Time: 8:30 p.m. MST
Join our Fandio game chat broadcast at the tip to chat about the game.The Phoenix Suns’ three-game homestand could be a bit of fool’s gold. Trying to limit their three-point shots while attacking in the paint, Jeff Hornacek’s squad has taken all the pressure off Goran Dragic to create and seems to have found a winning formula. Their offense has averaged 115 points per game in the last three, but it did so against the defenses of the Lakers, Mavericks and Nuggets.
The recent developments have been necessary ones with teams now running the Suns off the three-point line, where they rank as the most-prolific shooting team. But against the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday in U.S. Airways Center, Phoenix will be driving right where Indiana wants them — into Roy Hibbert.
It’s hard to say how this one will go or what it means.
“What does it say if we beat them?” Hornacek said this week. “Are we the best team in the league? I don’t think this is a measuring stick. It’s a great challenge for us going against one of the top teams in the league.”
The Pacers have the formula to defend the three-point stripe and lead the NBA by holding opponents to 32.1 percent this year — mind you, the Suns’ own defense comes in at a third-best 33.4 percent. But Indiana also leads the NBA in total opponent field goal percentage, holding teams to 40.8 percent shooting.
Has the Suns offense we’ve seen in the last three games been a sign of the bad defenses they’ve faced?
And what about the Pacers’ own offense? Indiana is on a five-game winning streak and over the last four games has the best offense by averaging 116.5 points per 100 possessions. Couple that with their year average of giving up 95.1 points per 100 possessions — Indiana is the only team below the century mark there — and Phoenix has quite the hill to climb.
Can Miles Plumlee make his former team work on both ends?
The most surprising piece of Phoenix’s puzzle this season has been Plumlee. Now that defenses are wary of his offensive limitations, he’s struggled to keep up a pace that had him close to averaging a double-double.
“He can’t think about the game,” Hornacek said. “If a guy throws you the ball in the paint, you are open, just go up with it and shoot it and don’t mess around with it. He is doubting himself a bit and he just needs to play.”
Plumlee may not need to score, but he does need to continue drawing attention from his old teammates. Especially with the starting lineup, the Suns are one-dimensional and perimeter-oriented, and the Pacers have good enough man-to-man defense with Paul George and then have Roy Hibbert holding down the paint to make you wonder how they’ll score. Plumlee needs to at least pose a threat.
On defense, it’ll be interesting to see how he handles Hibbert, whose size more than makes up for Plumlee’s athleticism. So long as Plumlee can push him out from under the hoop, Phoenix will have a chance.
And in addition to Plumlee, the defense of Alex Len and the offense of Markieff Morris in the paint — and hey, against Luis Scola at that — will go a long way in telling us whether the Suns can compete.
Will going small be possible for Phoenix against Indiana?
This is a two-parter. First, it’s a wonder if Horancek will try run out the recently-developed bench rotation that includes heavy doses of Ish Smith and Leandro Barbosa.
Indiana coach Frank Vogel almost always plays with a big backcourt. George Hill and C.J. Watson will fill the point guard slots, but the Pacers played physical shooting guard Lance Stephenson for 43 minutes in a 102-94 win against the Golden State Warriors on Monday. Even if Stephenson’s minutes are cut down, Danny Granger and Paul George can play together.
So can the Suns go with Dragic and Smith at the same time, or even with Smith and Barbosa? They probably have to do one or the other.
And when they do, it’s questionable whether it’ll allow Stephenson to go into attack mode or that will be negated and then some as the Suns get into transition to keep Indiana from setting up its defense. The semi-educated guess here is that Hornacek will want his team to run more than ever.
How does Dragic do on the big stage?
The ESPN-televised game will be a chance for the Suns point guard to show why those in Phoenix might call him a borderline All-Star. But it’s not the most forgiving atmosphere to do so.
Sure, it’s at U.S. Airways Center, where the Suns offense has scored 108.5 points per game this season, good for third-best in the NBA.
George Hill is about as underrated as a defensive point guard as you’ll find, and in general, the Pacers’ team defense is obviously very good. If Dragic gets going, it wouldn’t be surprising to see George draw the defensive assignment a la Nicolas Batum’s successful lockdown of the Slovenian in the EuroBasket tournament this summer.
Still, Dragic’s favorite ways of scoring tend to be what the Pacers might be most apt to allow. If it’s in transition, he’ll need to outrace George and Stephenson — doable, perhaps. If it’s in the halfcourt, Dragic will need to turn the corner on pick-and-roll action and then be able to knock down mid-range two-point jumpers. For an obligatory “game-of-inches” line, the difference between Dragic getting open 15-footers or being able to knock down 18-footers will go a long way in determining his night.
Jeffrey Sanders contributed to this story.