Preview: Phoenix Suns (41-29) at Atlanta Hawks (31-37)


Time: 4:30 pm MST

TV: FSAZ

Hawks

Hawks

Suns

Suns

The Minnesota-Atlanta back-to-back is one of the hardest trips in the NBA. But after yesterday’s comeback win over the Timberwolves, the Suns could be on the Siberia-London back-to-back and still be riding high. On an afternoon that secured their first .500 or better season since 2009-2010, the Suns showed incredible resiliency and determination coming back from a 22-point deficit to grab a much needed victory. Though at this point in the year, with the playoff race in the Western Conference as tight as it is, every win is much needed, including tonight’s game in Atlanta.

As of Monday morning, the Suns sit only a half game back of both the Dallas Mavericks in eighth and Memphis Grizzlies in seventh. Phoenix’s remaining March games are against the Hawks, Wizards, Knicks, and Lakers. The Mavericks will take on the Thunder, Clippers, and Kings the rest of this month. And the Grizzlies will face the Timberwolves, Jazz, Warriors, Blazers, and Nuggets. So by April 1st, all three teams will have played 74 games. Considering how daunting the Suns’ close to the season is, they must take full advantage of these next four games and break back into the playoff picture if they hope to actually secure a postseason berth.

But even though the temptation to check the standings and look ahead at the schedule is bigger than ever, Phoenix has to keep doing what they’ve been doing – playing one game and one quarter at a time.

This has been a tough road trip for the Suns travel-wise, the Hawks have it just as bad. They return home tonight after losing yesterday in Toronto. Atlanta blew a double-digit fourth quarter lead, getting outscored by the Raptors 36-15 in the final frame and losing by 10. So while they’ll be happy to return to the friendly confines of Phillips Arena, where they are 20-12 this year, the grief of a loss like that may outweigh Atlanta’s home court advantage. Over the last two months, the Hawks have been streaky. From February 1st to March 8th, Atlanta lost 14 of 16 games. Then they rattled off a streak of five wins, each decided by six points or less. Currently, Atlanta is on a two-game slide. Can the Suns make it three? For more on this game let’s ask three preview questions?

Will the Suns shoot over 50% from the floor?

A surprising fact about the Suns’ season is that they have not lost a game in which they shot 50% or better from the floor. By contrast, the Miami Heat have lost six times this year when they made at least half of their field goal attempts. Now granted this observation is a bit skewed because Miami shoots better than 50% in games more often than the Suns, but nevertheless, this stat tells us something very important: the Suns can win with offense. When Phoenix’s shots are falling, teams have a very hard time beating them. Phoenix has worked hard all year on the defensive end, but their strength is clearly putting the ball in the hole. Atlanta is 22nd in the league in opponent FG% allowed. Though both teams are tired from playing yesterday, Phoenix has a great chance to be efficient against a porous defense and get yet another road win.

Can the Suns limit Paul Millsap?

Dating back to his time with the Jazz, Paul Millsap has had some big games against the Suns. This year he has broken out in Atlanta, making the All Star team and leading the Hawks in scoring and rebounding with Al Horford out for the year. As I’ve discussed before, the Suns struggle to guard opposing power forwards. But given Atlanta’s lack of talent on the wings, Phoenix’s defense should be able to adjust and bring other defenders to Millsap, making it hard for him in the paint and at the elbow, his preferred operating spaces on offense. The Suns may focus on shutting Millsap down, or they may let him get his points and try to limit the rest of the team. Either way, Phoenix needs a sound defensive plan heading into the game lest they get caught overlooking their opponent and lose a winnable contest.

What’s next for the Dragic and Bled Show?

The Suns are 5-2 since Bledsoe returned from injury. Though his shooting has yet to fully recover, Bled is still averaging 15 points, five boards, and five assists in just 30 minutes per game. Dragic is averaging 18 points and better than 4.5 assists per night, so his stellar production has remained high. The Suns’ incredible winning percentage when both guys play is not a fluke. Bledsoe returned not a moment too soon, and these two have fallen into step with one another very quickly. Phoenix will need these two to step up on the second night of a tough back-to-back to ensure the offense runs smoothly. Defensively, Jeff Teague is the main concern as Kyle Korver is questionable with back spasms that kept him out of last night’s game in Toronto. If Dragic and Bledsoe can put in a good shift over the first three quarters of this game, they may could very well earn themselves some much deserved rest down the stretch.

Tags: Atlanta Hawks Phoenix Suns Phoenix Suns Preview

  • Dutch Suns fan

    Nice to see the game yesterday prime time over here in the Netherlands and not in the middle of the night ;)

    hoping for a good result tonight, but with Bledsoe back things look better every game!

