Time: 7 p.m. MST
There are many reasons for Suns fans to start panicking over the team’s 2-5 record since Eric Bledsoe has been out of the lineup, and rightfully so.
Outside of Goran Dragic’s abilities, you do not know what you are going to get from the offense on a consistent basis. The team has been among the bottom of the league in rebounding throughout the season and more recently the bench has not been producing. Even with the struggles, the Suns still sit in the top-eight in the Western Conference and were in position to win four games instead of lose four if they got a couple of bounces on their recent road trip.
With that said, the Suns enter what I am calling a make-or-break stretch of their schedule if they want to be true contenders for a playoff spot.
You may think it is too early for such talk being that it is only Jan. 15, but the schedule says otherwise.
From now through a game against the Chicago Bulls on Feb. 4, the Suns only play four games against teams with plus .500 records, including Indiana twice, Dallas at home and another home game against a Denver team that is just one game over .500. The Suns’ three road games outside of Indiana are against three of the bottom-five teams in the Eastern Conference.
That is a very manageable 11-game stretch without Bledsoe that gives the Suns a chance to right the ship.
After that it doesn’t look too bright. Six of the next seven after the Chicago game are against some of the top teams in the league, including Miami, San Antonio, Golden State and Houston.
We have no idea when Bledsoe is going to be coming back, but it won’t be until after those 18 games at the absolute earliest. If the Suns tank these next 11, they very well may be out of the playoff race by the end of February. And March gives them no favors to get back in it under that scenario.
The Suns’ final 21 games feature four road back-to-backs with four of the final five coming away from U.S. Airways Center. With or without Bledsoe, that is a daunting task.
Based on the schedule, the Suns most important 11 game stretch begins tonight against a tired Los Angeles Lakers team that played late the night before.
Here are the pregame questions for tonight’s game.
Who is going to help out Goran Dragic on offense?
Dragic is coming off a 48-minute performance in New York that saw him tire out in overtime. His legs were just not there at the end of the overtime period to finish his shots and that is due to a mixture of it being the end of a road trip and his increased workload of the team depending on him in the past week. Until Gerald Green heats up again, someone needs to step up and take the pressure off Dragic. Barbosa helped out in the fourth quarter of the New York game, but they need it all game long. I am looking at the Morris brothers to pick up the slack. Green and Channing Frye are both streak shooters that bring a different dynamic to the offense when they are on. P.J. Tucker has limited offensive skills and Miles Plumlee is usually a 10-14 point guy in the post, at best.
That brings me back to the Morris brothers. Markieff is just one for his last nine with an inexcusable early ejection in New York. His absence forced Hornacek to go to a four guard offense at one point that allowed the Knicks to score six straight points before quickly getting out of it. Marcus has been a bit better the past two games but overall has only averaged 8.7 points per game this month. I am looking for one of these two to get going and help Dragic carry the load.
Can the Suns start fast?
The Lakers are not a good basketball team and they will quit if they get down early as we saw in the teams’ previous meeting at U.S. Airways Center. The Lakers lost a tough 120-118 game to the Cleveland Cavaliers last night and if the Suns can open up a double-digit lead early and force the Lakers to play from behind, then I can see them cruising to this victory.
Can the Lakers hit some threes?
The Purple and Gold get dependent on the three-point shot. Most notably it is important not to let their irrational confidence guy, Nick Young, get going. Last night he led the team with 28 points on 4-for-8 shooting from behind the arc. Jodie Meeks also made 6-of-10 last night and our old Friend Wesley Johnson is capable of shooting from deep. A key tonight is to shut down the Lakers deep shooting game.