On the second night of a tough back-to-back stretch for Phoenix that had them playing the second best team in each conference, they were able to pull out a win against Toronto Thursday night. The Raptors were also on the second night of back-to-backs and following a loss to the Warriors Wednesday night, they seemed blessed by their schedule to be playing the worst team in the West right after playing the conference’s best team. Things didn’t quite pan out how the Raptors surely expected they would.
While Phoenix didn’t really play great, their usually laughable defense came through big time Thursday. They held the Raptors to around 40% from the field and an abysmal 25.9% on 3’s. Eric Bledsoe was an important factor in their win – scoring 22 points on an efficient 9-14 shooting performance, adding 10 assists, five rebounds, three steals, and two blocks – really filling up the stat sheet.
Devin Booker also went for 19 points, five boards, and five dimes for the Suns. Bledsoe and Booker were able to overshadow T.J. Warren’s 2-11 shooting performance. In 27 minutes he was only able to chip in four points and three rebounds; but he did come up with two steals to help the team’s defensive effort. Warren had been averaging 18 points and five rebounds in the four games prior to Thursday’s win. P.J. Tucker played a solid game for the Suns, going 4-7 from the field for 14 points and pulling down four rebounds in 30 minutes.
In Wednesday’s loss to the Spurs, Warren played 34 minutes, led the team in scoring with 23 (including a perfect 10/10 from the free throw line) and corralled six rebounds to go with a steal and a block while Tucker played just 16 minutes. The position of starting small forward was initially up for grabs at the start of the season, which Warren claimed with ease until a head injury sidelined him for over a dozen games. Since his return he’s been coming off the bench with Tucker starting games for Phoenix. Earl Watson has been experimenting with lineup changes, desperate to find the right groups of guys to be on the floor together to help the team win, and so he may continue bringing Warren off the bench for an extra spark when Bledsoe and Booker are resting. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if we see Warren rejoin the starting lineup if his averages remain the same or improve.
DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry led the Raptors with 24 points each, but their offense was stagnant otherwise. Toronto only ended the game with 10 assists, half as many as Phoenix tallied.
While there were many things to celebrate in this victory for Suns fans – like the Suns out-rebounding the Raptors 56 to 47 – had the Raptors played even remotely close to the way they’re capable of, this could’ve just as easily been another loss for the Suns.
They still turned the ball over 20 times (allowing 23 points off of turnovers) and sent Toronto to the charity stripe 29 times. A win is still a win, though, and this year Phoenix will take them however they can get them.
The Suns return to action New Year’s Eve at home against the 20-13 Utah Jazz. If they can shoot as well from beyond the arc and pass the ball as well as they did against the Raptors, they could head into the New Year on a two-game winning streak.
The 2016-17 season has not been good to Phoenix. Despite having Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight healthy again, the team only has a record of 5-16 after their 112-105 loss in Utah on Tuesday night.
Gordon Hayward led the way for Utah, filling up the stat sheet with 28 points, five rebounds, four assists, and three steals. Rudy Gobert also played a big role in the Jazz victory by putting up a career-high 22 points to go with 11 boards and four blocks.
The Suns just didn’t seem to have an answer for the Jazz and never held a lead in the game. Utah got off to a hot start, leading Phoenix 33-19 after the first quarter and eventually increasing their lead to 20 at halftime. The Suns scored 60 points in the second half to give the loss the appearance of a close game, but the Jazz had control every step of the way.
While Phoenix did manage to out-rebound Utah, they shot an abysmal 33% on three pointers and only managed 14 assists with 17 turnovers. The Suns went without blocking a shot and allowed the Jazz to shoot 49% from the field.
Devin Booker led the Suns in scoring with 21 points on 9-13 shooting, but also turned the ball over a team-high 4 times. Phoenix had six players in double figures in the game, but that’s about as far as the bright spots go for the Suns.
Tomorrow night the Suns will look to bounce back at home against the Pacers, meanwhile the Jazz will hope to carry momentum into Thursday when the Warriors come to Salt Lake City.
Phoenix was clicking on all cylinders as they grinded out 109-107 victory against Atlanta on Wednesday night.
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A balanced attack was the key on a night when Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker went a combined 10-30 from the field (1-5 on threes) to earn the W against the Hawks. The Suns forced more turnovers, shot a higher percentage from beyond the arc, and went to the free throw line 15 more times than Atlanta.
