Posted by Kevin Zimmerman on February 23rd, 9:00 am
Time: 7 p.m. MST
TV: ESPN / FSA
When the Phoenix Suns throttled the San Antonio Spurs on Friday, they looked like a playoff team. They contested most every shot and made nothing easy for a injury-limited Spurs team. On offense, Phoenix dictated the tempo.
On Sunday, it won’t be that easy against a Houston Rockets squad that, like the Suns, can hit contested shots and break down the best defense with a spaced floor and ability to freestyle on broken offensive possessions.
Phoenix saw that first-hand on Feb. 5. Though a lot of it had to do with the Suns’ lackluster defensive efforts, the Rockets certainly displayed their versatility. Forwards Terrence Jones and Chandler Parsons each scored 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting, and that pretty much said it all once Dwight Howard and James Harden got theirs as the Suns fell 122-108.
Jeff Hornacek’s team certainly has shown that matchups have a lot to do with success. The Portland Trail Blazers and Indiana Pacers are favorable matchups, as are a broken and aging Spurs team.
The Rockets are a different animal, unlike any other team. They are coming off a loss that ended an eight-game winning streak.
Here are three things to keep an eye on when the Suns aim for their fourth-straight victory.
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Tags: Houston Rockets · Phoenix Suns · Phoenix Suns Recap
Posted by Kevin Zimmerman on February 22nd, 8:00 am
PHOENIX — The Suns didn’t play too poorly during a hectic first 12 minutes against the San Antonio Spurs, but they still looked unsteady and trailed 23-19 after the first quarter. Phoenix was down Leandro Barbosa, who was out with a sprained toe, and so Jeff Hornacek turned to Ish Smith as a sub nine minutes into the game.
San Antonio scored the first bucket of the second period before the Suns rattled off 19 straight points, and Smith had a lot to do with the sudden ignition. San Antonio was short in depth without Tony Parker, and the Spurs certainly looked as if they’d played the last nine games away from home.
So imagine how winded the Spurs were when the blazing Smith found himself huffing and puffing.
“I got really, really tired,” he said afterward. “We heard so much about their bench — Patty, Manu, the whole bench, that’s just to name a few. The Bench Mob, we call each other. We just felt like we needed to come out as aggressors.
“I’m like Ricky Bobby,” he added. “I want to go fast. The biggest thing with us is we want to play that pace. We want to constantly push the ball. When we get stops and run, we’re pretty good.”
Holding the Spurs to 34.9 percent shooting certainly was the defense the Suns were looking for, and it helped Smith get into the open court. Nevermind that he was crashing the boards so well. Smith finished seven rebounds, a rebound behind Channing Frye for the team lead.
“I think our bigs do such a great job of boxing out, engaging (the opponents) and I come in and come of pick up and take some rebounds,” Smith said. “I don’t know if they were happy about that but it resulted in a win.”
Smith finished with a career-high 15 points, added four assists and blocked two shots to go with two steals. One of the fastest point guards in the league, and certainly one of the best at shedding defenders with a hesitation look-away move, spun around a defensive-minded point guard duo of Cory Joseph and Patty Mills in the Suns’ 106-85 win on Friday.
After the win that took Phoenix to 33-21, both Hornacek and starting point guard Goran Dragic admitted that this is why Smith had beaten out Kendall Marshall as the team’s third point guard — though financial reasons loom as well.
“I think so Kendall couldn’t guard him, he was too slow,” Dragic said. “Ish, he can get inside the paint. And when you get there, you have so many options. You can score, you can pass out. He can push the ball.”
Markieff Morris can throw himself into the fray as a big bench contributor as well.
After a sloppy start where he looked foggy and slow, a yank by Hornacek for brother Marcus Morris shook Markieff awake. He led Phoenix with 21 points while adding five boards, three steals, two blocks and most importantly, five assists.
The ball movement is improving.
The on-court chemistry is catching up to the relationships the close-knit second unit has off the court.
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Tags: Markieff Morris · Phoenix Suns Analysis
Posted by Kevin Zimmerman on February 21st, 9:22 pm
PHOENIX – A lackluster first two games out of the All-Star break might have caused worry for the Phoenix Suns. The week off may have taken away their edge, and it could have drowned the momentum that had the Suns competing with the Miami Heat in their final game before All-Star weekend.
Against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday, Suns coach Jeff Hornacek seemed worried about lapses in focus.
“I want this team to develop a killer instinct,” he said. “We always want to put the foot to the pedal. You get a team down eight, you want to get it to 12, 13, and when you get it there, you want to get it to 18, 19.”
The players seemingly listened, although it was easy to put the foot to the pedal against a San Antonio Spurs team in its ninth and final game of its annual Rodeo Road Trip — and without Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard. The Suns pulled away in the first half and further away in the second to win 106-85 Friday at U.S. Airways Center.
