At 22-16, the Phoenix Suns have racked up the NBA’s 12th best record, and they have the fourth largest active win-streak in the NBA, sitting at 4-0 since the start of 2015. This season, the Suns have managed to score the fourth most points per game in the NBA, with the 11th best scoring differential, and the team has done enough on the defensive side of the ball to get victories, holding opponents to 45.4% shooting on the year; the median for the league is 45.0%.
But none of that matters if they don’t make the playoffs.
The Suns have a golden opportunity to move into sole possession of seventh place in the West today, as they’ll face off against San Antonio at 6:30 p.m. (MST) on Fox Sports Arizona. Tony Parker will be active again, following his first game back against the Detroit Pistons, but the Spurs will be without another key player.
While this game isn’t necessarily a must-win contest in the literal sense, the Suns need to take advantage of games like this, if they’re going to make the playoffs this year. After all, just one season ago the team finished one game away from the postseason, despite racking up the 11th best record in the entire NBA and the 11th best scoring differential.
The Suns come into this game fresh off of a victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, where Andrew Wiggins nearly willed the team to victory, posting 25 points, 10 of which came in the final 6:30 of the game. Goran Dragic was key in the win, scoring 25 points on 11-of-16 shooting, but it was Gerald Green and Markieff Morris who finished the job for the Suns. Green scored 15 of the Suns first 19 points in the fourth quarter, while Morris helped close the game out, knocking down two of the team’s last three baskets.
The Spurs, on the other hand, are coming off of a loss to the 12-23 Detroit Pistons, although that game is a little deceiving, seeing how the Pistons have magically transformed into quite possibly the best team in NBA history since the departure of Josh Smith. Since Smith was waived, the Pistons are on pace for a perfect season (7-0), and they very well may never lose again, at least if recent statistics hold up.
I kid, I kid.
Patrolling the paint
Alex Len will need to play well for the Suns to win this game, as Tim Duncan has continued to post strong numbers on the inside at the age of 38. Duncan has scored 15+ points in 11 of his last 13 games, and he’s continued to be one of the best rebounders in the NBA, with a rebound rate of 19.0 (16th in the league). Len will certainly have his hands full with the former Wake Forest big man, but Len has been no slouch himself, racking up an incredible total of blocks as a starter.
The Ukrainian center has also done his fair share of scoring in the paint, much of which has come on dunks. Len’s improved strength has helped with his finishing at the rim, and he’s been no stranger to the Top 10 on SportsCenter, with impressive plays like these:
In the last meeting between the two teams, Len went for 10 points and 11 rebounds, racking up his first double-double on the year. If he’s able to repeat that performance, the Suns should be able to win this game, especially given the fantastic play of the backcourt as of late.
Tony Parker’s health
Tony Parker returned to the court against the Detroit Pistons, but he was not able to do much of anything, managing just three points in thirteen minutes, while committing two fouls and two turnovers. Parker shot 0-of-3 from the field, and he really didn’t look like he was healthy at all, but now that he’s had a couple more days to rest, it could be a different story.
In the first meeting between the two teams this year, Parker scored 19 points, hitting both of his attempts from three-point range, and he added six assists (although he did have four turnovers). While it wouldn’t make much sense for Parker to repeat those numbers, the Suns were in a similar situation when they faced the Oklahoma City Thunder, and Kevin Durant went for 44 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists, after missing the last six games due to injury.
Tony Parker is obviously no Kevin Durant, but his impact on the game could be the deciding factor. Last year, the Spurs went 2-0 against the Suns when Parker played and 1-1 when he didn’t. Parker averaged 19 points per game against the Suns, while shooting over 50% from the field and 100% (1-1) from three-point range, and it’s actually funny to note that Parker, a career 32.2% three-point shooter, has not missed a three-pointer against the Suns since March 27, 2012 (nearly three years ago).
2-0 vs. the Spurs
The Suns have not won their first two games against San Antonio since the 2000-01 season, when the team finished 51-31. That year, the Suns were led by Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion, who combined to average 34.2 points, 11.8 assists, 17.1 rebounds and 3.9 steals per game, while both players posted a player efficiency rating above 19.
Since that season, however, the Suns have managed to go just 17-32 against the Spurs, winning less than 35% of the meetings between the two teams. Additionally, the Suns have had more than twice as many years where they’ve lost three or more games to San Antonio (7) than they’ve won more than a single game (3). It’s also worth noting that the Suns made the playoffs in each of the three seasons where they managed to win the season series against San Antonio.
A win would also mark the earliest the Suns have reached their 23nd win on the year since the 2009-10 season, when the Suns made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals. Obviously, there is not one win this early in the year that can put a team in the playoffs, but with all the omens and recent trends that come into play, the Suns might just want to go ahead and win this one.
A fired up Suns team goes into San Antonio and manages to jump out to an early lead. The Spurs battle back, thanks to Tony Parker playing way better than would be typical of a player recovering from injury, but the Suns use a late surge to hold on and get the win. Markieff Morris knocks down some key late game mid-range jumpers while the three point guard lineup continues to get the job done at the end of the game.
Suns 99, Spurs 97