Time: 7:00 pm MDT
After suffering their worst loss of the season last night, the Phoenix Suns return home tonight to face a very beatable but very rested opponent in the Philadelphia 76ers. Philadelphia has won just one game on the road this season while the Suns have been formidable at the US Airways Center, posting a 10-4 record. But the Sixers have not played in seven days while the Suns had to fly home from the Bay Area last night after a brutal loss. It’s possible the long layoff with a major holiday in the middle could hinder Philadelphia the way it appeared to hurt the Suns last night against Golden State. Either way, tonight’s game will be closer than the teams’ records suggest it should be. The Suns will need to bounce back in a big way to avoid adding insult to the injury that was last night’s performance. For more on tonight’s matchup, let’s look at three big questions facing the Suns.
Will the 76ers run Phoenix off the floor?
Philadelphia plays the fastest pace in the league, averaging nearly 102 possessions per game. The Sixers spur their speedy style of play with 17 fast break points per game, trailing only Phoenix and Oklahoma City in that category. Normally a team that wants to play fast would be a big time advantage for Phoenix, but based on how sluggish the team appeared yesterday, facing a fast opponent on the second night of a travelling back-to-back could be a recipe for disaster. If tonight’s game is as fast paced as it looks to be, the Suns will have to make more shots than they did yesterday. Shooting 36% from the floor won’t win many games, even against an opponent that’s won only two of its last ten games. The Suns have to convert in the paint, at the free throw line, and beyond the arc if they hope to keep pace with Philly.
Can the Suns keep it close in the paint?
Philadelphia averages more than 50 points in the paint per contest. They’re also a Top 10 rebounding team by the per-game numbers. The trio of Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes, and Evan Turner have been wreaking havoc in the lane this year. The Suns’ frontline will certainly have their hands full. The good news for Phoenix is that Miles Plumlee logged only 18 minutes last night, so he should have some energy to spare. The key for the Suns’ sophomore center will be to recover mentally from a disappointing individual and team performance against the Warriors. The Morris twins also only logged a combined 40 minutes last night, so they should be able to contribute in the paint and keep Phoenix competitive near the hoop. The Suns have turned the tables on excellent rebounding teams several times this season. The key to those successes was always effort and energy. If Phoenix can hang with the Sixers in the paint tonight, it should be no problem for their guards to take advantage on the perimeter.
Who will put the team on their shoulders after a very forgettable performance?
P.J. Tucker was the only Sun in double figures last night. He was apparently the only man on the roster not in a massive turkey coma. Time after time this year, Phoenix has recovered from a tough loss or erased a big deficit because someone – be it Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, or even Gerald Green – has stepped up offensively and led the team back. The Suns are in dire need of such a performance tonight. The opportunity is there for the usual suspects like Dragic and Bledsoe, but tonight is also a chance for Plumlee to assert himself down low the way he did against the Lakers. The Suns haven’t phoned in the second night of a back-to-back since their second loss to Sacramento earlier this year. I expect tonight we’ll see the Phoenix team we’ve come to expect in this very surprising season. There are simply too many bulldogs on the roster and in the coach’s chair to let a game like this slip through their fingers.