Check out the game preview thread we got going, it’s a great place to catch up on lineup changes, injury etc.

The 8-2 Suns used to be 8-1 with everything going smoothly as ever, they were surprising people, dominating teams and proving the experts wrong. Then they went to LA and got theirs handed to them by the Lakers sans Gasol. The pundits gave the age old, worn-out but correct analysis that the team is built for the regular season and as soon as the playoffs come, so sets the sun. No arguments here. After a demeaning loss there’s nothing worse than waiting for three full days to get a chance to set things right, and unfortunately for the Raps, they’ll be looking to set things right at our expense.

To have a chance here we’ll need to defend the best pick ‘n roll combo in the league since Stockton and Malone. Nash and Stoudemire have perfected the play and teams have been unable to stop them because of pure perfection in execution. The unpredictability of what happens after the screen is what throws defenses off to the point where the most common play in basketball confuses them to death. Whereas traditional teams use the high-screen from certain areas to initiate their offense, the Suns use the play two or even three times on the same possession from any point on the court, even after broken plays. After Stoudemire has set the initial pick what follows can be a pop, roll, slip or simply a pass to an open shooter as help comes to deal with the uncertainty of what could happen next.

Teams have tried putting taller, athletic players on Nash (like Odom most recently) so that they can switch on the screens and give Nash space while contesting the jumper. Even though the strategy doesn’t always work it’s still proven to be the most effective of the lot. The Bulls did something similar with Stockton by having Scottie Pippen and Ron Harper check the playmaker through the two epic NBA Finals series. We don’t have Scottie Pippen but we have Antoine Wright who should be used tonight in a similar fashion. The Calderon on Nash matchup isn’t going to be easy for Jose and the best he can do is wear Nash out on the other end, you know he’ll have his opportunities against a loose Suns defense which happens to allow more points than the Raptors’ (106.44 vs 107.1) and lets opponents shoot higher percentage (46.7% vs 48.3%). The last time we faced Nash he dropped 18 assists on us as the Raptor PGs kept getting stuck behind the screen, got to give a better effort in PnR situations.

While the Suns may be the top scoring team in the league at 111ppg and second in FG% at 49%, they do have weaknesses as pointed out by the blogger below, namely interior defense. Channing Frye is their starting center and after that it’s down to Jarron Collins, neither of them defensive stalwarts by any means. I’ve always liked Frye, I was surprised the Knicks gave up on him so early and do think he’s a very reliable role player who can be very consistent in his production, as he’s showing this year by averaging 13/5. There’s also Louis Amundson to worry about, he had 20/10 on 9-11FG last time we faced them, so even though on paper we’re supposed to have an advantage with Bosh and Bargnani, you just never know which Sun will turn out to be the X-Factor.

I’m thinking Bargnani takes Collins while Bosh checks Stoudemire which makes sense since the latter’s the more agile player and needs to be guarded by a player who can move his feet. As great as Bosh has played this year, his defense still shuts off frequently and he gets scored on when he really shouldn’t be getting scored on. If he even has two of those stretches which last two minutes each, that’s enough for the Suns to put up 20 points in no time. It’s easier said than done, but defensive concentration is a must and we can’t hang our heads after Phoenix makes those 8-2 and 6-0 runs. Remember that we can score too and the first team to make a true defensive stand will have a great shot at winning. The Raptors’ main offensive advantage could be Bargnani if he decides to play it right, Collins is no contest and if Frye is switched on him, he should (based on salary, overall pick and hype) be able to take advantage, we’ll see.

Will Belinelli’s great showing against the Clippers be followed by another one or will he go back to being 1-5? DeMar DeRozan was terrible in LA in every facet of the game but tonight there definitely will be opportunities for him to get some points, it’ll depend on how hard he plays. On one hand it’s good that the rookie is composed and plays within the structure of Triano’s offense, but at the same time he doesn’t present himself to his teammates nearly as much as I think he can. Instead of wandering on the perimeter waiting for his number to be called he should at least make it a point that he gets a touch or so every possession, just so he doesn’t forget about himself. His “dead periods” need to be reduced.

Grant Hill’s quickness against Turkoglu could be problematic, especially if Turkoglu isn’t healthy which would mean we’d have to dedicate Wright to him, it would be nice to see one of our other wing step-up to this challenge and shut Hill down. I’d also be weary of Jared Dudley, we’ll need somebody to match hustle with him because he’s liable to have a major impact on the offensive boards if we decide to just go through the motions. Barbosa on Jack is intriguing from the standpoint that these are the types of matchups Jack is supposed to even out for us, so far he’s struggling but the Phoenix defense can cure a lot of ills.

Matchups to Watch: Jack vs Barbosa, Bargnani vs Collins, Amundson vs Johnson, Stoudemire vs Bosh

Blogger’s Take

The Phoenix blog on the TrueHoop network is the Valley of the Suns.

What did the Suns loss in LA mean?

It means the Suns will struggle against teams with big, athletic front lines, but really we already knew that. Being beaten pretty thoroughly without Pau Gasol also means the Suns are still a good chunk behind the Lakers in the Pacific, but really we already knew that as well. Overall, having played seven games in 10 days, I take more from the first six games (5-1, win over Boston) than a buzzsaw game like this against a rested, motivated Lakers squad.

Would you do an Amare for Bosh trade? Why or why not?

No, I’d rather have STAT than the “RuPaul of big man.” Just kidding on the nickname, Raps fans, but the biggest reason I wouldn’t do it is because of the familiarity between Nash and Amare and how well he knows this system. As we saw last year with J-Rich, it takes time to get used to this system even for a player like Richardson perfectly suited to it. I’d also be a bit worried about using Bosh as the primary center as the Suns often do with Amare.

What will the Raptors have to do to win this game? What’s the Suns’ weakness?

Interior defense and rebounding. The Lakers just pounded the Suns for 76 points in the paint, and when Channing Frye is your center, this isn’t such a surprise. The Suns have actually been much better rebounding the ball than anybody could have expected, out-rebounding opponents by 2 boards a game, but as the self-described smallest team in the NBA it’s still far from a strength.

Prediction

The sims are 6-3 so far and I’m inclined to agree with Visser‘s PS3 on this one: 114-103 Suns. We’ve never beaten a Phoenix team with Nash on it and although I do think we’ll keep up our scoring pace, they’ll just do it better.

Over/under is at 229.5.

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