Time: 7 p.m. MST
TV: FSAThe sight of the Phoenix Suns’ orange hasn’t been kind to Kevin Love in the past three years. In five games against Phoenix, the Minnesota Timberwolves power forward is shooting 35.5 percent.
Channing Frye has been a big part of that success, and he only missed one of the last five meetings last season because of his heart ailment. Love hardly played last year because of broken hands and a knee injury at the end of the year.
Now, both Frye and Love are healthy, and they’ll be engaged in one of the more intriguing NBA matchups Tuesday night in U.S. Airways Center. Few think of Frye as a defender who’s beefy enough to handle the league’s second-best rebounder and fourth-best scorer, who averages 13.2 boards along with 26.5 points per game. But Frye’s dealt some impressive defensive performances Love’s way in the last few years.
Maybe it comes to him easily because Love plays so similarly to Frye.
“Can’t give him much space,” Frye said. “I play him like I don’t want to be played and just try to stay on his hip and trust the guys behind me. He is going to score his points.”
Last time out, the Suns got a little lucky. In the only win of a five-game road trip following Eric Bledsoe’s knee injury, Phoenix pulled off a 104-103 win courtesy of Gerald Green’s game-winning jumper. In that Jan. 8 outing, Love was especially poor, going 4-for-20 from the field and scoring 15 points.
“Everyone is probably going to remind him of that, so it will be nice if you can let that go,” Frye joked after Monday practice.
So, will the Suns rebound from their first post-All-Star break loss to the Houston Rockets?
Onward to the pregame questions.
Will Kevin Martin or Nikola Pekovic play, and how does their presence or absence change the game?
Martin and Pekovic were both big parts of the T-Wolves’ offense in the teams’ first meeting this year. Martin is one of their few shooters and scored 20 points, while Pekovic seemingly turned the tide late in the game by taking it to Miles Plumlee.
Dante Cunningham and Chase Budinger have replaced that duo in the starting line as Pekovic deals with an ankle injury and Martin recovers from a broken hand. Both are game-time decisions, and how that plays out leading to the tip will help or hurt the Suns.
Which waterbug makes the difference?
Forget the starting point guard matchup between Goran Dragic and Ricky Rubio. Don’t forget it, I suppose, but we know that those two were going at it pretty handily last time out. Dragic was still figuring it out without Bledsoe and scored 26 points to go with nine assists — he was forcing it a bit, nonetheless. Rubio had eight assists and seven points.
Kentucky coach John Calipari coined the waterbug description two years ago when describing former Baylor Bears point guard Pierre Jackson, and it applies quite well to the two backup point guards who will square off tonight.
Ish Smith has been playing solid ball for Phoenix even though he was quiet in the loss to Houston. J.J. Barea is easily the most dangerous weapon coming off the depleted Minnesota bench, and he scored 21 Sunday as the Timberwolves lost to the Trail Blazers.
Who wins this battle?
Can the Suns limit Minnesota’s other scorers?
Whether Love does well or not, Minnesota hasn’t been getting enough elsewhere. And as the last meeting between the Suns and T-Wolves showed, even a full deck of cards for Rick Adelman’s team wasn’t enough.
Love missed two games this month because of injury but scored at least 30 points in seven of the nine games he has played in. The T-Wolves are 4-3 in those seven outings. If the Suns can keep Budinger, Barea, Cunningham and Corey Brewer limited, they’ll be in good shape.
Jeff Sanders contributed to this article