Phoenix Suns Preview: Ending The Dinosaurs

Jan 4, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) stands alongside Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) at US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Raptors 125-109. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 4, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) stands alongside Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) at US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Raptors 125-109. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

At 7-9, the Suns have been one of the more maddeningly inconsistent teams in the NBA this year. At times, the team has looked rather strong and capable of hanging with just about anyone; they’ve also looked like they don’t belong on the court with their opponent on occasion, as was the case in the fourth quarter against the Thunder earlier this month and last Friday against the Warriors, although that game would’ve been a lot different if the Warriors hadn’t shot 75 percent from three in the first half.

Regardless, with the benefit of hindsight, the teams they’ve lost to have been no surprise. They’ve dropped games to teams playing surprisingly well, like Dallas and Detroit were early on; they’ve dropped two straight to the Pelicans, who put together a strong stretch of three games, but have since lost two-straight.

Their wins haven’t really been all that surprising either. They’ve beaten a few bad teams and a few depleted squads as well.

Right now, the Suns best wins were probably the back-to-back victories over Portland, who started the year playing really well. After all, beating Sacramento without DeMarcus Cousins and Los Angeles without Blake Griffin (for a half), Chris Paul and J.J. Redick isn’t exactly something to write home about, and neither were the team’s wins over the Nuggets or Lakers.

However, all of this shouldn’t necessarily be taken as a negative. With the way the West has struggled, the Suns can still be in a really good position after their next nine or so games. However, they have to break the mold that’s been set and beat a good team.

After all, five of the next six games the Suns will play are such that a win would likely be the most impressive win the team has notched this year, and they need to rise to that challenge. This six game road stretch will be huge in deciding the direction of the team moving forward, as the Suns could easily win four or five of the games and finish the stretch at 12-10, while they could also drop four or five and be in a position where they’ve dug themselves a pretty sizable hole.

Now, on the other side of things, the Raptors have started to hit their stride. After dropping some early games they probably should’ve won, the team has won four in a row.

Kyle Lowry has been on a mission, topping 25 points on three separate occasions in that stretch. Additionally, the team has hit at least 44 percent of their three-point shots in those same three games.

Really, the one outlier in that stretch was the game against the Clippers, where the Raptors won despite putting up just eight points in the third quarter. In that game, the Raptors shot worse than 40 percent from the field and worse than 25 percent from three, but they absolutely made their shots at the charity stripe count. The Raptors were 29-of-31 at the line, not to mention they won the turnover and foul battles too.

Additionally, DeMarre Carroll and Luis Scola — a former Sun in his own right — combined for 41 points on 16-of-29 shooting, as the team won despite getting outscored in both bench points (26-10) and fast break points (19-11).

Regardless, that was the outlier. The Raptors have played really solid basketball, and without their man in the middle, Jonas Valanciunas, it’ll be crucial for Lowry and DeMar DeRozan to continue to step up, which should probably be expected.

Keeping It Rolling 

Despite Toronto’s play of late, this is still a game that the Suns can, and maybe even should, win. Brandon Knight has been electric as of late, averaging 25.4 points, 7.9 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game in his last seven contests. In that time, he’s shot at least 44 percent from three four times, and he’s knocked down at least a couple of shots from distance in all but two of the games.

Additionally, Knight’s backcourt mate, Eric Bledsoe, has gotten off to a tremendous start this season. On the year, he’s averaging close to 23 points and six rebounds per game, already posting 20 or more points 11 times this year, a mark he didn’t reach until December 30 last year.

Stepping Up 

One more name that comes to mind in looking at key players for the team is T.J. Warren. Warren has seen his minutes increase in each of his last five games, and to that, he’s posted a greater point total and played pretty notably better in each of them. Now I’m not suggesting recent trends hold and he goes for 30, but 15 or so points off the bench on 50 percent shooting should be enough to get the job done.

He’s been right around those marks — if not way above — in eight games this year already, compared to just five all of last year.

Now Or Never

It’s absolutely crucial for the team that it all comes together now. It isn’t just the guard play. Markieff Morris needs to reassert himself against an opponent that should be weakened inside; P.J. Tucker needs to step up and show that he should still be the starter given how well Warren has played. And the beat goes on and on.

As cliche as it sounds, Suns need to come together as a team to break their four game losing skid; they need a win against a good team to show they aren’t going to hover around league average the entire year; they need a win to start the road trip off on the right foot.

After all, as the old saying goes, you can’t win something early in the year, but you can certainly lose it. And the Suns need to make sure they’re staying competitive and biding their time until the last couple months of the season, where this year — unlike years past — things really start to open up for them.