bad I am… I go to Mercury games. That’s right… I admit it: I watch chick basketball sometimes. I go to ASU basketball games sometimes too – just like Mercury games but with less skill. For me, even bad basketball is still pretty damn good.

    I need counseling.

  • A-ROCK

    Why did they rest Nash and Hill?! LOL The teams owners are Pathetic hahaha not worth a comment……done

  • Scott

    @Grover -

    The Mercury was great a few years back with Taurasi, Penny Taylor, and Cappie. The Merc got their championship years ago, and more than one. :)

    As for Gortat, I think he’s tired but maybe he doesn’t fully realize it. Probably more mentally tired than physically.

    @Cam -

    I would be hesitant about trading Redd for a first round pick. I expect only the first pick to be a franchise type player, the next several to have starter potential, then the next few more likely to have bench potential, and then after that … in the 2nd half of the first round … it normally gets dicey. You just don’t know what you’re going to get.

    It’s probably better for the Suns to try to keep Redd, because if he does come around – which the Suns will know before the end of the year – then he will at least fulfill that role of “crunch time creator” that the Suns exited last season claiming that’s what they needed.

    And if Redd isn’t doing that well … no one will want to trade for him anyway.

  • steve

    Oh, tony, such class and grace. Next, I suppose I’ll hear, “WELL YOU STARTED IT!”

    Tyson Chandler has such a fantastic impact on a team defensively, which is why the knicks still suck this year (and are maybe showing signs of hope now that Jeremy Lin is saving their butts. Insert any center in the league into gortat’s shoes, and I don’t think the suns would be any better off. Any center except Howard, of course. Anyone disagree with that?

  • Zak

    Well, if Gortat is “only” the 10th best center in the NBA that’s still damned good in my book! He will probably never be a “franchise” player but I never expected him to be. He’ll never be able to carry a team but he’ll be a really good, solid center for years to come which is something every team needs.

    As I’ve said before, any trades they Suns make this year should be geared toward getting more draft picks… not necessarily in this draft either. Teams are usually more likely to throw in a 1st round draft pick 2-3 years down the road to make a trade that will help them now rather than next year’s 1st rounder. Not that the Suns really have a lot to trade that’s worth a 1st round pick even several years down the road… but you never know, especially when you start talking about multi-team deals. My point is that the Suns really need to start trying to rebuild through the draft rather than through trades. The Suns have virtually no chance to bring in high-profile FA’s in the near future if for no other reason than they KNOW that the Sun’s one real star player – Nash – has a limited shelf life. After that… ???

  • Zak

    @steve – I do agree that ONLY Howard would make the Suns a significantly better team as a replacement for Gortat… but even with Howard instead of Gortat, the Suns MIGHT be in the running for the 7th-8th playoff seed in the West. With anyone else they would be approximately in the same spot they are now give or take a few W’s.