Time: 4:30 pm
How long does it take to remove rust and work out kinks? For the Phoenix Suns, the hope is that it takes exactly one game. The Suns lost a winnable game to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday at a point in the season when they cannot afford to lose winnable games. Eric Bledsoe returned from a two month absence. PJ Tucker was suspended and didn’t play. Phoenix shot just 43% from the field, their lowest mark in the last seven games. And they allowed Spencer Hawes to score 17 points in the first quarter. It’s safe to say that’s the rustiest performance the Suns could have mustered. For their sake and the sake of their shrinking playoff hopes, the rust needs to be all but gone when they take the floor tonight in Boston. From this point forward, there is no margin for error.
Phoenix needs a winning streak. By the end of this month, they need to have accumulated at least 44 wins to have a shot at the playoffs. I’m not great at math, but I think that means they need to emerge victorious in eight of their next ten contests. Their schedule may be road heavy, but the opponents are not all that tough. Compared to the brutal four game stretch of games the Suns just played they just came off, these next ten are a cake walk. If the Phoenix is going to pass Memphis and/or Dallas before April, the time to capitalize is now. For more on tonight’s matchup with Boston, let’s ask three preview questions.
Will Bledsoe take another step forward?
Eric Bledsoe didn’t have a stellar shooting night in his return against the Cavs, but then again, neither did most of his teammates. He did dish out nine assists which is a great sign for both his recovery and his ability to hop right back into the flow of the offense. Each game has to be another step in the right direction for Bledsoe. Neither he or the team can afford a setback. Bledsoe needs to get to the basket and earn his points that way. His jumper will come back in time.
Can Miles Plumlee find his double-double form?
Plumlee hasn’t posted a double-double since January. He hasn’t had one against a good team since mid-December. It’s no secret that his play has fallen off dramatically in 2014. But the lackluster Boston frontline will provide Miles a golden opportunity to crash the boards and find easy buckets inside. With all the Suns perimeter fire power, they are rarely if ever going to feature Miles in the post, but that shouldn’t prevent him from finding a way to contribute offensively. He’ll likely be matched up with Jared Sullinger who he has at least five inches on. Put backs, pick and rolls, and quick baby hooks in the post will all be readily available. Plumlee just has to put the ball in the net.
Can the Suns start fast?
Phoenix has been digging holes for itself during their recent string of losses. They’ve come out flat footed in the first quarter and been forced to play catch up the rest of the game. The Suns can’t afford to do that anymore if they hope to make the playoffs. It’s unclear if these slow starts are because of a lack of energy or if Hornacek needs to make a change in the starting lineup, but whatever the case. This is a problem that needs to be nipped in the bud immediately.
I know all three of those questions focused almost entirely on the Suns, but that’s what this team has to do for the next two weeks. Focus on themselves. The miniscule differences in their next ten opponents are basically irrelevant. They are all beatable, even on the road. The Suns just have to come out and play their best basketball every night. That’s the only way they’ll have a shot to shoot up the standings and make the close to the season one to remember.
Goran Dragic’s free throw percentage has declined every month of the season. He started out at 80% in November and is now down to 70% for the month of March. I’m not sure if it’s exhaustion or a lack of focus, but since he’s been a starter, it’s very unlike the Dragon to miss this many free throws.