So far this season Phoenix has struggled with their three-point field goal percentage, turnovers, and fouls; but Wednesday night they showed what can happen when these areas are leaning in their favor. Brandon Knight came off the bench and scored a team-high 23 points, making eight of his nine free throw attempts and all three of his shots from deep. Knight led the Suns’ bench attack that put up 54 points.
P.J. Tucker and Jared Dudley each scored 17 points for Phoenix.
Phoenix was 1-4 in their last five games before besting Atlanta. T.J. Warren missed his 6th straight game while dealing with an undisclosed head injury while the Hawks were missing Paul Millsap due to a hip injury and Tiago Splitter due to a calf strain.
The Suns will look to keep the momentum from this win with them as they travel to play the powerhouse Warriors on Saturday.
The Suns led heading 75-67 after the 3rd quarter last night against the Timberwolves before being outscored 31-10 in the 4th.
Although the win was within Phoenix’s reach throughout most of the game, turnovers eventually led to their demise – committing seven crucial turnovers in the 4th quarter. Turnovers have been one of the prominent problems plaguing the young Suns team early in this season. Two of the other problems the team has struggled with, fouling and lackluster three-point shooting, were in full display again on Friday night.
While Minnesota committed one more foul than Phoenix, they were sent to the line 25 times compared to Phoenix only going to the line 21 times. These numbers don’t look bad alone, but the Timberwolves made 23 of their 25 free throws and the Suns only managed to sink 15 of their 21. Andrew Wiggins, in particular, did the most damage from the charity stripe making 10 of his 11 free throws in the game on his way to a 25 point game.
On a night when the Suns only shot a hair above 71% from the free throw line, they also shot an abysmal 23% from beyond the arc. They were only able to connect on six of their 26 tries from outside. The Suns rank second to last in the league in three-point shooting with the Mavericks being the only team currently shooting a lower percentage. Part of their struggles can be blamed on Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, and Brandon Knight’s three-point percentages. Bledsoe is shooting below 30% from beyond the arc while Booker and Knight are each hovering near the 30% mark. Bledsoe had a good showing last night going 8 for 15 overall, 2 for 5 on three-pointers, and putting up 23 points, 10 assists, and 6 rebounds. His most troubling stat of the night were his seven turnovers.
The Suns did manage to win the rebounding battle against Minnesota 48-39, though this is becoming something of the norm for the 3rd best rebounding team in the NBA.
T.J. Warren looks to still be out for a couple weeks to deal with a head injury that has cost him the past 4 games after getting off to a hot start as an early leading candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.
Phoenix will look to make adjustments in their next game at home against the Denver Nuggets.
The Suns have been struggling on their first long road trip of the 2016-17 season. They’re currently 1-4 since the trip started, and all but one of those (at Golden State) should have been winnable. The trip started in Golden State and continued to Denver, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, and yesterday, Washington D.C. Surprisingly enough, that one win came against the Pacers (granted, Paul George didn’t play in that game). Most of this trip has been surrounded by players missing games. For Phoenix, Tyson Chandler has only played in one game of this road trip and hasn’t played in consecutive games since Nov. 4th and 6th following the death of his mother and T.J. Warren left the Suns’ win against the Pacers after only 9 minutes and missed the next two contests against the Sixers and Wizards while dealing with an illness. The absence of these two has clearly affected the team, with Warren being third on the team in scoring and seventh in the NBA in steals per game and Chandler averaging 12.3 rebounds per game. Chandler’s absence was felt most perhaps when Joel Embiid established a new career-high 26 points on Saturday night.
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The hole left in the paint by Chandler’s absence and missing the defensive presence of Warren allowed Philadelphia to shoot over 52% from the field and nearly 50% from beyond the arc. The Sixers were able to take advantage of various defensive lapses by the Suns that allowed Embiid to sink three wide open 3-pointers. Having Warren and Chandler back in the lineup will be helpful not just in the short term.
Establishing continuity is key in helping a team succeed, just look at the Spurs (and up until this past offseason, the Thunder). When players get used to playing with one another and develop chemistry together a team can become dangerous. It seems all but a foregone conclusion that the Suns will look to keep Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, Brandon Knight, and Warren together moving forward – and the more games this group gets together, the better. General manager Ryan McDonough has denounced rumors that Knight is on the trading block, despite how deep the team’s bench may be. While many around the league would expect Knight to be available, the security of having a quality point guard coming off the bench to lead the second unit appears to be more valuable than any assets Phoenix could obtain in a deal. Keep in mind, the Suns bench contributed an NBA-best 78 bench points in a 20 point win against the Pacers last Friday.
