Could we start anywhere else for this Suns preview?
Phoenix Suns fans have likely spent the last 36 hours frantically throwing salt over their shoulders, high-stepping over cracks and abjectly refusing to enter buildings with a 13th floor. Because of course it happened again.
James Harden calmly stepped back and drained a jumper over the flailing arm of P.J. Tucker to provide the final margin of victory in the Houston Rockets’ 113-111 win Friday night. Of course this one’s a little bit difference than Blake Griffin’s best Kobe Bryant impression in terms of what preceded it.
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Six weeks ago against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Suns played one of their best games of the season. Sure there were mistakes, but Phoenix — particularly their guard trio — gave their West Coast rivals everything they could handle on the road.
Against the Rockets, it took a frantic 25-9 run over the games final six minutes for Phoenix to tie the game before Harden’s heartbreaker. Essentially, the Suns were plagued by egregious defensive breakdowns and continued bouts of immaturity, which manifested itself in the technical that seems to happen every time a game isn’t going Phoenix’s way.
The youthful feistiness that Grantland’s Bill Simmons glowingly wrote about in his annual trade value column ignores that dealing with it on an every day basis isn’t always so endearing.
"“These guys do everything short of grabbing the half-court microphone and cutting a WWE-style, “We’re not afraid of you, and we WILL fight you” promo. You could imagine old-school badasses like Ricky Sobers and Jeff Ruland snarling next to the Morris Twins and The Completely Insane P.J. Tucker. It’s hilarious. I love the Suns. If you put all 30 NBA teams in the same nightclub, the Suns would be the ones that kept getting kicked out for reasons like “We didn’t like the way Blake Griffin was looking at us” and “Who does Draymond Green think he is????”"
I’m sure that description would fill Jeff Hornacek with pride and a bit of frustration. Can’t you guys just give Griffin the benefit of the doubt and just let Draymond Green be? Especially when their teams get free throws if you don’t?
As the NBA’s third youngest team, mental mistakes are going to happen, but for a Suns team that’s competing sooner then anyone could ever expect in a hyper-competitive conference, they’re unacceptable. Expectations create more expectations and for Phoenix those new expectations are that they grow up, and quickly.
That unlikely buzzer beater was far from the only shot Blake Griffin made against the Suns. The former Sooner finished with 45 points, including seven of the Clippers’ nine in overtime. You knew he had it going when all of the OT points came from at least 16 feet out.
Obviously that’s not going to happen every time these two teams play, but Phoenix does have to consider throwing different looks at him. Last time these two teams met, Anthony Tolliver spent a fair amount of time on Griffin. Fortunately for Suns fans, that’s no longer an option.
Brandan Wright’s length could give Griffin some trouble and when DeAndre Jordan’s out of the game an increasingly confident Alex Len is certainly an option given that Griffin only shoots 37.5 percent against him for his career.
The Bled Show And His Teacher
Eric Bledsoe showed up in a big way in his last matchup, dropping 27, 16, and 11 on his former team, for his first career triple double and the Suns’ first since 2006. Coming off an equally impressive effort against the Rockets that might just lead to therapy for Patrick Beverley, Bledsoe certainly feels confident of a repeat performance.
It’s essential that Bledsoe, who combined with Goran Dragic for 17 first quarter points in LA, comes out attacking as the Suns’ best chance at slowing down Griffin is getting him into foul trouble trying to defend the rim.
On the other side, Phoenix has the always difficult task of slowing down Chris Paul, but given Paul’s career numbers against P.J. Tucker (2-20) it’s safe to say the Suns have a better chance than most teams.
The Smaller The Better
Against the Rockets, the Suns finished with a small-ball unit full of scorers and the Rockets had no clue how to stop it.
While the urge to play Miles Plumlee and reward the guy for being a good teammate and a solid contributor for the last year and a half is understandable, it makes more sense to cut him out of the rotation completely and give more minutes to these small ball units that have been so strong.
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