Phoenix- It is has been a long road for the Phoenix Suns (22-18) this season. Quite literally too.
The Suns are wrapping up a stretch where they have played 22 of the last 30 on the road. Their 24 road games this season trails only the Orlando Magic’s 25 for the most in the league up to this point.
Fortunately for the Suns, the schedule is the same for all 30 teams in terms of the amount of home and away games played, which means we have reached the point where the Suns get to be at home for awhile.
“We talked about that stretch of road games and we survived it,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said Tuesday before the Suns start an 8-game homestand. “It’s a scenario where we play games at home now, and yeah they are against good teams, but our guys rise for those games. If we can come out of here with a good stretch we can make up some ground.”
Despite the road heavy schedule, the Suns have been able to weather the storm. Their 22-18 record is good for the 8th and final playoff spot and a two and a half game lead over the New Orleans Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder. Ironically, it is the missed opportunities at home that has cost the Suns win.
“Everybody know what it is,” Eric Bledsoe said on the Suns home struggles this season. “It’s a tough Western Conference so we just have to take care of business.”
The Suns have a golden chance to make up on some of their bad home losses on this homestand, and it starts tonight against a struggling Cleveland Cavaliers (19-19) team. The Cavs come into Phoenix having lost five straight games, but could have some help on the way. That help is a healthy LeBron James.
James declared himself a game-time decision at shootaround today after practicing for the first time in two weeks on Monday at Grand Canyon University. The 5-time NBA’s Most Valuable Player has been badly missed, as the team is just 1-8 without their MVP this season.
Despite is questionable status, James has his eyes set on playing against the Suns and is prepared for a team that presents many problems.
“They present a lot of challenges,” Cavs forward LeBron James said. “They have three point guards that put extensive pressure on the defense in Bledsoe, (Goran) Dragic and (Isaiah) Thomas.
“The Morris twins are playing well and they have so many guys that complement those guys. (PJ) Tucker, (Gerald) Green, (Alex) Len is playing well, whether I am in the lineup or not we have to do a good job communicating and helping each other out.”
If the Cavaliers are trying to be secretive to keep the Suns guessing tonight it isn’t working. Hornacek and the players are preparing as if James will return.
“We are assuming LeBron will play and if he doesn’t we will adjust,” Hornacewk said.”You can’t go into the game not preparing for him. The guys are ready and we will see what we can do.”
Despite James status, we know that Cavaliers All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving will play tonight and is a guy who presents plenty of problems for teams. Irving is averaging 21 points and 5.2 assists per game this season and is a player who can beat defense in many ways.
“Great players need to play both sides and we have to slow down Kyrie,” Hornacek said on the importance of Bledsoe defending Irving tonight. “We can’t rely on trapping him, then we will get all spaced out. If we can neutralize him without scrambling around it will give us a better chance to win.”
Jump on Cleveland early
The Cavaliers are a mess right now. One national writer described it as one of the most toxic situations he has seen in awhile. With that said, if the Suns can jump them from the get-go they could cruise to a big win. Phoenix needs to show their maturity in knowing the situation and come out ready to go.
“We play well at times, but we don’t sustain the effort for 48 minutes,” James said after practice on Monday on what he has noticed from watching on the sidelines. “If a team jumps us in any quarter, we let our guard down a bit. We have to give an effort for 48 minutes.
Matrix will play
Former Phoenix Suns All-Star Shawn Marion will play tonight after missing the last two games with a hip injury. That is great news for Suns fans, giving them a chance to see the former Suns star for perhaps one final time. The 36-year-old has put a lot of miles on his legs, 16 years and 1,243 games worth to be exact. Obviously he could play another year or two or three, but health is never a guarantee. Suns fans never were able to give Steve Nash one last “good bye”, as his career came to a crashing halt with injuries and we can’t take for granted that we could see Marion in Phoenix again.
“Always,” Marion said when asked if Phoenix still holds a special place in his heart. “This is where I started my career. We had a lifetime full of memories here, had some fun times. I grew as a player and it was great.”