This edition of “Fo’ with the Foes” – Philadunkia’s advanced scouting series which with the help of an accomplished journalist from around the NBA beat or blog world, previews key upcoming 76ers games – features tonight’s opponent, the Phoenix Suns who have cooled off a little since their ridiculous start to the 2013-14 season, but are coming off a tremendous comeback win in Cleveland on Sunday night.
After the jump, I’ll look a Fo’ key items for tonight’s game. Additionally, we’ll get a little more insight into this Phoenix team the Sixers face tonight from our colleague Kevin Zimmerman at valleyofthesuns.com, as Kevin will answer Fo’ questions on his Suns squad from us here at Philadunkia.
Here are Fo’ key items I will be watching for tonight…
1) Everything Jeff Hornacek: I know that the Suns are 6-7 since Eric Gordon went down with his knee injury, but the former 76er guard has done a masterful job of coaching a team that I think, on paper, has less talent than the 76ers. I’ll be watching the Suns defensive X&O’s; how their athletic the roster pushes the ball up the court on the fast break; and in the half court how they spread the floor for shooters that knock down open jumpers. In short, Philadunkia nation…the school for coaching a rebuilding team will be in session tonight at the WFC. I hope coach Brown has someone taking notes.
2) MCW vs. Dragic: Goran Dragic is having a borderline All-Star caliber season. In Bledsoe’s abcence, he is carrying this Phoenix squad which is still holding onto the 7th playoff spot in the West. Dragic is averaging 21+ ppg. in the month of January (19 points; 6 assists & 3 rebs per for the season) and he’s 5th in PER among Western Conference guards. MCW has struggled badly of late and that he’s had trouble with smaller, quicker guards all season. With two days rest and some time to look at film, I’m hoping he can get at least one (or both) of those trends turned around tonight. I doubt it will happen, but a guy can dream…
3) Quick Start: The Suns played last night in Cleveland and staged a ridiculous second half comeback to win a close game over the Cavs (More on that game later). In theory, Phoenix should be tired and emotionally drained. So in the opening minutes of the 1st quarter I want the rested Sixers to come out with a ton of energy; take and make quality shots; and play respectable defense. Hopefully that type of start produces an early double-digit cushion for the 7-6; sends the Suns into cruise mode and the Sixers hold on to that lead for the rest of the night.
4) Stop the Triple-Dubs: The 76ers have given up triple-doubles to Kyle Lowry and Kevin Durant in back-to-back home games. Tonight I’m looking for the Sixers to show some defensive pride and put an end to this run of tremendous stat lines opposing players have posted in our building.
Q&A with Kevin Zimmerman at valleyofthesuns.com:
Philadunkia: Obviously the Suns are a lot better than anyone ever predicted they would be in 203-14. Gives us one or two of the keys to the turn around in Phoenix this season.
Kevin Zimmerman at valleyofthesuns.com: After the front office turnover from this summer, the Suns not only flipped veterans like Jared Dudley and Marcin Gortat for younger players and draft picks. The moves turned one of the most athletically-deficient teams in the league into one of the most athletic squads in the NBA. Phoenix didn’t have the athletes to play any bit of defense even with a solid plan in place, and now they have both. Having a plan on both ends is another generality but important piece for this team. Coach Jeff Hornacek and general manager Ryan McDonough brought in players who fit their ideal style. They want length to play defense, speed to get into the open court and shooters to space the floor. There’s not a player on the roster that doesn’t fit into any of those categories. Last year, who knows what the roster’s identity — or the two head coaches’ plans — were.
Philadunkia: Did you ever imagine Hornacek & Company would have this kind of success?
Kevin Zimmerman at valleyofthesuns.com: Not this year of course, but certainly there was hope this would be the case once Hornacek was brought in. He’s a very honest guy, and upon the hiring it became clear he wanted the Suns to play like they’re playing right now. The biggest key is the relationship between Hornacek and McDonough. They share the same ideals in terms of the analytics, philosophies and all that, and all along they envisioned this team playing like it is. Hornacek was applauded for his communication skills, and it’s pretty clear his messages get across(see Sunday’s 20-point comeback against the Cavs as an example).
Philadunkia: As you know, the Morris twins are Philadelphia products. Both seem to have taken their game to the next level in Phoenix. What have you seen this year that you like from them? What do they need to improve on?
Kevin Zimmerman at valleyofthesuns.com: Many people including me were ready to give up on the twins after watching them struggle to improve last season. They’re tough kids, but sometimes you had to question their focus and their decision-making. They still battle wild inconsistency. But this year, you again go back to Hornacek and his coaching staff connecting with the twins more than anything else. They listen to him and have showed glimpses of growing. Markieff Morris, for example, is at his best when he’s playing inside out and using his athleticism to spin and jump through defenders in the post. Marcus Morris has developed a more consistent jump shot. Most importantly, they’ve become cogs in a very close bench unit that began to bond in the summer league — that group also includes Dionte Christmas, another Philly guy.
Philadunkia: The 2nd half turn around vs. Cleveland on Sunday was astonishing (Phoenix trailed by 18 at halftime, but the Suns held the Cavs to just six third-quarter points and only 29 in the entire second half in a 99-90 victory). Were the Suns that good in the 2nd half or did Cleveland totally fall apart?
Kevin Zimmerman at valleyofthesuns.com: The Cleveland game was your classic “a little bit of both” type of situation. The Cavs really did fold and seemingly starting panicking when the Suns finally locked in, but the Suns have shown the ability to flip a switch that has them capable of putting up big runs on good teams. In December, Phoenix overcame a 21-point deficit at Denver, and last week’s blowout of the Pacers had moments of the same type of pedal-to-the-floor stretch. Hornacek is pretty good at playing with the rotations, and sometimes it’s the bench unit that can hit teams with major runs. That said, I think a veteran team would have eventually showed some sort of push-back.
Thanks to Kevin for his time and answers.
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