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Preview: Dallas Mavericks (8-10) at Phoenix Suns (7-12)

Dallas Mavericks 97, Phoenix Suns 94



There was a time when a Mavericks-Suns game was a marquee matchup, the kind of game routinely picked for a Thursday night nationally-televised showdown.

Instead tonight TNT might wonder what it was thinking to pit a Dirk Nowitzki-less Mavs team that has lost four of five after being crushed late last night by the Clippers against a Suns squad that has dropped four in a row and has no star power to speak of.

Well, at least the first game of the doubleheader between the Knicks and Heat should be more reminiscent of primetime.

Yet in this matchup between two struggling teams, I feel like the Suns will have the intangibles edge that could be the difference in what should be a relatively even matchup.

First off, the Mavericks played an 8:30 p.m. Arizona time game last night in Los Angeles and thus did not get into town until the middle of the night. Such back-to-backs after a late game are always brutal, and thus Dallas should be expected to be at a bit of an energy deficiency.

With the Suns and Mavs both among the NBA’s top 10 teams in pace (Dallas actually ranks second), this figures to be a quick game, which should bode well for Phoenix considering Dallas’ tired legs.

Furthermore, although it used to be a weekly occurrence, this will be one of the Suns’ few primetime matchups of the season. They only play one more TNT game (Jan. 24 against the Clippers) and just one all year on ESPN (Nash’s first game back on Jan. 30). Players often get up a little more for big games like this, and considering the Suns won’t have many in front of a national audience I feel they will come out especially ready to play.

It’s also a pivotal game on Phoenix’s schedule considering we just found out the Suns likely won’t be very good on the road after losing five of six on this trip and nine of 11 for the season. However, thus far the Suns are a respectable 5-3 at home and must take advantage of a stretch with six of their next seven in the Purple Palace to avoid falling completely out of the playoff picture before New Year’s. The upcoming Memphis game aside, there is no home game during this stretch in which the Suns should not expect to be competitive.

That starts with a losing Mavs squad that is 2-7 away from Big D. They are led in scoring by O.J. Mayo (19.7 points per game), which is painful news for Suns fans considering Mayo was a top target for Phoenix once the Hornets/Pelicans matched on Eric Gordon. Mayo eventually signed with the Mavs for  one year at $4 million with a player option for next year that will be declined considering the way he is playing.

Mayo is carrying this team offensively with Dirk hurt and should become a pretty solid second banana once the big German returns to the floor. Instead the Suns chose to gamble on two guaranteed years of Michael Beasley, and thus far they aren’t exactly getting the same bang for their buck as the Mavs. Mayo was a risk like Beasley as top draftees from the class of 2008 that had yet to pan out, yet at this point in the season Mayo looks much closer to fulfilling his promise than Beas.

Many Suns games the rest of the season may not be all that important to anybody outside of the Valley and the opponent’s city if it continues to go as it did during the past road trip, but for one night the Suns will have the nation’s attention against their old rivals from Dallas.

And with the Suns guaranteeing their fans a good time or their money back, they have no shortage of incentives to put together one of their better performances of the season.

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Suns president Jason Rowley told The Arizona Republic’s Bob Young that only about 1,000 tickets remained for this contest as of Wednesday morning, meaning the guarantee could lead to a rare Suns sellout.

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