Thursday’s game is a showdown of Western Conference powers, as much as there can be a showdown in November (which is to say not much of one). But if before the season we’d said showdown of WC powers, you would have assumed it was the Lakers playing the Spurs, Nuggets or Blazers.
The Suns? I thought the Clippers might pass them this year. Turns out I was wrong, and I am not alone. So what is happening there? I asked Brett Pollakoff of Fanhouse — who lives in Phoenix and goes to the games as part of his NBA beat — to talk some Suns for us:
The Suns are the story eight games into this season, and with good reason. This is a team that traded Shaquille O’Neal for nothing more than cap relief, and even though they brought back aging stars Steve Nash and Grant Hill to play alongside Amar’e Stoudemire and Jason Richardson, that’s where the talent (on paper) was supposed to run out.
But it hasn’t. The team has been getting loads of production from starting center Channing Frye, who’s tied with Richardson for second in the league in made three-pointers with 22. And as a team, the Suns lead the league in three-point shooting percentage, hitting a blistering 47 percent of their shots from downtown.
That’s tough to deal with for most teams, especially when you have a rejuvenated Nash penetrating at will and getting the shooters around him wide-open looks. Nash leads the league in assists with almost 13 per game; there’s only one other player in the NBA that’s averaging over 10, and that’s Utah’s Deron Williams.
Phoenix’s weakness would appear to be their ability to get defensive rebounds, given their undersized front line. But Alvin Gentry has made this a point of emphasis in the early going, and the team has responded by being in the top eight in the league in this category, ahead of much bigger teams like the Celtics, the Jazz and the Clippers.
Kurt Rambis may have said it best, when his Timberwolves were in Phoenix on November 1: “During the regular season, they’re just extremely difficult to prepare for,” Rambis said. “Unless you have a team that’s used to playing them and understands who they are. But when the pace slows down, what are they going to do defensively? That’s what has been, and will continue to be their issue.”
So far, teams haven’t been able to slow things down, and that’s why the Suns are sitting at 7-1 at this early point in the season.