NBA: The Phoenix Suns Second Half
The second half of the NBA season has started and we find the Phoenix Suns in a playoff spot.
A prediction like that would have sounded ridiculous at the beginning of the NBA season. After all, this was the year the Suns were expected to “tank.” After dismantling the roster of veterans, such as Luis Scola, Jared Dudley, and Marcin Gortat, few people expected the Suns to exceed 24 wins. Predictions at the beginning of this season were that the 2013-14 Suns team would be battling it out with the Sacramento Kings for the last place in the Pacific division and would be looking at a top 5 lottery pick.
After Sunday nights amazing comeback win over the Cleveland Cavilers, and Monday’s convincing victory over the Philadelphia 76ers the Suns are 26-18. They are being talked about as the underdog story of the NBA this season and possibly making the playoffs. They currently sit seventh in the Western Conference with 38 games left to play including, 18 games left on the road.
In order for the Suns to hold on, or move up to a better playoff spot, a few things need to happen.
They will need to improve their road record, as they currently sit 11-11. With teams like the Bucks, Celtics, Raptors and Jazz left on their schedule, the Suns will need to find a way to win the majority of their road games.
They will also need to beat the teams they are supposed to beat at home. If they continue to win games against the “weaker” teams and take care of business at home, they should stay in the playoff race. With teams like the Pelicans, Magic, Knicks and Pistons on their schedule at home, the Suns will need to continue on the pace of their current 15-7 record at home to stay in the playoff picture.
With Eric Bledsoe out with an injury, Leandro Barbosa (assuming he is signed for the rest of the year) needs to continue using his customary speed and ability to break down defenders in the open court. Let’s not forget that Barbosa wasn’t playing in the NBA before the Suns signed him in January. He played only 41 games during the 2012-13 season before suffering an ACL injury that put him out for the remainder of the year. Barbosa is still working himself back into game shape and that will take a little more time. He has shown that he still has a lot left in his game. Barbosa is a great fit for this team right now with their current need for backcourt offense from its bench.
Defensive improvements will need to continue. The Suns are an average defensive team at best. After starting the season in the top five for defense, the Suns have drifted back towards the middle of the pack and allow too many fast break points and allow opposing big men to get offensive rebounds. The Suns however, do allow just a 33.4 percent shooting from the 3-point line, currently good for No. 3 in the NBA, and will need to continue that trend in the second half of the season.
Alex Len hadn’t played much during his rookie season because he was recovering from a left ankle injury, but lately he has shown signs of being aggressive on both offense and defense. Len, who is only 20, has played in 13 games this season. Len needs to be effective to give Miles Plumlee rest time. The team is utilizing Channing Frye and Markieff Morris at the backup center spot, but Len should be able to reinforce their front line with his ability to score in pick-and-pop situations, to rebound and to defend with his long wing-span. Len, who has the agility and is quick for a big man will only help the team’s pick-and-roll game once he gets stronger.
Channing Frye struggled early but appears to have his shot back. He had his best game of the season against the Denver Nuggets last week scoring 30 points on 12 of 16 shooting, while grabbing 5 rebounds and blocking 3 shots. Frye needs to stay an effective weapon offensively to help the Suns. He seems more efficient from three line than from inside the arc, which explains why he seems to prefer launching it from there. We can’t expect him to do that for the rest of the year, but if he can keep his average at 40 percent, like he did in 2010 season, he will continue to be a tremendous asset to this team. When he is hitting from outside, he changes the landscape of the game and makes the Suns a very difficult team to match up against and defend.
One of the most underrated aspects of a team in the NBA today is good team chemistry and this group plays together and has fun while doing so. It is surprising how close this group has gotten in such a short amount of time considering all of the changes made to the roster. A lot of that credit has to go to first year Head Coach Jeff Hornacek, whom I consider the Coach of the Year winner already.
So whatever transpires in the second half of the season will continue to amaze us, and quite possibly amaze the Suns team itself.
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