Time: 7:30 p.m. MST
The Phoenix Suns have more than earned the chance for some primetime TV billing, however, Wednesday’s season debut on ESPN, at least on paper, couldn’t come at a more inopportune time. Phoenix comes into its second game of a back-to-back and second game of a five-game road trip against the Minnesota Timberwolves reeling from a rather uninspiring effort against a short-handed Chicago Bulls team – one that resulted in a 92-87 loss.
While it appears that most things have not been on the Suns’ side over the last 48 hours, including the so-called ‘Polar Vortex’ which forced the team to take two flights Tuesday (one into Chicago and one out of Chicago), Jeff Hornacek’s squad at least has recent history in its favor heading into a matchup that could have implications in the Western Conference standings.
Phoenix has won three straight games on the second night of the back-to-back, here’s three questions that could go a long way in determining whether it will it make it four in a row in front of a national audience.
How much will Leandro Barbosa play if at all?
According to Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic, shooting guard Leandro Barbosa is expected to sign with the team and be available at the Target Center Wednesday night.
The last time Barbosa donned the purple and orange was Game Six of the 2010 Western Conference Finals, so there is definitely a level of intrigue among basketball fans in the Valley as to how much the 31-year-old still has left in the tank. If he does see time against the T-Wolves it will mark the Brazilian Blur’s first NBA action since tearing his ACL as a member of the Boston Celtics last February.
Phoenix could have certainly used a spark off its bench in Tuesday night’s five-point loss to Chicago. The question is can Barbosa, who has only played in eight games over the last year with Esporte Clube Pinheiros of the Brazilian NBB League, fill that role if called upon in Minneapolis?
Will Marcus Morris wake up any time soon?
Outside of Ish Smith’s 10-point performance at the United Center, not a single bench contributor had much of a positive impact in Tuesday night’s defeat.
While that assessment isn’t an indictment of any one particular player, it’s safe to say the Suns are much better team when Marcus Morris is playing well. And of late, he has not to say the least.
In fact, to call his last six games the worst stretch of the season would be a mild understatement. Outside of an 18-point, seven-rebound effort in a 115-101 win over the Philadelphia Sixers back on Dec. 28, Morris has been ice cold from the field. Over the last week, Morris has scored a combined 14 points on a woeful 4-of-27 from the field.
Everyone is entitled to a shooting slump here and there during an 82-game season, but in Morris’ case, a few more looks at the basket and a few more trips to the charity stripe could do him a world of good. Settling for contested jump shots has been an exercise of futility lately for the third-year forward.
Can the Suns neutralize half of the Timberwolves’ frontcourt?
Win or lose Wednesday night, odds are Kevin Love will record his 30th double-double of the season. The two-time All-Star is putting up MVP-caliber numbers (26.4 points, 13.3 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game) at the moment and doesn’t appear to be showing any signs of slowing down.
The goal against Minnesota should not be so much to slow down Love, because he’s likely going to find different ways to be effect the outcome, but rather to make his frontcourt mate, Nikola Pekovic, a non-factor. To do so, it’ll require some combination of Miles Plumlee, Alex Len, Channing Frye and Markieff Morris to keep him off the boards at all costs. Like Love, Pekovic is a pest on the glass (ranked No. 2 in the league in offensive rebounds per game), as he uses his powerful 285-pound frame to effectively keep possessions alive and/or convert on easy garbage buckets.
Love will get his, but if Pekovic doesn’t, it could be a long night for a T-Wolves team that doesn’t particularly shoot it particularly twell from the field (43.4 percent) or from distance (34.6 percent).