February was a great month for the Suns. They were 4-1 prior to their loss to the Kings and 5-1 after the Kings game. Actually, things started to look up for the Suns after the December 18th trade that sent Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu, and Earl Clark to Orlando, for Vince Carter, Mickael Pietrus, and Marcin Gortat. It took about 6 games to get the new players integrated into the rotation, but January was the first month since the start of the season that Phoenix had a winning record (8-7). Then they went 9-3 in February, so it’s hard to understand why the Suns are 5-9 in March with 2 games still to play.
Still the Suns currently at 36-36 for the season, and are guaranteed to have a winning record since Jan. 1st after going 14-17 thru October, November and December. Phoenix continues to be an excellent shooting team, shooting 47% from the field (ranking them 6th) and 38.2% from 3pt range (ranking them 4th). And, while Robin Lopez continues to start at Center averaging 16 mpg, Marcin Gortat is the real work horse inside averaging 12.5 ppg/ 8.9 rebs in 29 minutes per game. Vince Carter has become their 2nd best scorer at 13.9 just behind Steve Nash’s 15.6 ppg. Aaron Brooks who was acquired for Goran Dragic at the trade deadline, has been a slight improvement averaging 10 pts/ 4 asts in just under 18 mpg compared to Dragic’s 7.4 pts/ 3.1 asts in 18 mpg while with the Suns.
Against the Kings the Suns are 1-2, shooting .461 from the field and .288 from beyond the arc. The Suns lone 14 pt victory against the Kings came in the middle of November before the 2 big trades by the Suns and the trade for Thornton by the Kings. So I’m going to concentrate on the 2 Kings wins which came in January and February. The Kings won both games by 5 pts, the Kings shot 43.3% field while the Suns shot 43.5%. The Kings were 10 of 25 for 40% from three while the Suns were 13 of 47 for 27.7%. The Kings were 43-51 or 84.3% from the FT Line and the Suns were 30-39 or 76.9%. The Kings had a total of 111 rebs and 36 on the offensive glass, while the Suns were 68 and 20. The Suns had 48 assists and 18 turnovers to the Kings 40 assist and 30 turnovers. With the advantage by the Kings in offensive rebounds and the advantage by the Suns in turnovers negating each other, the teams were tied in FGM’s while the Kings had one more FGA for the 2 game series. And, the outcome of each game was determined by the Kings 13 pt advantage at the FT Line. And, that’s with DeMarcus missing the last game in Phoenix after the Rumble in the Tunnel where Petrie had Cousins removed from the team plane before they left for Phoenix.
The Suns are a one trick pony that basically relies on the pick & roll to create shots since almost no one in their rotation is able to create their own shot. Pietrus and Frye get 82%+ of their baskets off assists. Gortat, Dudley, Lopez and Warrick get between 72 and 80% of their baskets off assists, and the rest get 55-66% of their baskets off of assists. Only Brooks at 24% and Nash at 14% can really create on their own. And, the vast majority of those assisted baskets come from Nash (12), Brooks (4), and Hill (2.5).
So, it looks like the best chance the Kings have for guaranteeing a victory is to limit their turnovers to 12 or less, or learn to defend the pick & roll against Steve Nash. I’m guessing that limiting turnovers would be the best choice between the two. And, I might like to suggest that limiting our bigs touches to inside 12 ft from the basket, would be our best chance of having fewer turnovers. They can move that out to the elbow if they swear only to pass and not try to drive to the basket from there.
I might have been a little hard on the Suns concerning their record in March, after all their losses came at the hands of the Lakers, Magic, Celtics, Thunder, Nuggets, Rockets, and Hornets twice. Six of which are in the Playoffs and the Rockets who are two and half games out and could still make it if the Grizzlies were to falter. But, their wins are equally unimpressive, coming against the Raptors, Rockets, Clippers, Warriors, and the Bucks, which is why coach Gentry tried mixing up the lineup against the Mav’s Sunday night. He moved Gortat into the starting center spot and Dudley into Carters starting 2 spot. It didn’t work against Dallas, so I’m not sure what he’ll try against the Kings.
The Kings are headed back home with a 4-1 record on their road trip. It’s their first 3 win road trip this season and the first 4 win road trip since forever. For March, their scoring, assists, rebounds and 3P% are as high as it’s been in any full month this season. Of their last 7 games only the Bulls game was worse than their season’s defensive average of 106 and 5 of the 7 were below 100. Offensively, only 3 of the last 10 games weren’t better than the League offensive average which is 4 pts higher than the Kings seasonal average. So, with a healthy team, the Kings are playing much better at both ends of the floor.
Overall it looks like the acquisition for Marcus Thornton has had a bigger impact on the Kings than all the changes that the Suns have made. Tyreke’s return will add another jump in the Kings performance, but whether that jump will come in time for this game isn’t certain as he doesn’t seem to have his timing back yet. But, he does add another ball handler and distributor which the team desperately needs. DeMarcus had a great deal of difficulty against the Sixers, but Phoenix doesn’t look to pose that great of a problem, so I’m looking for a game like the one in January where the Kings outrebounded the Suns by 28 and DeMarcus was the leading scorer with 28. I don’t expect a letdown from the Kings after such an exceptional road trip and because I have tickets to this game. So, I expect the Kings to win the series 3-1 and get their first 4 game winning streak of the season. Win one for the Tops, will you guys?