D.C. Council Opening Statements: Wizards at Suns, Game 42
Last March 20, the Wizards won in Phoenix for the first time since 2006. Yep, it’d been five losses in a row and many, many moons since Gilbert Arenas dropped 54 points on Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, Boris Diaw, Leandro Barbosa, & Co. in a December 22, 144-139 Washington win in overtime.
Starting John Wall, Garrett Temple, Martell Webster, Nene, and Jason Collins in Phoenix last season, the Wizards, having beaten the Suns in D.C. four days prior, gathered themselves for a hard-fought, and rare, road victory. It was just Washington’s sixth road win in 32 tries. They would only win one more road game—two days later against the Lakers—for seven total in 41 tries.
This year is a bit different. Now Washington has Marcin Gortat, formerly of the Suns, and who did not play in either contest against Washington last season. The Wizards are also better on the road this season—currently an even 10-10, which is good enough for the ninth best road record in the NBA. But Phoenix is also good, surprisingly good. The Suns are 24-17, currently hold down the seventh seed in the West, and field a 15-6 record at home.
Joining me today for some Q&A is Kevin Zimmerman (@offensiveyfoul). He covers the Suns for ESPN TrueHoop blog ValleyoftheSuns.com, amongst contributions otherwise to the sporting Internet world. Let’s go…
Teams: Wizards at Suns
Time: 9:00 p.m. ET
Venue: US Airways Center, Phoenix, AZ
Radio: WFED-AM 1500
Spread: Suns fav’d by 3.5 points
Wizards tickets … anyone?
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Q #1: So how unexpectedly fun has this season been? Or did you ‘totally peg’ the Suns to be 24-17 at this point?
What’s in the water out there in Phoenix?
@offensivelyfoul: As you might guess, this season has been fun so far. Over the last two seasons, the Suns fan base had become a pretty hopeless one because of all the questions and failures of the last front office. Once general manager Lance Blanks was fired this offseason and replaced by Ryan McDonough, there has been a complete change of opinion about the future, at least. But yeah, nobody expected the Suns to be anything more than a 30-win team, and that was probably the most positive outlook.
Since the season started, it’s just been a blast to watch a team that’s built with Jeff Hornacek’s philosophies in mind. Even in the final Steve Nash year’s, it was a strain to watch a team that tried hard but honestly didn’t have enough athleticism to make any run at anything other than a No. 9 seed — I feel like that simplifies it all, but when Jared Dudley and old man Grant Hill are your defensive specialists and best perimeter threats, your’e in trouble.
Anyway, it’s been an about-face. There are a lot of guys you can root for in terms of underdog stories. If anything, Michael Beasley is gone.
Q #2: Any word from/about Emeka Okafor? (Quick check: I barely even see him on social media… No Tweets since July 19, no Instagrams since June.) And after Phoenix traded for him right before the season (sending Marcin Gortat to D.C.), who has stepped up the most?
@offensivelyfoul: I’ve been meaning to ask about this myself, but this bit in beat writer Paul Coro’s story sums it up I think. The Suns visited New York more than week ago and didn’t even visit Okafor. All season long, it’s felt like his injury isn’t something he can return from this season, and even so it’s hard to see the Suns bringing him into the fold.
Miles Plumlee became a surprise starter, considering rookie Alex Len entered the season coming off double-ankle surgeries. Plumlee fits into Hornacek’s plans quite well even though his production has leveled off. He’s a threat rolling to the rim, has the athleticism to make a big difference in defending the cup and has shown signs of a developed low-post game.
Q #3: What do you miss most about Gortat? What don’t you miss about Gortat?
@offensivelyfoul: I certainly miss Marcin Gortat as a good quote. He won’t duck what’s on his mind and at least provided some controversial comments that you dig as someone covering a mediocre team. Within weeks of joining the Suns when they acquired him from the Magic, Gortat called out his team’s toughness. This summer at media day, he just threw out the obvious: he was on the trading block.
On the court, I can’t say I miss him a whole lot. I always thought he was sort of soft. Plumlee is already producing about as well as Gortat is and I honestly have wondered if the Suns would be worse off this season if they hadn’t made that trade. It should be noted that I’m someone who thinks there’s more value in a center threatening to foul someone driving to the hoop (Kendrick Perkins) rather than one who wants to score 15 points per game. Just me, though.
Argue against Jeff Hornacek for Coach of the Year (or rather, for someone else).
@offensivelyfoul: Hard to go with anyone other than Terry Stotts in Portland. What’s most striking to me is how he kept a similar Blazers core committed after last season’s disappointment. As is, I don’t think Portland is all that talented of a team once you get past LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard*, but like the Suns, it goes beyond the talent and has a lot to do with buy-in. Give Stotts credit for having a plan. And to have that record in the Western Conference is pretty impressive.
[*Ed. Note: I would somewhat contend/add that Portland really improved its bench via Mo Williams and Robin Lopez ... And certainly LMA has backed up previous 'we don't need another star in Portland' talk. But yea, hard to really argue against Stotts as the COY choice. -Kyle W.]
Argue against Lt. Goran Dragic for NBA All-Star.
@offensivelyfoul: Last season, about the only thing I learned was that Goran Dragic has All-Star potential in terms of talent. But I think he faces an uphill climb simply because of the numbers. Even with injuries to Kobe and Chris Paul, you have Tony Parker, Stephen Curry, James Harden and Damian Lillard likely ahead of him. Between Kevin Love, Kevin Durant, Dirk, Boogie, Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard, Anthony Davis and LaMarcus Aldridge in the frontcourt, it’s hard to see Dragic punching his way in there as a final pick.
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