Phoenix went on a 19-0 run at the start the second quarter to open up a 38-25 lead. During San Antonio’s scoring goal drought of six and a half minutes, the Suns forced 10 missed field goals, had three blocks and forced the Spurs into four turnovers.
The most impressive part was how they did it. It was quite Spurs-like.
Goran Dragic played 29 minutes in one of his worst games in a while. He scored eight points, the first time since Dec. 27 he had less than 15. He had five assists, four turnovers and despite all that had the best plus-minus score of plus-29.
Meanwhile, Gerald Green struggled with his shot and hit 5-of-14 attempts, missing all five three-point tries.
Markieff Morris led Phoenix with 21 points and filled in the box score with five rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks. Ish Smith set a career-high with 15 points, and Channing Frye added 17 points and eight boards.
On to Dave Dulberg’s pregame queries.
Can Goran Dragic play the opportunist?
Goran Dragic took a backseat in the first half and then found himself in foul trouble, but that was fine thanks to how well backup point guard Ish Smith was playing. Smith entered with less than four minutes to play in the first quarter, earlier than normal with the absence of Leandro Barbosa, who was out with a sprained toe.
Hornacek couldn’t pull him.
Smith hit all five shots in the first half and kicked up dust in the Spurs’ faces in the fullcourt. He also added two blocks, two steals, three assists and five rebounds.
By the end of the game, Smith had accounted for 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Meanwhile, Dragic sat the entire fourth after an underwhelming performance relative to what we’re used to.
Will the Plumlee slide finally subside?
Miles Plumlee didn’t stuff the box score or really get the chance to do so offensively. But he did continue his success against Tim Duncan, who could only muster 13 points on 4-of-10 shooting and five rebounds with Plumlee on the defensive assignment.
Can the Suns killer be silenced for a night?
Manu Ginobili made an appearance for 13 minute despite coming into Friday questionable to earn playing time.
“He wants to play, we’re going to argue and see what happens,” Popovich said before the game. “When him and Timmy, we’ve each won a few. Sometimes I win, sometimes they win. I won last night with Timmy.”
In the end, Ginobili looked sluggish playing against the Phoenix second unit captained by Smith. He finished with six points and aside from a potentially phantom charge drawn on P.J. Tucker went relatively unnoticed.
5 doses of Pop
5. The Spurs finished out their nine-game Rodeo Road Trip Friday against Phoenix. Going into the game, it already seemed like it could be too much for Gregg Popovich.
“Nine in a row is a bit much,” he said. “We always look forward to the Rodeo trip to come together, bunker mentality, all that happy … whatever. But by this time, I think that’s a challenge to convince them there’s a game left.”
4. Popovich pointed straight to Hornacek when asked about what’s made the Suns so successful this year.
“A lot of credit goes to Jeff,” the Spurs coach said. “He’ll try to deflect it all because of who he is but, you know, he sets the tone. He’s got a lot of credibility the way he’s carried himself throughout his career. He’s a persistent individual who played a hard-nosed brand of basketball. He’s set a tone. His players obviously have character to respond, they’ve adjusted and bought into his system the way they want to play.”
3. To open pregame questioning, San Antonio Express News beat writer Mike Monroe jokingly asked Popovich which Spurs would be missing the game because of injury, but he was wondering aloud how he could phrase the question.
“Mike, you just say, ‘Who’s out?’” Popovich quipped. “It’s easy. It’s not like you have to be Henry James or something.”
2. Popovich, on if Jeff Hornacek was the type of player that would have fit well with the Spurs: “I know it’s a sin, but I coveted him – often,” Popovich said. “Sounds a little strange I guess. Pop covets Jeff. It’s OK, I’m proud of it. He was a hell of a player, now he’s a hell of a coach.”
1. Popovich doesn’t have grand plans for San Antonio’s trade deadline swap of Nando De Colo for Austin Daye — not yet anyway. The Spurs coach said he doesn’t even know what he’ll do with Daye.
“He’ll show up. I haven’t thought about him much,” Popovich said. “I don’t think he’s exactly in my thinking. I know there’s a lot of publicity on the TV about the trade. Huge, momentous sort of thing. Could change the balance of the West. It’ll take a day or two for me to figure out what I want to do with him.”
Pop struggles with the catch-and-shoot like he’s been infected by Shannon Brown.
Tags: Phoenix Suns Recap · San Antonio Spurs
Posted by Dave Dulberg on February 21st, 11:30 am
Time: 7 p.m. MST
A late February home affair might not qualify as a measuring stick game for the Phoenix Suns anymore than the previous 53 they’ve played in have. Nonetheless, despite prior statement wins over the likes of the Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix’s rags-to-riches campaign has yet to include a win over Friday’s opponent, the San Antonio Spurs.
Like a character straight out of a fairy tale, it seems age has not withered but rather empowered the Spurs’ title aspirations. ‘Various maladies’ continue to creep up on the reigning Western Conference championships, like those that currently have All-Star point guard Tony Parker reduced to a spectator, but as winter rolls into spring, San Antonio is no less a title contender than its been throughout the last decade-and-a-half.