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Looking ahead to Wednesday’s game in Orlando, Phoenix looks to end this road trip on a high note. Having Chandler and Warren each return or sit out could tell the tale of how the game ultimately turns out. Chandler’s presence inside will be helpful against a Magic frontcourt that knows how to get to the paint and get rebounds. Fortunately, wing defender Victor Oladipo has been relocated to Oklahoma City, which could make for more easy offensive opportunities for the guard-heavy Suns. Phoenix could still manage a win if Chandler or Warren still require more time off as long as they can hold onto the basketball and stay out of foul trouble. Their loss Monday night to the Wizards was due in part to Bradley Beal’s career-high 42 points, but that stat would look less daunting if he hadn’t been sent to the free throw line 11 times, nine times converting from the charity stripe. Phoenix let Washington get to the line 34 times while only getting there 15 times themselves. The teams had identical field goal percentages, and Bledsoe and Booker made up for Warren’s absence by combining for 51 points. Aside from foul trouble, the Suns’ 21 turnovers left the game out of their reach. Despite these glaring flaws, the Suns only lost by five.
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As long as Phoenix can protect the ball and foul less, they can easily come out on top against Orlando Wednesday night. Potentially having Warren and Chandler back in the lineup will be helpful too, but the Suns have to avoid making easy mistakes with or without them.
Nobody will dispute that the Suns will be in the lottery for the 2017 NBA draft, but there are a lot of encouraging signs coming from the team early in the 2016-17 season. One of the most encouraging is how well 23 year-old small forward T.J. Warren has been playing so far. Through 11 games Warren is averaging career-highs in almost every statistical category, including his scoring (20 points per game), rebounding (5 rebounds per game), and steals (2.1 steals per game). He’s also averaging a career-high 35.7 minutes per game in his first season as a starter. While his season is coming as a surprise to most, to anybody who’s been following Phoenix the past couple years this shouldn’t come as a shock. Devin Booker has garnered most of the attention coming into the year following an impressive rookie campaign where he was on the NBA’s All-Rookie First Team after averaging 13.8 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and .6 steals per game. And while Booker has completely overshadowed Warren in the media, their numbers through the first 11 games of the year aren’t much different. Booker is just edging Warren in points by .2, averaging 20.2 per game to lead the Suns in scoring and is averaging only a percentage point more steals per game and only 3 rebounds – in contrast to Warren’s 5. Warren seemed to just be finding his stride last January when a foot injury cost him the rest of the season and has picked up where he left off and then some. Currently the Suns are one of only four teams to have three players averaging at least 18 points per game, with Eric Bledsoe averaging 18.4 per contest to join Warren and Booker at that level of scoring. Two of the other three teams with three players averaging at least 18 points per played each other in the Finals last year, so it’s safe to say the Suns are in good company.
Phoenix’s 3-8 record may not impress, but the play of this young crop of guys they’ve got together there seems like a sign of good things to come. It’s worth noting that Brandon Knight isn’t exactly thriving in that sixth man role the Suns have him in this year – averaging just a hair over 11 points per game, 2.7 rebounds per game, and 3.1 assists per game while shooting an abysmal 24% from beyond the arc and just 34% in general. The additions of former run-and-gun Suns Jared Dudley and Leandro Barbosa may have been blips on the radar of this past summer’s free agency, but the veteran presence these two bring to the table will be important in molding a young rosters into professionals. Rookie Marquese Chriss brings a lot of energy with him when he’s on the court, even if he’s only getting about 14 and a half minutes per game. His highlight reel dunks are becoming routine and he’s already earned himself 4 starts early in the year with more surely to come. Alex Len and Tyson Chandler are combining for about 20 rebounds per game, the kind of inside presence Phoenix hasn’t had since the days of Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion. Earl Watson has done a great job coaching these guys and deserves credit as well for a lot of these promising signs (including Steve Kerr saying they’re “a team that’s going to be interesting to watch over the next couple years.”). Watson’s confidence in the team showed in his comments after their loss to Golden State Nov. 13th, “Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, five years from now, you’re going to say Eric Bledsoe, T.J. Warren, Devin Booker.” That may be a bold prediction, but it isn’t quite far-fetched based on their play early on this season.
A top candidate for Most Improved Player in T.J. Warren, a strong start to Booker’s sophomore season, Bledsoe’s consistent play, and a head coach who’s over the moon about his guys – yeah, things are starting to look up for the Phoenix Suns.