4-on-4: Winning streak edition

To commemorate the Phoenix Suns’ four-game winning streak, the ValleyoftheSuns team goes 4-on-4 below with four burning questions surrounding this hot stretch.

Which game was the most impressive/meaningful win of the four?

Michael Schwartz: I’m going to take the first part of the question and do something different by going with the Charlotte win. Yes, the Bobcats are awful and they were exhausted, but we haven’t seen the Suns wipe the floor with an opponent all season. Their second and third quarters marked the pinnacle of their play this year and it showed what the Suns are capable of at both ends of the floor when they are clicking on all cylinders. It might not possess the “wow” factor of the Memphis win, but for pure domination this was most impressive.

Kevin Zimmerman: The second of the four, against Utah. I think beating a pretty good Memphis team that’s down is one thing, but coming out with their most focused effort a game later showed that the Suns’ first win wasn’t a complete fluke. They didn’t get down against the Jazz, and it too was a solid win against a team that was streaking.

Ryan Weisert: The most impressive win has to be Sacramento. Utah has given Phoenix problems in the past, Memphis is always tough, and Charlotte was a definite trap game, but the comeback against the Kings stands alone. Coming back from down 19 points will be a defining moment in this season. I think it proved to the players that this winning streak is no fluke. The Suns have fallen behind many times before, but the team played their best basketball of the season in the 3rd quarter of that game.

Dave Dulberg: The Utah game was the most complete of the four, but I give the nod to the win over Memphis. It was gritty, physical and at times hard to watch from an offensive standpoint, but it ended a seven-game losing streak and gave the team confidence that it could actually be a quality opponent. Also call me crazy, but you can’t win four in a row without winning one in a row. It ended one streak and started another.

Which player has been the most impressive over the last four games?

Michael Schwartz: Jared Dudley, hands down. He has scored at least 20 points in a career-high three straight games and he tallied 15 in the other contest. JD has logged almost 40 minutes a game during the win streak and as has been the case all season, Phoenix is a much better team with him on the floor. Dudley has finally found the shooting stroke that eluded him earlier in the year, drilling four treys in the last two games, and his presence has really solidified the defense.

Kevin Zimmerman: There’s no way to look past Jared Dudley. Scoring in the 20s over the last three games in playing the same way he did with Steve Nash, the guy has proven since returning to the starting lineup that it wasn’t Nash’s presence that turned him into an NBA starter. Furthermore, it’s his three steals in three of the last four that have the Suns out in transition and getting into a rhythm.

Ryan Weisert: It’s definitely Jared Dudley. JMZ is finally playing the way Suns’ fans hoped he would from the outset of the year. He’s averaging 19-plus points, five boards, four assists, and 2.5 steals per game over the last four Suns’ wins. His production has simply exploded, and not a second too soon for Phoenix. The Suns were sorely in need of a consistent three-point threat. Dudley’s outside shooting is improving floor spacing and giving Gorat and Scola more room to work inside.

Dave Dulberg: Unquestionably it’s been Jared Dudley. He has had three straight games of 20 or more points for the first time in his career, but on top of that, everything seems to just flow a little bit better with him on the court at small forward. Dudley doesn’t do a single thing great, but he has the highest basketball IQ on the team and his presence has certainly created a more unselfish dynamic on the court of late.

How much has the new starting lineup/rotation contributed to the win streak?

Michael Schwartz: With respect to the last two games, the opponent probably contributed to the win streak as much as anything, but there’s no question that the new rotation has really worked. Most importantly, Michael Beasley has played 10, 19, 13 and 14 minutes after averaging 27 a game before the streak. I am not sold on the new bench lineup with Tucker/Beas as the wings, but the starters have outscored opponents by 13.8 points per 100 possessions over 80 minutes and have thus been a big part of the streak.

Kevin Zimmerman: I think the lineup change has been the biggest part of the winning streak. It’s partially about taking the +/- game into serious consideration and pulling Beasley from his previously heavy minutes, but the Beasley move was also about Dudley’s swap in positions. And Dudley has been phenomenal in his new-old role.

Ryan Weisert: The new lineup is certainly part of the turnaround, but I don’t think it’s the whole story. I think the Suns were looking for something, anything, to knock them out of their early season funk. Beasley going to the bench was apparently a big enough knock to stir the team’s pot and get them cooking. That one change seems to have helped everything fall into place. Each player in the rotation, save Beasley, looks more comfortable in his role over the last four games. I don’t think this lineup choice totally solves all the Suns’ problems, but I do think it’s a jumping off point for the improvement that was and still is needed.

Dave Dulberg: I’d say 60 percent of the win streak has to do with the new starting lineup. The team has a natural small forward playing small forward for the first time all season. Luis Scola, although he filled in admirably off the bench, is more accustomed to being a starter and looks comfortable there. And both units seem to have some semblance of balance offensively and defensively, something that has been missing for the better part of this season. Four straight home games, three of which came against struggling teams (yes, even Utah of late) accounts for the other 40 percent.

The schedule is tougher from now through New Year’s. What will the Suns’ record be over the final six games of 2012?

Michael Schwartz: 2-4. I think they’ll beat Portland on Saturday and then pull the upset against either the Clippers or Knicks at home since they have been playing so well in US Airways Center. As a 2-10 road team, I don’t see them having much luck with the Pacers, Wolves or Thunder away from home to close out 2012.

Kevin Zimmerman: I just said “yikes” when I took a look at the schedule. Outside of the Portland and Indiana games, it’s not easy for the rest of 2012. My silly preseason optimism is still there and I’d like to say they go 3-3, but I’ll have to go with a 2-4 record heading into 2013.

Ryan Weisert: Phoenix has taken care of business against two bad teams and beaten two good teams on this four-game streak. However, they have not taken down any team as good as the Knicks, Clippers, or Thunder yet this year. I think they win one of those three games. Winning four in a row is great, but the media won’t notice unless Phoenix tops one of these elite teams. I think they’ll win two of their three road games against the Timberwolves, Trail Blazers, and Pacers. That will put Phoenix at 3-3 and leave them four games under .500 heading into 2013.

Dave Dulberg: Three of their final six games of 2012 are against teams (NYK, LAC and OKC) with winning percentages of .760 or better. The three road games come against teams (Indiana, Minnesota and OKC) with a combined home record of 29-8, and even Portland (the weakest remaining opponent) has surprised people at 11-12. I hate to be a pessimist, but 1-5 seems to make the most sense.

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