Less than 24 hours after an overtime win in the Mile High City, the Suns must face a Boston team starting a four-game road trip on the right foot.
The Celtics haven’t played in a week due to the All-Star break. They lost their last game (to San Antonio) but have gone 4-2 this month after a 2-15 January dropped them toward the bottom third of the Eastern Conference.
With just a game-and-a-half separating Phoenix from three other teams in the middle of the West, every game becomes important. Here are five things that could decide this one.
Rest vs. Momentum
It’s hard to think of a more contrasting meeting of rest conditions. Again, the Suns played a game plus an additional five minutes just last night. Boston hasn’t played since last Wednesday.
There’s no telling which team will benefit more. The Celtics could be rested or rusty. Phoenix could be riding high or slogging through mud after last night’s thrilling win.
However the difference plays out, it will be noticeable sooner than later.
Boston ranks 28th in the league in three-point shooting (33.1 percent), a number that could drop even further after the Celtics traded Courtney Lee (44.2 percent) to Memphis earlier this season.
The Suns took advantage of a similarly misfiring team last night in Denver. Phoenix hit nine three-pointers to Boston’s five, a big reason they were able to withstand a pair of letdowns in regulation before pulling away in overtime.
With Phoenix tied with Portland for most three-pointers per game (9.4), expect the Suns to have a similar advantage tonight.
Boston boasts one of the few guard/forward tandems that can match Phoenix for length and strenght. Jeff Green and Gerald Wallace will go up against Gerald Green and P.J. Tucker, negating any post-up advantages the Suns’ duo would usually enjoy against smaller counterparts.
It also puts the onus Green and Tucker to box out Jeff Green and Wallace, both of whom are above-average rebounders for the wing positions.
Foul trouble limited Plumlee throughout the game in Denver, a rare occurrence since the second-year center usually exhibits sound defensive positioning and shot contesting.
The fact remains, however, that the Suns’ big man has scored in double figures just once over the last eight games and has blocked just one shot over the last five.
Mid-season fatigue could be a factor. Plumlee only played 55 total minutes his rookie season. Regardless, Phoenix needs more production on either/both end(s) from one of its few true big men.
Rondo Ramping Up?
Since returning from ACL surgery and rehab a month ago, Rajon Rondo has slowly turned in more Rondo-like performances. He was three total rebounds short of logging two triple-doubles this month, and scored 16 points on an efficient seven shots against San Antonio last week.
With the bonus of a week’s rest for further strengthening of his leg, Rondo could very well be primed for a vintage performance tonight. Goran Dragic (21 points, 14 assists, five rebounds and three steals last night) will need to answer for Phoenix.