The Suns need Snuffing Tonight

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Published: February 27, 2008

Damn that winning streak.  The Hornets spent the first half of the year crushing opponents on the defensive end,  staying in the top four all the way to February.  Then, we had that wonderful nine-game run where not only was our defense solid, but our offense was clicking so smoothly that we were outscoring everyone.  Since then we've been struggling a bit, trading winning and losing streaks.

During this stretch, our offense has slowed, bogging down into too many two man games, and too many forced post ups.  That said, our offense isn't the problem.  The one-on-one ball isn't pretty to look at, but our offensive efficiency is actually the same as it was earlier in the season.(It's 9th now, and has fluctuated between 7 and 13)

It's our defense that has been killing us.  After climbing to 2nd overall on January 30th, our defense has fallen apart and pulled our rating all the way down to 7th.  It's easy to blame Chandler and West – they do have about three plays a game where a guard penetrates to our basket and neither of them leave their man to challenge his shot, but I've been watching them specifically the past few games, and they are still a solid, if not spectacular, defensive pair.  Their rotations are decent, and Tyson is especially good at stepping out on the pick and roll and recovering.(West is so-so)  The issue is our perimeter, where defense starts.  Too often, our defense is relying on Paul, Pargo and now Mike James in the backcourt.  All are fast and can stay in front of their man, but none is good at dealing with high screens or wing players that can muscle them a little.  They just don't have the size.  Confronted with a pick, they invariably go under or trail their guy around it, unable to fight through and stay in front of their man.  Having a pair of them out there at the same time, unless Pargo is smokin', is usually a net loss. That's why losing Bobby Jackson hurts a little.  Bobby may have had trouble staying in front of a fast guy when isolated against him, but he could fight through picks like a linebacker, and was giving ground to no one.  He could take the tough assignment and let Paul freelance and disrupt, his particular specialty.

This is why Morris Peterson, Rasual Butler, and maybe Bonzi Wells will be so important to us down the stretch.  We need at least two guys of those guys to start contributing more consistently on offense so they can stay on the floor and defend.  Morris and Rasual are actually two of our best defenders, but when they are cold, Byron has a hard time keeping them on the floor for long stretches.  So let's hope that Morris gets his body in order, Butler finds his shot, and/or Bonzi gets his offense and defense flowing on the floor.

Otherwise, this will be a looong March.

Matchup: Suns(39-18) @ Hornets(37-18)
Off Efficiency: Suns 110.3(1st), Hornets 107.5(9th)
Def Efficiency: Hornets 101.9(7th), Suns 103.9(15th)
Sunny Blogger: Bright Side of the Sun

Phoenix comes to New Orleans tonight to take on the Hornets, lugging with them a massive new toy named Shaquille O'Neal.  Over the last 10, the Suns have gone 6-4, and so far O'Neal has produced what I expected of him:  Jack diddly on offense, some rebounding because no one else on the Suns likes to stay near the basket to rebound, and slow-footed defense.  I'm sure his scoring will rise some, but I doubt it will reach Marion levels.  I still think it was lame to trade for Shaq.

The Hornets are sporting their own new players – who so far haven't been the bench-revitalizing pick-ups we had hoped for.  The second unit offense is a little better with Mike James, but the defense has suffered correspondingly with him on the floor.  Bonzi has been a wash.  The Hornets have gone only 5-5 in their last 10, their worst set of ten games all year.  Hopefully it won't continue.

Both teams appear to be at full strength, though Morris Peterson is still struggling with that bad back.

Positional Analysis
PG:
Steve Nash vs Chris Paul
Advantage: Hornets
I like Paul's entire game better than Nash's(Read: Defense).  Both are fantastic players, and I enjoy watching them go at one another.  Maybe Nash will be able to keep his turnovers down this game, and only lose it to Paul 8 times.

SG: Raja Bell vs. Morris Peterson
Advantage: Even
Both play tough defense, aren't shooting particularly well this year, but can hit the corner three if left open.  If Morris is bothered by his back much this game, this could swing in the Suns favor.

SF: Grant Hill vs. Peja Stojakovic
Advantage: Even
Hill is the great all-around player that every team should have.  He can pass, defend, shoot, drive, handle.  Peja is a specialist scorer – but he's one of the best specialists around.  These two guys approach the game very differently, but both fill a vital role and will battle in this game.

PF: Amare Stoudamire vs. David "I ain't Fluffy" West
Advantage: Suns
I'm not a fan of Amare.  It's not his talent, or skills, or anything like that – I just don't get any intensity from him at all.  I have a feeling that had he the intense focus of Nash, he'd be one of the best players ever.  I just don't see it.  Fluffy has got intensity and a lot of skill, he just doesn't have the raw physical tools to match with Amare defensively.  Couple that with Amare's lack of defense, and expect these two guys to be scoring at will on one another.

C: Shaquille O'Neal vs. Tyson Chandler
Advantage: Hornets
Blasphemy? No.  Shaq plays the same role for the suns that Tyson plays for the Hornets.  Except Tyson can still run, jump, and step out on the perimeter and defend a little.  Shaq can take up space in the paint and get some easy putback  buckets.  I'd rather have Tyson.

Bench 
Advantage: Suns
Barbosa and Diaw are a great one-two punch to pull off a bench.  The Hornets are still trying to develop a consistent punch from anyone.  Pargo is their closest thing to a threat right now.

Hornets win 112-108.

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