Posted by Kevin Zimmerman on March 4th, 10:07 pm
PHOENIX – This time, the Suns’ defensive issues weren’t enough to show up in the final score. That didn’t mean they weren’t awfully concerning.
Phoenix’s woes showed within a stretch of nine minutes, when a 12-point lead turned into a 10-point hole, and that slice of the game was all you needed to know about the team’s 104-96 home loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday.
Former Suns forward Matt Barnes exploded for 18 third-quarter points by way of, at first, wide open looks. When the Suns finally stopped their heads from spinning around to see Barnes fire up shot after shot, and it was already too late to cool off Barnes. And then it was Blake Griffin’s turn to attack Phoenix in the post.
Barnes finished with 28 points on 12-of-17 shooting, and Griffin scored 22 to go with six assists.
Meanwhile, P.J. Tucker embodied what the Suns overall were lacking, leading Phoenix with 18 points, 10 rebounds and two steals.
If only he had a little more help.
Alex Len, who started in place of injured Miles Plumlee (knee sprain) wasn’t the problem for the Suns’ new starting lineup, which suffered from its usual bout of sluggishness, especially defensively. A 16-7 deficit for the Suns turned when Hornacek subbed in Leandro Barbosa and Marcus Morris, who helped Phoenix finish the first quarter on a 11-2 run that gave it a 25-24 lead.
The injury news got worse from there, however. Barbosa was lost for the game, and potentially the season, with a broken hand suffered in the first half.
Morris was the biggest difference in the first half, scoring 10 points off the bench in what represented Phoenix’s 55-44 halftime lead quite well — it was solid bench for Phoenix against little second-unit production for Los Angeles. But it wasn’t enough to silence the Clippers’ starters in the third quarter. Multiple defensive breakdowns and failed rotations allowed Barnes to scored 16 points in the first five minutes of the period, bringing Los Angeles right back into the game.
Phoenix trailed Los Angeles 81-73 heading to the fourth, and though it didn’t wilt, it certainly didn’t win.
After Markieff Morris forced a turnover as Griffin ran out of court going baseline, the Suns forward went baseline past Griffin for a dunk and then followed it up with a 3-pointer the next time down to bring Phoenix within 90-86 with 6:31 to play. Gerald Green went on his own eight-point spurt two minutes later, giving the Suns hope, but the Clippers were executing too well to cough up their road victory.
The point guard battle was one that ended with two relatively sub-par stat lines. Both Goran Dragic and Chris Paul finished with 14 points after going at one another throughout — one instance could be called a scuffle but went unnoticed by the referees.
Doc Rivers said it about Phoenix before the game: its culture was built around being the team with a chip on its shoulder. And although the Suns didn’t wilt, their lapses in that identity proved they’ll need to dig deep to find more of that scrappiness that got them this far.
Ryan Weisert’s pregame questions answered after the jump.
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Tags: Los Angeles Clippers · Phoenix Suns Recap
Posted by Kevin Zimmerman on March 4th, 6:34 pm
PHOENIX — And this is why the Phoenix Suns made the Shavlik Randolph pick-up. Miles Plumlee will miss a game against the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday with a sprained knee, and rookie center Alex Len will start in his place, against the NBA’s best rebounder, DeAndre Jordan, no less.
It’s unclear whether Plumlee was injured in the Suns’ Sunday night game against the Atlanta Hawks, when he came down awkwardly and never returned to the game after showing a mild limp in running up and down the court.
After that game, Suns coach Jeff Hornacek didn’t have specifics about Plumlee’s injury and only offered that he might not have been used down the stretch anyhow with the Morris twins playing well.
Hornacek didn’t mention Plumlee’s injury prior to the game on Tuesday either, but he was asked about Len’s minutes moving forward. Hornacek said that Shavlik Randolph and Leandro Barbosa were given minutes Sunday to break them in, and he expected those two to earn minutes over rookies Archie Goodwin and Len.