Beating the venerable Spurs this time of year will not make or break the Suns’ chances of going to the postseason for the first time since 2009-10, however with 30 games remaining, confidence and positioning in the standings often go hand-in-hand.
A win would add an extra notch on Phoenix’s already impressive belt. A loss, well, that could leave the door open for doubt to creep in should the two former rivals engage in yet another memorable playoff battle come April.
Here’s three questions that could go a long way towards determining the potential playoff preview:
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Tags: Phoenix Suns
Posted by Kevin Zimmerman on February 21st, 6:00 am
PHOENIX – When the Suns lost to the Chicago Bulls on Feb. 4, forward P.J. Tucker seemed to take it personally. One of the last Phoenix players to leave the locker room as the media members worked to make their deadlines, he looked more perturbed than normal after a loss – and Tucker is usually quite visibly bothered by losing.
Tucker showed an added pep to his stingy defense in the next game against the Houston Rockets and the Phoenix forward has played with a heightened urgency in the five games since. He’s averaged 13.2 points, 10 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game during that span.
Jeff Hornacek wants to keep word of Tucker’s impact silenced.
“Shhhhh,” he whispered following Tucker’s 10-point, 11-rebound, six-assist performance in a Wednesday win against the Boston Celtics. “I don’t want anybody to go after him when he’s a free agent.”
It’s wishful thinking.
Inevitably, teams will come after Tucker and hard when his minimum contract comes to an end after the 2013-14 season. He’s likely going to garner more than the $1.1 million qualifying offer that the Suns can extend his way. His greatly-improved offensive game could make him an ideal mid-level exception signee for a winning team, something like Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen signing a four-year, $20 million contract extension this past summer.
Salary-strapped squads like Miami, Brooklyn, Chicago or the Los Angeles Clippers would love to add Tucker as a lockdown defender and corner-pocket specialist on offense.
Tucker is no longer the guy that even smart NBA fans saw as the random piece in Phoenix’s starting lineup. The NBA front office knows him as well, having handed the forward a flopping warning and then a $5,000 flopping fine in consecutive games against Miami and Denver.
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Tags: P.J. Tucker
Posted by Jeffrey Sanders on February 20th, 6:00 pm
In this week’s Throwback Thursday, I got the chance to talk briefly with former Phoenix Suns forward and current Boston Celtics assistant coach Walter McCarty. He discussed his brief time in Phoenix that started weeks before the 2005 trade deadline and the 2005 Western Conference Finals series against the San Antonio Spurs.
We all know the story of the 2004-05 Phoenix Suns. After winning 29 games the season prior, general manager Bryan Colangelo brought in Steve Nash and, well… you all know the rest. The Suns won 62 games. Nash won the first of two consecutive MVP awards and led the team all the way to the Western Conference Finals before falling in five games to those dreaded San Antonio Spurs. It was the start of the “7 Seconds or Less” era that brought Suns fans many wins and lots of joy.
During that season, the Suns made a deal prior to the trade deadline that brought in Walter McCarty from the Boston Celtics in exchange for Zarko Cabarkapa (remember him?) and a second round pick. McCarty added depth to a short bench but ended up having a minimal impact with the team. He played in 28 regular season games averaging 3.5 points and 2.2 rebounds per game, though he did have a 20 point game. He got into eight playoff games, and saw extended action in only a handful of them.
After that season McCarty lasted one more season with the Los Angeles Clippers before he retired after a 12-year career. Though his stay was brief, McCarty has very fond memories of Phoenix and I talked to him before Celtics shootaround on Wednesday.
Sanders: What do you remember from your time in Phoenix?
McCarty: It was fun times. We had a really exciting team with Amare (Stoudemire), Shawn (Marion) , Quentin (Richardson) and Joe (Johnson). Also, Steve (Nash)… Stevie Wonder (Laughs). It was a fun time and playing at an exciting place, they do a really good job here, the fans, they support their team and it’s a great basketball environment. It was fun coming to games and playing here. It was a really good time.
Sanders: How much fun was it to watch Amare Stoudemire put up the numbers that he did against Tim Duncan and the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals?
McCarty: It was fun to watch and being a apart of to see him at that level. People forget how good he was and I tell people all the time. Listen man, I have seen him do some really special things to some really good teams and it was fun basketball.
Sanders: What went wrong for the team in that series?
McCarty: Joe Johnson went down. It was at that end of the court (basket by the Suns bench). He fell on his face and his eyes closed up, he was our go-to guy and was able to shut (Tony) Parker down and guard (Manu) Ginobli, but also get us points, they didn’t have anyone that could guard him. He was big for us and when he went down it hurt us.
Sanders: Can you say that the Suns win that series if Johnson is healthy?
McCarty: Definitely, we had a good chance winning that game and if he is healthy we definitely win that series.
Tags: Amare Stoudemire · Phoenix Suns · San Antonio Spurs