Opening Statements: Wizards vs Suns, Game 71
Beating the Suns in Phoenix on January 24 was Washington’s second-best road win of the year (in terms of overall winning percentage of the opponent); the best came four days later at Golden State. Your 19-18 road Wizards are tied with the Trail Blazers for the NBA’s 12th-best record away from home. Of course, only five of those wins have been against teams with winning records, and the cumulative winning percentage of the opponent in each of those 19 wins is .399.
But tonight, the Wizards aren’t on the road. They are in the friendly confines of the Verizon Center … where they are just 17-16, the NBA’s 19th-best home record. This evening, John Wall’s old college chum, Eric Bledsoe, will be on the court (Bledsoe was injured and did not play in Phoenix).
At this morning’s shoot-around, I asked Wall what type of defensive challenges a Suns backcourt featuring both Bledsoe and Goran Dragic poses this time around as opposed to last time. His answer:
“Well, you got two point guards that can push the pace, run pick-and-rolls, get into the paint—that’s what they’re great at. And they take turns. When Dragic gets tired, they just sit him in the corner and let [Bledsoe] run pick-and-rolls. So your big men don’t really get a break, but the guards get a break, so you just got to keep playing the same way that you guard the other one and hope that they’re missing outside shots.”
And who will Wall start out guarding?
“I’m going to start off on Dragic. That’s the point guard, so that’s who I’ll start out on.”
Washington’s magic number to guarantee a playoff appearance is 4; the number of wins needed to guarantee at least the six seed: 8.
Tonight is just one of 12 regular season games remaining. Leggo…
Teams: Wizards vs Suns
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Verizon Center, Washington, DC
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/THE FAN-FM 106.7
Spread: Suns fav’d by 2 points
Wizards tickets … anyone?
Click to get them served up for cheap via TiqIQ and TAI.
Q #1: The Suns are 12-8 since the All-Star break (13th-best NBA winning percentage), but have also won four in a row, six out the last seven, and have…
…for the time being, climbed back into the eighth position out West (technically tied with Dallas; the season series is also tied at 1-to-1 [UPDATE: via last night’s win over the Thunder, the Mavs have a half-game hold on 8th]).
What has gone right over this stretch and what needs to go … well, righter?
@spectavius: The Suns came out of the All-Star break strong because Goran Dragic was playing out of his mind. Then their schedule got tough, and they fell out of the playoff picture. Bledsoe’s return could not have come at a better time. He has scored 20-plus points in three straight games and Dragic has maintained a high level of production. That’s what’s led to their recent winning streak. But to make the playoffs, Phoenix has to win two of their next three games and go at least 4-4 over the brutal close to the season.
Q #2: When I interviewed Marcin Gortat in early March, he contrasted Goran Dragic with John Wall via these comments:
“You need to have a good point guard who wants to play pick-and-roll, who wants to pass the ball. I ain’t going to lie, I played with Goran Dragic in Phoenix—he was a pick-and-roll player, but he wasn’t a willing passer just like John Wall. Goran is a great player. He’s a scoring point guard. But John is a scoring point guard and a passer.”
What are your general thoughts on Gortat’s comments? Please also weigh-in on how Eric Bledsoe has looked since his return and how he and Dragic have meshed.
[Note: Since Bledsoe’s March 12 return, he and Dragic have averaged the fourth-highest plus/minus in the NBA (+21.2) amongst two-man units; Caron Butler and Kevin Durant are a league-best plus-27.6 during the stretch. Either way, I’d say Bledsoe and Dragic continue to mesh pretty well.]
@spectavius: What I will always love about Gortat is his penchant for speaking his mind. I happen to agree with his opinion on Dragic. Last year, Gortat and Dragic were never on the same page. As a result, both of them suffered. It wasn’t until Marcin went down with injury that Dragic really took off late in the season. Gortat was unhappy because he was used to Steve Nash, one of the best pick and roll passers in history, feeding him the ball. Dragic was a very different player. Goran has really come into his own as a scorer at the rim and that might not have happened if Gortat were still a Sun.
Q #3: How has former Maryland Terp Alex Len been progressing?
Knowing what you know now, would you still draft him 5th? Or would you go in a different direction? (Nerlens Noel, Steven Adams, someone else?)
@spectavius: The unfortunate part of Alex Len’s season is that we simply haven’t gotten to see him play enough to know what he can be as an NBA player. The first problem was that he missed significant time due to injury in the early part of the year. The second issue is that Miles Plumlee has been much better than anyone expected. While Len was hurt, Plumlee was cranking out double-doubles and finishing alley-oops with authority. That combined with the Suns’ surprising success moved Len’s development down Phoenix’s priority list. He does get a chance to play in most games, but not nearly enough to gauge his development.
Q #4: This site (PlayoffStatus.com) says that the Suns have a 47 percent chance of not making the playoffs. [Update: 51 percent today.] Where do bet your money?
Also, on the scale of 1-to-5, how important is it that Phoenix MAKES the playoffs this season?
@spectavius: This is a very tough call. At the All-Star break, I predicted the Suns would need 48 wins to make the postseason. Now that they have 42 and remain in ninth, I think it may take 50. I give the Suns the edge over Dallas because Bledsoe has hit the ground running in his return, and right now the Suns are playing as close to their best basketball as they can given the wear and tear of 71 games played. In terms of the importance of making the playoffs, I would put that at a 4. It’s not the end of the world if they miss out, but I think failing to make the playoffs would severely diminish the accomplishments of this squad. There’s no guarantee this team will stay together as constructed. Ryan McDonough is a mad man, and I still believe that everyone on the roster is tradeable for the right price. So because this could easily be the last 11 games this core plays together, I think sealing their incredible season with a trip to the postseason is imperative.
Which member of the Suns would you rather:
1) Have tea with.
@spectavius: Channing Frye. That dude spent a year reflecting on his life and hoping for one more chance to get on the court. He’s got some serious wisdom. Plus he knows which teas are served with honey and which are served with milk.
2) Go to war with (a bayonet type of war, not a drone war).
@spectavius: P.J. Tucker, and it’s not close. I would legitimately bet on P.J. in a fight against both Morris brothers.
3) Play in a game of H-O-R-S-E for $1,000.
@spectavius: Gerald Green. He would absolutely dominate anyone in a game of horse with his combination of range and dunking ability. But the joke is on Gerald. I don’t have $1,000.
4) Have babysit your kid(s). And if you don’t have kids, simply ‘a’ kid that you know.
@spectavius: I don’t have any children yet, but I do have a godson. He’s a wild ginger who doesn’t take guff from anyone. I would choose the Morris twins to babysit him. I’d like to see what he could do against such an imposing double team.
5) Have take your mom (or grandma, or aunt, or sister) out for a nice seafood dinner and never call her again.
@spectavius: Goran Dragic. The man speaks five languages and has traveled the world. Grandma will love that.
Last Time, in Phoenix….