FO’ with the FOES: PHX SUNS

This Monday 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 upcoming 76ers opponents — features tonight’s opponent, the fun to watch and relatively hot Phoenix Suns.

After a solid win over the talented but road weary Utah Jazz on Saturday night, the Sixers take on another Western Conference foe that much like the Jazz, will provide plenty of match up problems for the home team.  Obviously defending Steve Nash will present a number of challenges for the Sixers backcourt.  Back in December Nash lit up the 7-6 for 23 & 15.  Ageless swingman Grant Hill always seems to give this Sixers roster trouble and outside of the Detroit game the other night, Hill is playing arguably the best ball of his recent career (14.7 ppg. & 5 rpg.). 

But it’s Marcin Gortat that we’re especially concerned about in tonight’s contest.  As we all know the Sixers have significant trouble guarding bigs with talent, and the Suns’ Gortat certainly falls into that category.  Additionally, Gortat seems to have found his niche in PHX and he has been rolling of late (see below for stats).  Gortat tore up the Sixers during his time in Orlando and that was in a limited role behind “Superman”, so the thought of Gortat getting 30+ minutes against the defensively challenged Sixers frontline is very scary.  If the Suns are wise enough to run Gortat and Robin Lopez at the same time for extended minutes, the Sixers will be in real trouble.

Despite all of the above challenges, we really like the Sixers chances of securing a win tonight.  Even though the Suns defense is improving, it has not gotten good enough that they can stop the Sixers from scoring — at will.  See the 123 points we hung on PHX back in December as evidence.  If there’s one thing the Sixers can do, it’s get buckets.  That’s especially true if Collins continues to give Louis Williams a long leash.  So trading baskets with the high powered Suns should not be a problem with the Sixers. 

There’s little chance Alvin Gentry will use our above idea and run Lopez and Gortat together for significant portions of the game, so that will help the Sixers bigs hold their own on defense.  With the trio of Brand, Speights and Hawes playing “decently” on that end of the floor, the Sixers much higher ranked team defense (13th overall vs. Suns 29thplace ranking) will be too tough for the Suns.  In short, the Sixers defense will come through with several stops along the way and bring home a W for the home team.         

For a little more insight into the Suns team the Sixers face tonight, we turn to our man Michael Schwartz of  to answer two questions from us here at Philadunkia as well as provide us with two points of analysis on this PXX squad from an insider’s perspective.   

Philadunkia :  When the Sixers last played the Suns, PHX has just undergone a significant roster change via the Hedo / J-Rich trade.  Now that some time has passed since the deal, what are your reviews of the results from that trade for PHX so far (roughly 15 games)? 

Michael Schwartz@ :  The Suns had won five in a row before collapsing in Detroit Saturday night, finally gelling after lots of struggles in the immediate aftermath of the deal. Alvin Gentry has been sticking with a strict nine-man rotation, with Josh Childress and Mickael Pietrus the odd men out, after trying to play everybody right after the deal.

Vince Carter has been so-so with some low shooting percentages and a few high-scoring games sprinkled in, but Marcin Gortat is starting to come on of late.  He’s got three straight double-doubles and is hitting for 13.3 points while tearing down 13 rebounds per game in that stretch.  The deal finally provided the Suns with the kind of size they need to compete, and now that the pieces are gelling, the trade is looking like a positive from Phoenix, especially since it cleared Hedo Turkoglu’s contract from their books.

Philadunkia :  Do you think Steve Nash wants to be traded to a contender and if so, will the Suns honor his wishes?

Michael Schwartz@ :  I really don’t think he wants that at this moment. Like Nash has said, he can’t just pick what team he wants to play for and start packing his bags (as Carmelo Anthony is learning), so what’s the point of trying to force something with that in mind? At the same time, the Suns keep saying he’s the sun, moon and stars of the franchise so I don’t expect anything to get done this season.

There are just too many things that would have to happen first.  First off the Suns would have to fall out of a playoff race they just got back into with their hot stretch.  Then they would need to find a contender that he could make a big difference on, which isn’t so easy since most good teams have a quality point guard.  Then that team would need to be willing to give up a legitimate future piece or two for a 37-year-old point guard.  I just don’t see all that coming together by the trade deadline, but perhaps next summer.

Two Points of Analysis from Michael Schwartz@ :

1. The Suns have simplified their defense since their thrashing at the hands of Philadelphia last month.

2.  Robin Lopez is still the Suns’ starting center, but Marcin Gortat has been outplaying him and thus getting the majority of the minutes lately.

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