Time : 7:00 MST
After an unexpected win in Chicago and a very predictable loss against Oklahoma City, the Phoenix Suns will take on the Milwaukee Bucks tonight at US Airways Center. Phoenix will try to extend the second-longest active home winning streak in the NBA. The Suns have bested the Bucks in Phoenix in 24 straight games going back more than 26 years. The Suns will have their work cut out for them against a team they fell to just nine days ago.
The last meeting between the Bucks and Suns was the first game of the Phoenix’s recent road trip. It was also the first game of new Milwaukee coach Jim Boylan’s tenure. The excitement of a new coach, especially one replacing the unpopular Scott Skiles, may very well have fueled the Bucks’ 108-99 win. Seeing as Milwaukee has no plans to fire Boylan today, it’s safe to say the Suns’ chances of victory are significantly higher tonight. For the Suns to get the W, they’ll have to focus on containing Milwaukee’s dynamic duo of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis.
Last week, Jennings dropped 29 points on the Suns. He shot 5-of-7 from downtown and 60 percent from the floor. His partner Ellis had a poor shooting night, but he is still a 30-point game waiting to happen. If either or both of these two get hot and start scoring in bunches, it will be difficult for the Suns to overcome.
The task of guarding these two will fall primarily to Goran Dragic and P.J. Tucker. Tucker did an excellent job of staying in front of Ellis and forcing him into bad shots (forcing might too strong a word, as Monta doesn’t need much encouragement to take a bad shot). Dragic, on the other hand, was abused by Jennings from start to finish. Goran seemed to be one step behind the crafty left-hander on every play. Jennings quickness is tough to contain, plus the Bucks are perpetually running him off screens. For the defense on Jennings to improve, it will take a team effort. Phoenix’s frontcourt players will have to communicate and help every time he comes off a screen. Jennings doesn’t have the height or the body to shoot or finish over Gortat or Scola. A hard show by the big men off screens will allow Dragic time to recover and help keep Jennings in check.
On the offensive side of things for Phoenix, a repeat of its last performance in Milwaukee with a little bit of resurgent Michael Beasley thrown in should be enough to get the victory. The Suns’ starters were great in that game. Scola and Gortat both had double-double and combined for eight offensive rebounds. Dragic had a very efficient 21 points on 15 shots. And Jared Dudley chipped in with 18 points. The bench on the other hand, mustered a pedestrian 26 points from five players. Michael Beasley was a “DNP-CD”.
Aside from Larry Sanders, the NBA leader in blocks, the Bucks don’t have anyone to intimidate Gortat and Scola inside. They should have no problem duplicating their production. Dragic was visibly worn down by the Suns’ long road trip. A few days rest heading into tonight with the promise of several more on the way might be just the thing to snap him out of this mini-slump. As for Dudley, he is still battling the hand injury that has kept him out for the last two games. Dudley will give it a go against the Bucks tonight, but he is still not back to 100%.
Phoenix will need Michael Beasley, who has willed himself back into the rotation since Dudley went out, to pick up the slack against the Bucks. After a breakout game in Chicago, Beasley posted a double-double against OKC. The upside is that Beasley has had two productive games in a row. The downside is that it took exactly one game for his shooting percentage to fall off a cliff. Beasley’s love of the three may be to blame. He attempted no threes in Chicago and hit 10-of-14 shots. He attempted four from beyond the arc against the Thunder and shot 5-of-14. Granted, he found other ways to contribute Monday night, grabbing 11 rebounds and defending Kevin Durant, but the point still stands. When Beas falls in love with the three, he’s not nearly as effective and Phoenix suffers for it. Look for Beasley to attack the rim and use his immense athletic ability tonight. Either that or expect the Suns to struggle.
This game is the 41st of the Suns’ season and is immediately followed by six days off. Though this season has been a major disappointment thus far, a win tonight at the halfway point of the year could be exactly what Phoenix needs to change its momentum.
Paul Coro reports that Jared Dudley (wrist), Goran Dragic (ankle sprain) and Jermaine O’Neal (back spasms) are all expected to play tonight.