Preview: Phoenix Suns (29-27) at Minnesota Timberwolves (25-32)

Phoenix Suns 114, Minnesota Timberwolves 90



PHOENIX — We’ve come to the point of the season where there’s no way to overemphasize how important each and every game is to Phoenix’s playoff hopes.

After all, the Suns kick off a four-game road trip (which feels more like an eight-gamer following Saturday’s brief stop after three straight on the road) with a tilt in Minnesota sitting a game out of the playoff in a mad scramble in which five teams are separated by 2 1/2 games for the final three spots.

Another reminder of the importance of these games comes in the form of the Suns’ national TV schedule. Starting with tonight ESPN2-televised contest, seven of Phoenix’s final 10 games will be featured on TNT, ESPN or ESPN2 after just five of its first 56 games were on one of those networks. That includes three of the four games on this trip alone and the team’s final four games to close out the season.

“Every game, every week is make or break,” Steve Nash said. “We can’t afford to lose two or three in a row, so we’ve got to try to win two or three on the road to put ourselves in a position to upset somebody and then get way ahead of the game, so we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

Before taking on playoff teams in Memphis, Houston and San Antonio, the Suns will first face off with a Minnesota team that spent a good chunk of the season in the playoff hunt before Ricky Rubio’s season-ending knee injury derailed their bid.

The Wolves have since slipped all the way down to 12th in the West after losing five in a row. They just haven’t been the same team without their electrifying Spanish point guard, as they have dropped 13 of 17 after going 21-19 with Rubio healthy to stay in the thick of the playoff race.

However, one of those four victories came on March 12 in US Airways Center when the Wolves torched the Suns for a 129.6 offensive rating, Phoenix’s worst defensive performance of the entire season. Kevin Love pasted 30 on the Suns, and Minnesota knocked down 14-of-22 long balls (63.6 percent) while hitting 56.2 percent of its shots overall.

Love is a beast and will get his as he’s averaging 26.5 points and 13.5 boards per game — numbers that would put him in the MVP conversation if the Wolves were in playoff contention — but the Suns can’t let his supporting cast shoot the lights out as well.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” said the Suns’ red-hot shooting guard Michael Redd. “We’ve got to continue to keep playing the way we are playing and staying together. We kind of hit our stride after the All-Star break.”

That is true, and in many ways the Suns are diametrically opposite the Timberwolves. After all, the Suns’ season took off just around the same time Minnesota’s went down the gutter — the Wolves led Phoenix by three games when they met in the Suns’ first game after the break but trail them by 4 1/2 games today — and Minny possesses all the young talent in the world starting with two young superstars whereas the Suns have a very undefined future predicated on a 38-year-old point guard.

But as things stand today the Suns must win to keep their playoff hopes alive whereas Minnesota is just looking to gain more experience playing together to gear up for a potential breakthrough season next year. The Wolves’ tailspin has left them to play spoiler whereas the Suns’ playoffs started weeks ago for all intents and purposes.

“They’re all big,” Gentry said. “It doesn’t matter, East, West, whoever we play right now we’re at the point of the season where we approach every game like we’re in the playoffs.”

  • Al

    I blame the last game against Minnesota on Gortat’s inability to defend Pekovic in the first half. This CANT happen again. Let Love get his 30 points, but don’t let Pekovic or Beasley go for 15 or more. Has Gentry ever tried playing pick and roll with Steve feeding Markieff? Think Kieff could have a better ability to catch the ball in pick and roll than Gortat or Lopez. Gentry should try it in this game with Kieff at the 4 and Frye at 5.

  • Scott

    @Al -

    I agree that Morris might have some aptitude in that area, but Gentry isn’t going to change much at this point in the season.

    Love is the kind of player the Suns would like to have. He’s got the best parts of pretty much all the Suns’ front court players rolled into one.

    Is Love better than Amare was?

  • grover

    Amare vs Love – interesting question (and equally pointless since we can never prove anything and we’re not able to choose either player at the moment anyway). Here is my take:

    Love today is a better all round player than Amare at his peak and would make a greater impact on most teams than Amare woulda have. For the Suns at their peak a few years ago – somewhere in that 2005-2008 timeframe – I think Amare was a better fit. Amare was one of the best dive men on the pick and roll in the history of the NBA, and when paired with a passing guard like Nash and the 3 pt shooters on the Suns roster, it was particularly well matched.

    To play devils advocate to my own argument, Love is a better rebounder, passer, and outside shooter than Amare ever was. It is possible Love’s defensive rebounding and outstanding outlet passes would have ignited the Suns 7 Seconds offense to an even greater degree than what we saw. Being a better rebounder, Love may have helped fix the Suns longstanding tradition of getting beat by surrendering second chance points. I think clearly the offense would have been different with Love – fewer pick and rolls, more pick and pops, maybe more assists from the PF and fewer from Nash.

    I had hoped Love would have tired of Kahn in Minnesota and not signed an extension so the Suns could take a shot at him, but no such luck. The way he’s playing this year, prying him away from Minn would be expensive.

  • Suns Critic

    Should the Suns trade for Lamar in the offseason? I think so!

  • Michael Schwartz

    I agree with Grover’s assessment. Love is surely a better overall player with his elite and versatile game, but for that style Amare probably was a better fit. He was just such a force diving down the lane that it opened everything up for the three-point shooters. That being said, if I were starting an expansion team I’d take prime Love over prime Amare.

  • Scott

    @Suns Critic -

    Odom has really only been good playing alongside Kobe. The rest of his career has been pretty quiet.

    If Gentry thinks the Suns can use him properly, and if Dallas will take Childress in exchange, then sure, I’d do it.

    The point being you’d have to clear up a roster spot and salary to make room, and Odom is bigger, more experienced, and can score better than Childress.

    Odom’s also had a lot of injury trouble, but the training staff might be able to help with that.

  • Zak

    Adios. I’ll always be a Suns fan but this is the last time I will ever post to or read this website. I decided that a few days ago. I’ll miss this site but NOT the venom that a few people spout here regularly. I love basketball and I love the Suns. I just don’t want to deal with the negativity here anymore.

    Go Suns! You’re my team!


  • Suns Critic

    We will have plenty of roster spots and salary next season. Odom can be a freak at the 3 with his size and athleticism. Almost every player that comes to PHX.. flourishes so I think he would too.

  • Suns Critic

    We will have plenty of roster spots and salary next season. Odom can be a freak at the 3 with his size and athleticism. Almost every player that comes to PHX flourishes so I think he would too.

  • Scott

    Another good game by the 2nd unit + Brown. But also against another team hit by injuries to key players.

    Next up are the Grizz, who last I heard pretty much have all hands on deck. Z-Bo has returned, but Tony Allen is out with a facial laceration. Not sure when he’ll be playing.