The Suns couldn’t ask for a better start to this week’s road trip, snagging two victories on back-to-back nights at Cleveland and Philadelphia.
One precious day off later, Phoenix is back to work at Milwaukee, where the local team is colder than the sub-zero temperatures. The Bucks are a frigid 1-12 in January, with nine of those losses coming by double figures.
Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek will undoubtedly have warned his team against a let-down, something he believes any NBA team can take advantage of. What will decide tonight’s outcome? Here are a few ideas:
Is Wake-Up Call Still In Effect?
The Suns coaching staff was not pleased after the first half of the Cleveland game, when Phoenix gave up 54.5 percent shooting and 61 point through the first two quarters.
In the six quarters since (including the Sixers win), the Suns have yielded just 38.8 percent shooting while logging 16 steals, 14 blocks and forcing 30 turnovers.
Anything close to that pace on defense should prove enough to overwhelm the Bucks, who already rank fifth-worst in the league in turnovers per game.
Since getting ejected from the Knicks game on Jan. 13, Markieff Morris has returned to his super-sub form: 19.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 57.3 percent shooting and exactly 50 percent from three.
“I told him beforehand, ‘you haven’t played well,’” Hornacek said of Morris’ previous rough stretch. “The only way to get out of it is just play as hard as you can. Just keep sprinting up and down the court. Go after all the rebounds. It may not comet tonight, but it will come soon if you get back to that intensity.”
Looks like Markieff got the message.
The last time these teams met, Phoenix won by 16 and inspired some post-game friction among the Bucks. Things haven’t gone much better since: 10 losses, one win. Milwaukee also ranks dead-last in the league in scoring (91.1 ppg).
All of that being said, the Suns have allowed subpar opponents to get off to hotter-than-usual starts in the past, including on Sunday against Cleveland. It will be up to them to keep the Bucks from building early confidence and, subsequently, making the game harder than it needs to be.
Phoenix went through a relatively good stretch when it came to turnovers this month, averaging just 11.5 miscues per game over the first 11 games of January. They led the league in that stretch.
In the three games since, they’ve been tied for worst, giving the ball away nearly 18 times per contest.
While Hornacek wants his team to run, he also stresses execution and efficiency while doing so. If the Suns can get back to their 11-turnover effort they had the last time they played Milwaukee, Phoenix should create further distance between themselves and the Bucks.
Plumlee Back on Boards
In a five-game stretch from Jan. 15 through Jan. 24, the Suns’ starting big man totaled just 25 rebounds. He has 23 combined over the last two, re-asserting himself on the defensive glass in an effort to curtail Phoenix’s offensive rebounding woes.
The Suns need Plumlee’s rebounding for another reason: the transition game. Phoenix simply has more chances to run when they close a defensive possession with a rebound. Plumlee (8.8 rpg) gives them the best chance at doing that.