Four-Pointer: Previewing the Phoenix Suns

Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE

Despite the loss of Eric Bledsoe, the Suns still have a formidable offense.

What have the Suns done lately?

Unfortunately, Phoenix lost Eric Bledsoe around the time the calendar turned flipped over to 2014. It was a rather unfortunate New Year's surprise. With Bledsoe in the lineup, the Suns were tear-assing around the NBA. First year Head Coach, Jeff Honacek, he of the habitual free-throw ritual, had his team making seven seconds or less looking feeble. The Suns' play didn't reach Grinnell levels of absurdity; nonetheless it was formidable and had opponents on their heels.

However, the tides have turned somewhat since Bledsoe was sidelined. The Suns have five of their last eight contests as the backcourt has been forced to rely heavily on the play of Goran Dragic. While Dragic has been superb this season, he cannot account sole for the loss in production and play-making that the Bledsoe injury has created.

Most recently, the Suns defeated the Lakers, in a rather heated contest. Before that, they played an overtime contest against the New York Knicks in which they lost. It has been up and down of late for Phoenix. They sit a half game up on the Mavericks for the seventh seed in the Western Conference.

What are Phoenix's biggest strength and weakness?

This team can run! Remember when Forest Gump played for Alabama (Roll Tide!) in the movie and just kept running? Well, that is essentially what the Suns do. Phoenix scores 18.4 percent of their points on the fastbreak and averages 19 points doing so per game.

Beyond their quick scoring, the Suns also take a lot of 3s. They have shot 1,000 so far this season. Only the Houston Rockets have attempted more.

Many of these attempts are set up by Dragic. He is a probing facilitator who will also look for his own shot. He might not have the Rocket Ismail-like speed of Ish Smith, who is on the roster, mind you, but he is one of the league's best point guards.

In terms of weaknesses, the Suns don't really have many, if any, glaring deficiencies. Their offense is top-rate and everything else they do is middle of the road. Of course, season numbers do not reflect what has transpired since the Bledsoe injury.

Phoenix's average scoring has dropped a full point per game from 103.7 to 102.7 in the eight games since Bledsoe's injury. Not only that, but the Suns have only topped the 100-point mark in four of those contests whereas It used to be a given that they would scale the 100-point precipice almost nightly.

While their scoring total has seen a slight dip, the Suns take every advantage they can to put themselves in scoring opportunities. In January (that's this month for those using the Gregorian calendar), Phoenix has increased the percentage of points they score off turnovers to 18.5. It is thus far a relatively small sample size, nonetheless, it shows that Hornacek is making adjustments to cover their deficiencies and exploit their strengths. This is a smart team.

What stat, player or fact might surprise you about the Suns?

Leandro Barbosa is back! Yeah! Remember him? Sure you do. He's the bullet-fast Brazilian immortalized by Jacob Weinstein in the marvelous Free Darko book, The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac: Styles, Stats, and Stars in Today's Game. (Seriously, if you do not own or have not read this book then you really need to rethink your outlook of NBA consumption.)

Okay, anyway, Barbosa is back. He was not on an NBA roster to start the season. He spent his time playing in Brazil getting back into to game shape. Once the Bledsoe injury occurred (yes, his injury is really worth mentioning this much), the Suns placed a long-distance call and Barbosa and The Blur returned to the NBA.

In the four games he has played, Barbosa is averaging 9.3 points, 2.3 assists, and 2.5 rebounds. Against the Knicks, he had a breakout game of sorts, scoring 21 points. He missed Wednesday's game against the Lakers with a right shoulder injury. His status against the Mavs, at the time of this writing, is unknown.

What do the Mavs need to do to be successful against Phoenix?

Would it be too much to ask the Mavs to defend? If you have read anything I have written on this site in the past, you know that I can sound like a sarcastic monotonous drum when it comes to the Mavs' defense, or lack thereof. However, it is a serious problem. Look at their most recent game against the Clippers. You can't blame the refs. Referees don't matter when a team performs well. They matter when a team is unable to accomplish the tasks set before them.

That said, the Mavs need to limit the transition opportunities the Suns have. As mentioned above, Phoenix will not hesitate to ram quick scoring opportunities down their opponent's throat. Dallas can be prone to turning the ball over and this is a game where they simply cannot afford to do so. This game is going to be a shoot-out. That much is certain. Dallas just needs to withstand the runs that Phoenix will inevitably make like they did against the Pelicans last weekend. It will not be easy, but perhaps the team is finally fed up with blowing fourth quarter leads and is determined to play an entire 48 minutes. Defense aside, this team cannot stand anymore late game lapses.

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