Preview: Suns (24-15) at Hawks (25-13)


Hawks 102, Suns 101

There’s one piece of good news for Suns fans to take solace in as their team heads to Atlanta for an ESPN showdown tonight: at least the Suns are unlikely to run up another 20-point lead against a Hawks team that’s 15-4 at home and has won four of five since a four-game losing streak.

It’s getting to the point that I think the Suns might be better off having to chase a double-digit deficit like they successfully did four times in the first two weeks of the season. In the last two weeks all they’ve done is blow such leads, giving up such an advantage in five straight games, including 24-point leads in the last two.

After their latest loss, a game in which they blew the aforementioned 24-point advantage in Indiana, it has to have become mental. The players must be taking the court wondering how exactly they’ll blow the lead today. That’s what the rest of us are wondering, at least.

“I think more than anything it’s collective,” Steve Nash said of the team’s problems after his team yielded a 24-point lead to Milwaukee on Monday before eventually winning the game. “We have to pick each other up, we have to be tough-minded, and we can’t allow one guy to get down in the dumps and for his play to spiral and for that to affect the team. We have to pick him up. We have to be strong and assertive as individuals and collectively so when somebody’s having a rought night or a rough patch we aren’t affected the way we’ve been affected lately.”

This time the Suns will be facing off against a juggernaut that can match them offensively. Atlanta has sat second in offensive efficiency just behind the Suns for most of the season. Phoenix averages 111.5 points per 100 possessions and Atlanta 109.1.

However, the Hawks’ 12th-ranked defense (103.2 pp100) makes Atlanta far more balanced than the Suns (25th, 107.6 pp100).

The Hawks are led by old friend Joe Johnson (21.3 ppg), and they boast five players in double figures and Mike Bibby right behind at 9.4 ppg. They are Jamal Crawford off the bench (17.1), Josh Smith (14.7), Al Horford (13.4) and Marvin Williams (10.5). Atlanta is head and shoulders above the rest of the East besides the power trio of Boston, Cleveland and Orlando, and the Hawks could have the guns to compete with the big boys come playoff time.

But before you mark this one in the loss column remember what was going on around Planet Orange the last time Phoenix invaded Atlanta to face a team that finished with a 31-10 home record.

The Suns had lost five of six, with three of those losses coming against losing teams, and they looked like they weren’t even trying in routs at the hands of Boston and Charlotte previously on the road trip.

With that being said, I’m still shocked that Phoenix went into Atlanta and salvaged a tiny chunk of that road trip nonetheless.

At some point the Suns need to take a big lead and then blow that team out. I doubt that will happen tonight, but any kind of a win would be an important step for a Suns team that hasn’t played a full 48 minutes since 2009.

“As the leader I want to take the responsibility myself and also collectively let’s figure this out together, let’s be positive, let’s work together and let’s try to get through this,” Nash said. “We have to just work together and show some collective spirit and fight through it.

“How much can you really say? Everyone knows it’s just a matter of just being a little more consistent with our effort and focus.”

And 1

Nash is averaging career highs in points (19.2), field-goal percentage (54.5), PER (24.5) and turnovers (3.9). If Two Time keeps scoring at this pace, he will become the oldest player to establish a career high in scoring in NBA history, and he leads all guards with a minimum of 125 field goals in field-goal percentage. … By scoring at a rate of 1.10 points per possession, Channing Frye is the NBA’s third-most efficient scorer. Dudley (1.09) is seventh and Nash is 16th at 1.07. … Frye leads the Suns in plus-minus at plus 226, ranking him 13th in the league. Nash is next at plus 151 (30th). … Nash ranks second in the NBA in turnovers per game to Monta Ellis. … Amare Stoudemire leads the NBA in dunks with 82. He ranks fifth in points in the paint (11.6 per game), and surprisingly Ellis leads that category as well. … Amare leads the NBA in personal fouls this season (147) and could become only the second Sun to ever lead the league in fouls (Neal Walk, 1972-73). Nash possesses the lowest personal foul rate of any player to start at least 10 games (one ever 29 minutes).  … STAT’s ratio of 2.7 turnovers per assist is the highest of any player with a minimum of 40 TOs. … One more depressing Amare stat, his field-goal percentage declines every quarter. He shoots 60.8 percent in the first, 59.1 percent in the second, 55.6 percent in the third and 45.1 percent in the fourth. Grant Hill’s scoring average also declines in each successive quarter. … The Suns allow a league-high 16.5 second-chance points per game and have grabbed 69.5 percent of the available boards on the defensive end. That’s second worst in the league to the Warriors. The league average is 73.4 percent.