Preview & Chat: The Phoenix Suns

Kurt —  October 31, 2006

UPDATE: Kobe will be sitting this one out, he posted it on his official Web site. I’m disappointed, although it is best for him to be ready rather than come back too early and have a chronic problem all season long. Thanks to J. for posting this in the comments, via True Hoop.

The Monster M*A*S*H*: Fitting for a Halloween game, both of these teams are dragging some busted-up limbs and other body parts into the season opener.

For the Lakers, the biggest question is obviously Kobe’s knee — he’s going to play, but how effective will he be? Will Lamar Odom and the other Lakers step up and take some of the slack, rather than thinking Kobe’s back and they can just throw him the ball and watch from really good seats?

Also in the walking wounded category will be newcomer Vladimir Radmanovic and his banged-up hand (which now may not be better until off-season surgery), plus two centers Kwame Brown and Chris Mihm.

The Suns are no better, Shawn Marion — he of the team-best PER of 23.9 last season — is questionable because of a bad back. Amare Stoudimire is not all the way back, his knee is sore (sound familiar?). Raja Bell’s hip hurts, but yet I do not weep.

Coming of Age: So, is it trick or treat from Andrew Bynum? Last season’s curiosity gets a baptism of fire to start the season, a couple of weeks where he is the starting center and will be counted on for big minutes. Confidence matters, and as I said yesterday, starting the season against two smaller teams is a plus.

What I hope to see out of Drew: good defense, solid rebounding, hustle and points out of that. Don’t force it, let the game come to you.

The Suns Can Score: What the Suns do offensively is brilliant statistically — shoot better than anyone else (team 53.7% eFG% last season, best in the league) then play as many possessions as possible (95.1 per game last season, most in the NBA). The result is a league-leading offensive rating of 113.9 (points per 100 possessions). The bottom line: they bet you can’t match that.

One glimmer of hope is that the Suns have been less impressive in the preseason — shooting just 50.5% as a team. Two key guys have been off: Raja Bell destroyed from beyond the arc last season shooting 44.2%, in the preseason that is down to 31.9%; second Amare shot 55.9% in his breakout season, but he is at just 50.5% in the preseason. Now, as I have said with the Laker numbers, these are preseason so don’t read much into them.

And they can play defense: Yes they can. As of last January they were actually fourth in the NBA in defensive rating, than the injuries and lack of depth caught up with them. If they can defend even decently, they become a force.

Getting deeper: I really like what the Suns did this past off-season, they became deeper and better defensively. Part of that was bringing in Marcus Banks to back-up Nash (who like Kobe needs to be on the court less to rest nagging problems, in this case a back). Banks is a solid defender and is quick and can run the floor. I also like the Jumaine Jones pickup, we remember from a couple of years ago he is good at finding spaces and drilling threes, so he should be a good fit in Phoenix.

More importantly, of course, they get Amare and Kurt Thomas back. Those two guys give them an inside presence, particularly on the defensive end.

Things to look for: This is a little hard to do at the start of the season, but here are a few things.

Can the Lakers force Marion to shoot from the midrange? He is a force close to the hoop, shooting 74%, but that drops to 43% on jump shots (he is especially cold from the left side, for some reason).

Can someone, anyone, slow Steve Nash? By the way, I’m not one to talk but I really hate his hair now.

Lamar Odom destroyed Marion in the playoffs last season, and tonight he may not even have to face someone that athletic. If the Lakers are going to win. Odom will have to play big.

What is the under/over on the start time for this game? Sure, TNT says 7:30, but the first game of their double header always runs long. So, 7:45? Does the game start at that time but TNT not flip over to it until 8? Honestly, I really hate being the second game in this double header.

For the Record: The Suns are my pick to win it all this season (knocking of the Cavs in the Finals). I think they win the Pacific too. But they are still going to pick up 22-27 losses this season, and banged up to start the season might be a time to catch them.

It’s the first game of the season, you’ve got to be optimistic.