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Five Things to Watch For During #SunsAtKnicks
January 13, 2014
By Matt Petersen, Suns.com
The Suns’ resiliency continues to keep them in games, but the results have been less kind of late. Last week Phoenix dropped its first set of consecutive losses since Dec. 3, leaving them with a 1-3 record on their road trip with one contest to go.
Further proof that 2014 is indeed a new year can be found in New York, where the once hapless Knicks are a sparkling 5-1 since the ball dropped a few blocks from Madison Square Garden. They’ve won their last four games, including at home against defending champion Miami.
Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek had pegged three wins as ideal for this season-long road swing, but finishing with two and a high note in New York wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize. Here are five things to watch in tonight’s contest.
Phoenix’s Close-Out Energy
The Suns will be playing their fifth road game in seven nights, with all but one occurred east of the Mississippi River (Minnesota’s Target Center lies a mere seven blocks West of it). The team will likely be glad to get back home after all the travel packed into a week’s worth of time.
But can Phoenix prove they want to finish the trip strong instead of simply finishing it? New York could help them in that regard. They boast an average first-quarter point differential of negative 2.6, third-worst in the league.
Knicks’ New-Found Identity
“Soft” is a casually thrown label in the NBA, but it may well have applied to the Knicks, who are dead last in the league in points in the paint per game (34.4).
They can credit at least part their recent turnaround to shedding that image, however. New York went off for a combined 94 points in the paint in their last two contests, including a whopping 52 against Miami.
Amar’e Stoudemire is a big reason why, putting up 13.8 points on 55 percent shooting over the last four games. He’s scored over 76 percent of those points in the paint.
Can Suns Follow Tucker’s Lead?
P.J. Tucker is one of the most competitive players on the team. That trait shows particularly well if/when he senses the team needs a boost, especially in hustle categories like rebounds.
The glass has not been the Suns’ friend recently. Over the last six games, Phoenix has given up the second-highest average of rebounds per game in the league (53.7 rpg) while snaring just 42.7 boards of their own.
Tucker has done his best to fought the trend, averaging a double-double of 10.7 points and 10.0 rebounds over the last three games. The Knicks, who are the second-worst rebounding team in the league, could help make Tucker’s efforts contagious to his teammates.
Battle of Tempos
The Suns are a top-10 league in the league when it comes to pace (number of possessions per 48 minute). The isolation-heavy Knicks are second-to-last.
It’s no secret Phoenix wants to run. Jeff Hornacek windmilling his arm while yelling “go!” have become a Suns trademark.
If Hornacek’s players pay heed tonight, it could pay off with a big lead and a tired Knicks team before the game is over.
Will Barbosa Keep Improving?
In his 2014 debut with Phoenix, Leandro Barbosa shot 1-for-6 for three points. The next game he was 2-for-7 and finished with four points.
On Saturday at Detroit, the Brazilian guard had his best outing yet, contributing nine points, four assists, two steals, two rebounds and a block. He also nailed his first three-pointer since returning to the Suns.
If Barbosa can continue to emerge as a scoring option alongside Goran Dragic, Phoenix’s backcourt could further regain some of the production it lost after Eric Bledsoe’s knee injury.