Preview: Indiana Pacers (33-7) vs. Phoenix Suns (23-17)

Time: 8:30 p.m. MST


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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.”

[RELATED: Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee face their old team]

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.

  • BCrayZ

    Have to say that I’m disappointed.

    Both in your coverage & the decision Jeff made.

    Jeff has decided to trot out the same starting line up that has had difficulty in the beginning of the game. Would have hoped he would have looked for an improvement be pairing LB with Gogi. They can simulate that double attack that works so well with Eric. Both have chemistry with each other & Frye. Make it so Jeff.

    MUST start & ALSO finish with LB. Let’s go SUNS!!!!

  • Dave:f32

    I hope at the very least that the Suns are competitive, and dont end up getting blown out at home.

    If they do: crrrk, Phoenix, we have a problem!

  • ShanMan

    Enough of the “bench unit” stuff. In 2010, Barbosa was in his prime and was exactly that, a 6th man. Dragic has outgrown a reserve role, and Frye is starting on this team out of lack of starting quality PF’s on this roster. I’m starting to think you’d like to trade Bledsoe back for Dudley and sign Amundson. Run a lineup of Dragic, Barbosa, Dudley, Amundson, and Frye straight to the draft lottery. When that bench was together, the lineup consisted of Nash, J Rich, Hill, Amare, and Lopez. They were the reason that team made it so the WCF. Sure the bench played a vital role in keeping the team afloat, but it was the starters that made them a playoff team. Give it a rest trying to have that squad as the starting lineup when only Dragic has truly progressed to a legit starter. Barbosa and Frye were not starting quality then, and they aren’t now. No disrespect or hate on them, but they are what they are. Reserves.

  • Dave:f32

    ShanMan – STFUYMFB!!!

    BCrayZ can say whatever the hell he wants. I happen to like the idea of a bench reunion. Ur a suckafish if you think Barbosa was in his prime in 2010, when he was 27 years young. He’s just starting his prime so

  • ShanMan

    Barbosa is just starting his prime? Come on. I probably should have said his prime was in 06-07 when he averaged 18ppg. He was drafted in 2003. Wade, Carmello, Bosh, LeBron all just entering their prime too? Look Barbosa still has plenty of years left in him hopefully, but he’s not going to be getting better at this point in his career. This isn’t baseball.

    And I apologize, I didn’t mean to start a riot haha.

  • sunsn7

    Who here expects this lead to last?

  • sunsn7

    A couple days ago Kobe was sounding off at how soft the league is now compared to the 80′s n 90′s and how the officials are quick to call techs and flagrant fouls.

    Green and Hibbert high fiving after the double T brought that to mind

  • EBJM

    What a treat! The Suns on ESPN had they are unconscious from the three-point line.

    Gerald Green slamming over Hibbert!

    Eric who?

  • EBJM

    Barbosa is best coming off the bench. Green is having a career season as a starter at SG. Stephenson is having a fantastic season and Frank Vogel had to bench him because Green was embarrassing him.

    I only wish Alex Len would get some burn.

  • CART jeff

    What a fun watch. A lot of talent. Bledsoe, time to speedup the rehab process and lets see what this roster can do. Nine deep with 2 promising rookies at the end of the bench. If the Suns make a good showing in playoffs, you will get a max contract.

  • EBJM

    Tucker needs to teach Plumlee how to shoot his hook-shot.

  • EBJM

    Joey Crawford is a little bitch.

  • CART jeff


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  • BCrayZ

    How about that!!!!

    Suns blow out the best team in the game.

    When all was said & done, Frye did not wow them with 30 points this time. But he was by far the most valuable player in (+/-) with a plus 29. Next came Barbosa with a +20, even though he also had a quiet night & they rarely played at the same time, Shan man probably thinks that this is just a coincidence. Gogi, who we all agree is very good, by comparison was “only” a plus 9, as his hot shooting from the field was somewhat offset by some careless turnovers & dumb fouls & missing 4 of his first 5 from the foul line. What common thread this trio has is not just that playoff run, but the fact that, while none of them are perfect, they all know how to play for wins. Suns have now won 3 of their last 4 & this is the 17th time in a row that scoring over 110 points has meant that we won the game. Sure, we all would like to see better D, better rebounding (West was held to just 5 boards & Roy to only 4) & more than 1/3 of our hoops coming off of a pass. Fact is there are many ways to win the game & who can complain with 17 out of 17 when over 110, particularly when our offense (even without Eric) is capable of destroying the Pacers vaunted D in this statement game. Suns won all 4 quarters in this game. When my son Jacob was younger, the competitive side of me would come out in a joke. I would say that we needed to win all 4 quarters & then we had a good chance of winning the game. Will be even better, if at all possible, by having Gogi, LB & Frye playing at the same time. Make it so Jeff.

    MUST start & ALSO finish with LB. Let’s go SUNS!!!!