Preview: Suns (46-26) at T-Wolves (14-59)


Suns 111, T-Wolves 105

PHOENIX — It’s only human nature to overlook a team that you just waxed by a season-high 38 points and dropped a 152 spot on only a couple weeks ago, a team that some are now arguing is worse than the league-worst New Jersey Nets.

But as the Suns start a five-game road trip tonight in Minnesota that includes a stop in New Jersey and two other games against losing teams, they insist they won’t be overlooking anybody, no matter their record and how badly Phoenix beat them last time around.

“We’re not going to overlook anyone because we have to play at a real high level to win,” said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry. “I don’t think this team will overlook anybody really. If we play poorly it’s just because we play poorly. We don’t look ahead, we don’t overlook anyone. We’ve got a game against Minnesota on Sunday, and we’ll have to play well to win.”

Added Amare Stoudemire, “We just have to make sure that we attack every game the way we have been over the past two months. If we do that we’ll be the same.”

The Wolves would be an easy team to overlook if the Suns were in the business of doing such a thing. They have lost 15 in a row (for the second time this year) and 21 of 22 since a four-game winning streak that included a victory at Dallas (the Mavs have really lost some strange games this year). They have yielded 100 points in 14 straight, including the Suns’ 152-point game, with a defense that overall gives up 108.9 pp100 (28th). What’s worse is their offense for the season ranks 29th (98.6 pp100).

On the flip side the Suns are cruising in with a league-best six-game winning streak and the league’s best offense (112.4 pp100), and if you take out the Portland slugfest they have averaged a shade under 130 in the five other wins, three of which they went for 130 (including the last two). The Suns have also scored 30 points in their last eight quarters, so their 10-straight run from March 14-21, 2009, could be in serious jeopardy tonight.

The reason I don’t think the Suns are in for a letdown is because in reality they are not playing against the Minnesota Timberwolves; they are playing to keep pace with everybody in the bunched-up Western Conference.

The Suns enter the day 1 1/2 games behind Dallas and Denver for the No. 2 spot (one game out in the loss column) and one game behind Utah (tied in the loss column). They understand that a road trip against losing teams is their chance to get to second while everybody else in the West beats each other up.

“It’s an important trip for us because we’re trying to keep pace with everything that’s going on in our league and our conference,” Gentry said. “They’re games that if we play well we expect to win.”

Tonight, the Suns will also have a chance to go over .500 on the road after they followed an 8-3 road start with 12 losses in 13 games away from home. The Suns have won eight of 10 as the visiting team since.

Phoenix, of course, will be without the injured Robin Lopez, who saw Dr. Christopher Huston of The Orthopedic Clinic Association today in Phoenix. Dr. Huston decided Lopez should undergo a conservative treatment that involves medication, rest and rehabilitation for his ailing back. The Suns’ center will be re-evaluated in two weeks, which means he would likely miss the April 7 game against San Antonio (ugh!) and the April 9 game against Oklahoma City.

This is good news in that he’s not out for the season, but a diagnosis like that makes you wonder if Lopez will make it back before the year ends. With a back, you just never know.

The Suns had gone 22-9 with Lopez in the starting lineup after a 24-17 start, and he boosted the Suns to a plus 4.8 on the boards as a starter after the Suns were minus 2.3 in that department in their first 41 games. Also, Lopez’s 58.8 percent shooting percentage would rank him fourth in the league if he had enough attempts to qualify.

The Suns should be OK without Lopez in Minnesota, but then again this is just one more reason not to overlook the T-Wolves.

“We can’t overlook anybody,” Jason Richardson said. “No matter who we’re playing, we’ve got to go out there and take them seriously and try to get the win.”

And 1

  • Amare Stoudemire recently told Yahoo! Sports, “I’m getting more expensive by the game.” He also tried to dispel talk of his strong play of late being a money grab by saying, “I’m always going to try to improve. I’m not one of those guys who plays hard during a contract year than shuts it down. I take my basketball career very serious. I look to be a future Hall of Famer one of these days.”
  • Check out this funny short on Steve Nash high-fives hosted by Suns intern and my former UATV colleague Jess Antonio.