This brutal stretch of the season continues for the Suns.
Playing four road games in five nights is as bad as it gets in the NBA. Given Phoenix’s struggles both on the road and in the second night of back-to-backs, this road trip is truly worst case scenario for a team which has lost 10 of its last 11 games. The Suns make their first-ever trip to the Barclays Center to take on a Brooklyn squad playing very well at the moment.
The Nets are currently riding a four game win streak in the wake of Avery Johnson’s firing. Whether the team is playing better under interim Coach P.J. Carlesimo or simply basking in the glory of Johnson’s absence is still unclear. Either way, Brooklyn is firing on all cylinders right now as they prepare to host a Suns team playing their worst basketball in a decade.
Over the last 11 games, not much has gone the Suns’ way. They’ve been inconsistent and completely incapable of playing hard for all 48 minutes. They’ve suffered through long stretches of ice-cold shooting, defensive lapses, sloppy ball handling, and poor bench play. That last one has been the most detrimental. The reserves have been downright awful as of late. In the game against Boston on Wednesday night, the bench had a plus/minus of -60 in only 52 minutes on the court. Looking at that stat for a single game can be misleading, but the same group was -58 the night before in Milwaukee. The starters have not been stellar by any means, but the bench has got to step up and be competitive.
Tonight they’ll face one of the deepest bench units in the league. The Nets have 11 players who average more than 10 minutes per game. While Brooklyn’s starters all the well-paid headliners, it’s their bench that sets them apart. The Nets’ reserves have scored an average of 44 points per game over the last three contests. Leading the way for this unit is forward Andray Blatche, who has completely turned his career around in his first season with the Nets. Blatche has averaged 16 points and 10 boards over the last three games. Markieff Morris and/or Luis Scola will certainly have their hands full with him.
As for the starting matchups, the key for the Suns defensively will be containing the Nets’ big three of Joe Johnson, Deron Williams, and Brook Lopez. This trio scores well over 50% of their team’s points and has been playing their best basketball of the season since P.J. Carlesimo took over on December 28th. Brook Lopez is averaging 22 points per game over the last seven. Joe Johnson had 33 points in the win over the Thunder that kicked off this streak. And Deron Williams has shot over 60% in the last two outings. Joe Johnson is currently fighting an illness and is a game-time decision for tonight’s game.
Marcin’s Gortat’s ability to defend Lopez will be key to this game. Lopez is a highly effective scorer, but a very poor rebounder. Marcin must stay out of foul trouble and keep Lopez off the glass. On the perimeter, the Suns cannot allow Brooklyn open looks from downtown. Brooklyn is tied for 10th in the NBA in 3-pointers made. Giving up easy looks from beyond the arc has been Phoenix’s downfall all year long. If the Nets start raining from deep, this game could get ugly in a hurry.
Offensively, the Suns must attack the Nets in the paint. Kris Humphries, Lopez, and Reggie Evans are nothing more than average defenders. Scola and Gortat must look to score early and often. Likewise, Shannon Brown and Goran Dragic must penetrate and get Brooklyn’s defense back on their heels for the Suns to have a chance in this one.