Time: 5:30 MDT
Three games into their week-long road trip, the Suns have yet to play a complete game. They began with a lackluster defeat to a shorthanded Chicago team. The next night they used a late run to steal a win from Minnesota thanks to Gerald Green’s 40 inch vertical and silky jumper. Then last night, they let their lead slip away in Memphis. The Suns are exhausted. Four games in five nights, all on the road, is as tough as it gets in the NBA. But Phoenix is a tough team. Ask anyone around the league and they’ll say the Suns’ toughness is just as impressive as their record. This team may be stacked with youth, but this is a squad that hasn’t let bad losses get to them this season. They have bounced back twice from forgettable losses in the last few weeks against GoldenState and Chicago to grab wins over Philadelphia and the Timberwolves. Tonight the Suns need another bounce back win as they visit Detroit.
The Pistons broke a six-game losing streak last night with a road win in Philadelphia. While their roster has yet to gel together the way their front office and new coach Mo Cheeks thought it would, the Pistons are exactly the kind of team to give Phoenix trouble. They have tons of front court size with Josh Smith, Andre Drummond, and Greg Monroe. And they have a quick lefty point guard with a nose for scoring in Brandon Jennings. They’re essentially a less talented version of Grizzlies who the Suns are now 0-3 against this year. If you look at the sub .500 teams the Suns have lost to this season – Utah, Sacramento, Chicago, Memphis – they are teams who slow it down and pound it down low to their big guys. So despite the difference in their records, the Pistons are the likely favorites in this game. But this is also Detroit’s fourth game in five nights, so they are just as exhausted as Phoenix. For more analysis on how the Suns might earn a win tonight, let’s ask three questions.
Can the Suns get to the rim?
Too often this season, the Suns have relied on three-point shooting to get them by against tough opponents. When the shots are falling, this strategy is viable. When the shots aren’t finding their mark, the Suns’ offense came become very impotent. Last night, the Suns were 9-of-15 from downtown with 18 minutes left to play. At that point, Memphis started completely selling out to run Phoenix’s shooters off the arc. But instead of taking advantage of defenders flying at them by dribble penetrating to the rim, the Suns just kept chucking threes, missing 13-of-15 down the stretch and shooting themselves out of a win. Detroit is an excellent rim protecting team, but despite all their size on the inside, penetration – not just from Dragic at the top, but from Tucker, Green, and Barbosa at the wings – will help break down the Pistons’ D and get easy shots inside for the Suns. Plus the more Phoenix penetrates, the more fouls they’ll draw against Detroit’s bigs. The Pistons have no depth, thus the more their reserves have to play, the better shot the Suns have to win.
Can the Suns turn Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings into jumpshooters?
The danger with teaming Smith and Jennings together in Detroit was the ever present possibility that in any one game, they could both fall in love with their jumper and create a tornado of horrific inefficiency. This has already happened plenty of times this year. Phoenix’s defense will have to be focused on keeping both Smith and Jennings out of the lane. Last night, Mike Conley tore the Suns to shreds with his penetration. Dragic or whoever guards Jennings will absolutely have to do a better job defending or the Pistons might score every single one of their points in the paint. Smith and Jennings are going to get their shots, but Phoenix can do a lot to dictate where those shots come from. The further away the better.
Which Phoenix reserve will be the biggest weapon?
This question refers not only to which bench player will score the most points, but also which guy can defend his position the best. The Suns’ second unit outscored their counterparts in Memphis last night, but their defense was abhorrent and totally negated whatever impact they made offensively. The Pistons have a talented bench scorer in Rodney Stuckey. Someone, be it Barbosa, Goodwin, or Christmas, will have to stay in front of him and keep him from going off. The Suns’ reserves should dominate Detroit’s 1 through 5, meaning Phoenix should be able to extend their lead when the starters go off. But in order to do that, someone will have to shoulder the scoring load and be efficient doing it. Markieff’s 17 points on 17 shots last night will not get the job done in this, the fourth game of the road trip.