  • CarlyJoni

    Back to back road wins for the Suns can be done, they did it twice in January. Need to keep up the energy and come out shooting. Don’t worry about Memphis and Dallas, let them falter on their own.

  • sunsn7

    And one more Ryan..

    Will Hornacek limit Frye’s minutes like he should?

  • Serek

    Nice thing about the remaining schedule is that Dallas and Memphis play one another in the last game of the season, so one of them is bound to lose that game :-) Just need to keep up if not overtake them. The Suns play them both one more time, so that’s another opportunity to throw a wrench in their gears.

  • BCrayZ

    Ryan -

    I like your analysis the best here.

    That 50% shooting stat was one that I didn’t know. This goes hand in hand with our Suns winning 26 of the last 27 games that they have scored 110 or more. As to stopping Paul, Channing Frye is a much better interior defender than Mark, giving up more than 4% less at the rim than Mark. What does Suns Fan 7, EBJM & Dave think about that? They love to berate Frye for his lack of interior defense, when the numbers show that just isn’t true. How often does Frye lead the team in blocks or steals or both? Lots of times. Hopefully, the rest he got yesterday will help his energy level in the back end game.

    MUST score 110 & shoot 50% or more. Let’s go SUNS!!!!

  • http://valleyofthesuns.com hawki

    Twolves collapse > VCU collapse :)

  • sunsn7

    BCrayZ, I never said Markieff was the answer, but 4% isnt exactly a staggering difference is it? And how about how Frye often leaves teammates hanging out to dry because he doesn’t take care of his defensive rotation responsibilities, often making Green, Tucker, Dragic, etc. giving up the foul and often times the demoralizing “and 1″?? How about after he wrecks his assignment he’ll look around at is teammates or at the refs assigning blame with his whiny, apathetic on court demeanor?

    Slant the numbers all you want but you must BCrayZ if you think your defense of Frye is anything more than laughable and an invitation to others to vent their frustration with him.

    As for me I’ll stick to the “eye test” in regard to Channing Frye.

  • Dave:f32

    Nothing against you BCrayZ because you know I’m a fan of your posts, but Channing Frye suckaballikis.
    He suffers from this serious yet undiagnosed ailment. He is the King of Chuck and Duck.

    The Suns need to seriously consider trading and upgrading. It is hurting our team everytime he is on the court. Every time he is put to the bench, the Suns end up winning.

  • DZ

    Frye is a good 2nd team PF/C. That’s it. When he’s hitting the 3 he can be a game changer but so can anyone else if they get hot from 3 point range. As for Frye being 4% better at defending the rim than Markieff… please spare me the BCrayZ hype. It’s a tiny difference. Frye blocks 0.8 shots per game. Markieff blocks 0.6 shots per game. Markieff’s stats overall are a little better then Fryes’ (13.8 ppg vs. 11.5 ppg and 5.9 rpg vs. 5.1 rpg) but they are both 2nd team NBA players. It really doesn’t matter which of them is better than the other since neither of them should be starting for any NBA team.

  • EBJM

    For the Suns to make the playoffs, Hornacek MUST sit Frye and play Markieff!

    BCrayZ, I love to berate Frye because he SUCKS, not just his interior defense. The guy has a 7’2″ wingspan! All he has to do is get between his man and the basket and put his arms up and he will alter shots!

    He can’t even do that consistently!

  • lm695c

    What coach jeff needs to do is to shortening the bench to 8-9 players unless it is a blow out or one of the starters is in foul trouble like last night with bledsoe and goodwin. the bench should be ish smith moriss twins and len and not play frye to many min when he is not shooting well. Players play better with more consisten minutes compare when they only get a little here and a lot there

  • EBJM

    Frye on the floor and Suns are losing! Go figure!

  • sunsn7

    Frye 4-8 from 3 with 16 pts so far tonight.

    Now Frye apologists,.. err Frye fans will be wanting to sign him to a max deal haha

    Prepare for 3-4 games of his usual ineptitude after this one. Isn’t that the way it goes?

  • sunsn7

    Frye actually attempting to play defense..haven’t seen that since before Christmas or simething like that

  • sunsn7

    …and just like that EL MATADOR returns!

    Timeout Suns.

  • EBJM

    Frye should have 30+ points! Hawks are playing Brand and Millsap up front, 6′-8″ & 6′-7″!

  • EBJM

    Frye on the bench and the Suns are closing out the game!

  • EBJM

    Markieff comes through once again!