The Suns are 7-2 in December despite playing just one Eastern Conference opponent in that span.
The slate doesn’t get any easier with the Pacific Division rival Lakers coming to town on Monday night. Despite injuries keeping Kobe Bryant (knee) and Steve Blake (elbow) for well over a month, L.A. (13-14) remains a threat to sneak up on teams who don’t take them seriously.
Here are five things to watch for in tonight’s game.
Will Suns Respect Backups?
Phoenix has been burned by opposing teams’ back-ups forced into starting roles this season. Ed Davis, Kosta Koufos and Jon Leuer combined for 58 points, 33 rebounds and seven blocks to give Memphis a win over the Suns despite not having Marc Gasol or Zach Randolph on hand. The Tony Parker-less Spurs won at Phoenix last week.
The Lakers are even more of an emergency mash of players without Bryant and Blake. Other than Pau Gasol, almost none of their current rotation players have extensive experience as big-minute starters.
The Suns will need to forget first-glance impressions, however, and keep the current patchwork of Lakers from gaining momentum/confidence early.
Is Phoenix Greedy Enough for Seconds?
These teams played each other less than two weeks ago, and the Suns won nearly every battle in the box score. Rebounds (43-33), shooting percentage (51.8-48.8), fast break points (56-52) and points in the paint (56-52) formed advantages that, when added up, gave Phoenix enough of an edge for a six-point win.
Will the Suns stay hungry enough despite playing their last game at home before a three-day holiday break between games?
Will Young Keep Filling it Up?
The Lakers’ streaky shooting guard has been on a tear over the past week, averaging 21.5 points over the last four games.
Young’s damage isn’t the quiet kind, either. He is putting up an average of 5.8 three-point attempts per contest this season. The Suns will need to be aware of and close to the catch-and-shoot guard at all time tonight.
Can Suns Rediscover Defensive Edge?
Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek said earlier Monday that the team has been focusing on fine-tuning their usually dependable defense after giving up 108 points on 48.4 percent shooting to Dallas on Saturday.
Phoenix still ranks second in the league in opponent’s three-point shooting percentage (32.5 percent), a mark that will be more important against the Lakers, who average over nine 3-pointers made per contest.
Will Phoenix Keep Making it Rain?
Speaking of three-pointers, the Suns have been skyrocketing up the league leaders in beyond-the-arc stats. They now rank second in treys per game (9.7), third in attempts (25.3) and seventh in three-point percentage (38.1).
It helps that the Suns sport multiple threats from distance. Seven different players are shooting over 34 percent from three, including four players above 42 percent (Channing Frye, Marcus Morris, P.J. Tucker).