“As we go down this stretch of playing these top teams, probably might go with those guys and not rookies,” Hornacek said. “They don’t get the bad calls that rookies get.
“It’s tough to play young guys extended minutes — the 15-20 minutes you’d like to get them as rookies — because of the situation we’re in. We still want to give them some tastes of being out there against these top teams. We’d like to try to do that.”
This is why the Randolph signing and the waiving of Slava Kravtsov was far from meaningless. The Suns were one injury away from having just one worthy rotation player taller than 6-foot-10, and that one player was a rookie.
Len certainly will get his shot on Tuesday against the Clippers, who themselves are banged up. Coach Doc Rivers doesn’t have an idea when guard J.J. Redick will be back, and replacement starter Jamal Crawford is out with an injured calf muscle.
Doc Rivers on the Suns: “They remind me so much of, I had a team in Orlando, my first year I think, a heart and hustle group. I remember, Pat Riley after a game saying, ‘I tried to tell our guys that they play hard, but you guys play hard. You can’t practice that in shootaround. You can go over sets and plays and I kept saying it all over in shootaround: “Hey guys, they play hard.” You can’t work at it in shootaround. What do you do? Have your guys run at full speed?
“I thought they jumped on us in LA and we couldn’t recover. It’s almost like our guys were surprised that a team would get up in to ‘em and play ‘em physical and run ‘em. I think that was a good lesson for us.”
Tags: Los Angeles Clippers · Phoenix Suns News
Posted by Ryan Weisert on March 4th, 9:22 am
Time: 7 p.m. MST
This is where it gets interesting for the Phoenix Suns. Over the next seven days, the Suns will play four tough games against three opponents currently sitting above them in the Western Conference standings. After hosting the Clippers and Thunder, the Suns will hit the road to face Golden State for the fourth and final time this year before heading to the Staples Center to play the Clippers. For as great as Phoenix has been this season, one win from those four games seems like the best possible outcome. With Memphis only one game back and facing three much less daunting opponents this week, the Suns could easily find themselves in ninth place next Tuesday for the first time in several months.
But falling out of a playoff spot in the short term does not doom the Suns in the long-term. After this brutal four-game stretch, the Suns will have an 11-game run in which only four of their opponents are .500 or better. And none of those are Western playoff teams. So no matter what happens over the next week, the Suns will certainly be able to improve their standing before their brutal close to the season in April.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, the Suns still have a game to play against the Clippers, a team they dominated on the road in their first meeting this year. For more on this matchup, let’s ask three preview questions.
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Tags: Los Angeles Clippers · Phoenix Suns · Phoenix Suns Preview
Posted by Kevin Zimmerman on March 3rd, 8:00 am
PHOENIX — It’s true.
The Suns’ defense has allowed 111.6 points over the last five games, three of which were losses. Pace has something to do with it, but then again, allowing four of those opponents to shoot better than 52 percent says there’s something broken defensively.
Jeff Hornacek will admit that, but in the last two games, he’ll take the other fact. Phoenix has pulled out victories against the New Orleans Pelicans and Atlanta Hawks.
“I think both of our teams are probably hard to guard in terms of how we both play, kicking it up, quick shots,” he said Sunday night after the Suns beat Atlanta 129-120. “Both teams have guards that can really penetrate. That breaks down defenses. And when teams are good at passing the ball and shooting the ball … It may look like there’s no defense out there, but guys were trying.
“It’s a win for us,” Hornacek added. “Some nights, the offense wins the game for you and maybe tonight it did.”
To be fair, there have been crucial spurts of solid defense for the Suns in the last two outings. Friday, the Pelicans shot 56 percent through the first three quarters but only hit 47.6 percent in the fourth quarter to Phoenix’s 57.9 percent. The Hawks were drilling 55.6 percent through the first three quarters on Sunday, but the Suns clamped down, holding coach Mike Budenholzer’s team to 42.9 percent shooting to their 57.1 percent accuracy in the final 12 minutes.
That sure proves the old theory: A good offense always beats a good defense.
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Tags: Atlanta Hawks · Phoenix Suns Analysis
Posted by Kevin Zimmerman on March 2nd, 9:06 pm
PHOENIX – The defense wasn’t where Jeff Hornacek wants it, but the Phoenix Suns again ground out a game against a battered sub-.500 behind their offense.
Phoenix pulled away from the Atlanta Hawks, then relinquished a double-digit lead, then built it back up in the final moments in a 129-120 win where defense was hard to find but lights-out shooting and a relentless pace was a theme of the night for both squads.
Gerald Green scored 33 points, 15 off three-point buckets, and then capped his night with four big free throws as the Hawks tried to play a fouling game in the final minutes. Goran Dragic, with his entire family watching from the stands, added 19 points and eight assists, while Markieff and Marcus Morris combined for 39 points and 17 rebounds in what was probably their best combined game in Suns uniforms.
The Suns shot 55 percent overall, hit 15-of-24 from three but allowed Atlanta to hit 14-of-31 from deep on 52 percent shooting.
It wasn’t necessarily all their faults. Jeff Teague looked a lot like Dragic, and the spacing provided by a lineup of mostly shooters — Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Pero Antic are injured — made it tough.
Teague had 29 points, nine dimes and six boards on 14-of-21 shooting, quite a Dragic-like stat line.
As has been the case for the last few games, Ish Smith was the difference-maker as the first guard off the bench. The starting unit’s sluggishness led to a 29-22 deficit for the Suns, but with the tempo ramped up, Smith led a team that finished the first quarter with a flurry. He remained on the court to give Dragic a break from the ball-handling duties in the second quarter, where the Suns outscored the Hawks 39-28 to take a 79-85 halftime lead – two points off the U.S. Airways Center record for points in a half.
Smith seems to have firmly etched his way into the rotation ahead of Archie Goodwin and Leandro Barbosa, though each played for a stint. Barbosa got late run and scored seven points, and newly-acquired forward Shavlik Randolph earned time, as expected, in the backup center position.
Atlanta hardly looked concerned about finding itself down by as many as 16. With less than two minutes to play in the third quarter, the Hawks pulled within one, 95-94, before the Suns closed out the quarter on a quick 7-1 run.
It went that way for the rest of the game, with Atlanta threatening thanks to Phoenix giving an injury-plagued team daylight to pull off an upset. But the Suns won, and they continue to survive with Eric Bledsoe’s return on the horizon.
Jeff Sanders had some pregame questions, and here are the answers.
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Tags: Atlanta Hawks · Phoenix Suns Recap
Posted by Jeffrey Sanders on March 2nd, 11:13 am
Time: 6 p.m. MST
The Phoenix Suns probably should have lost on Friday night to the New Orleans Pelicans. They let the Pellies shoot 53.8 percent from the field and that includes a 14-of-18 night from Anthony Davis. Defense was not where it needed to be for the Suns and they were lucky to be playing a team that played even worse defense. Oh, and that Goran Dragic guy scoring 40 sure did help a little.
Sunday, the Suns play an Atlanta Hawks team that is banged up and struggling. They went just 2-12 in the month of February and are without Al Horford and probably Paul Millsap as well.
This is a game the Suns cannot afford to lose with the schedule that they have coming up — and Dragic knows it.
“We play twice against Clippers, Thunder and Warriors, tough four games for us,” Dragic said. “I think we have to take care of every game. Let’s try to get this one and after that I think we always respond to the good teams.”
The Suns have habitually lost games to lesser opponents this year. They have lost two games each to both the Sacramento Kings and Utah Jazz, they fell to a beat up Bulls team at home and recently lost to the T-Wolves at home.
With the Memphis Grizzlies right on the Suns’ tail for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference, they cannot afford to slip up.
Let’s look at some keys for tonight’s game.
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Tags: Atlanta Hawks · Phoenix Suns Preview