The Suns appeared “back” in Sunday’s win over Denver. They were forcing turnovers and making three-pointers, all of which went hand-in-hand with the uptempo offense they strive to enforce.
Speaking of enforce, the Pacers are in town.
The Suns are well aware that league-best Indiana (33-7) poses a serious challenge. Gerald Green said the matchup presents an opportunity to “measure ourselves.”
How tall will they stand by the final buzzer? Five things will factor greatly into the answer.
Big Night From Plumlee?
The Suns’ starting big man has a couple motivations for a big performance.
One is the opponent. Plumlee played just 55 total minutes for the Pacers last season. While he credits Indiana for the lessons learned, there’s no doubt he’d like to show his former team how far he’s come (9.6 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.7 bpg).
Yet having a breakout game would be good regardless of the opponent. Plumlee is in the midst of a three-game drought, averaging just 4.7 points and 3.0 rebounds in that span.
After going up against Roy Hibbert every day in practice last season, expect the second-year big man to use whatever tricks he learned for an advantage inside.
Will Suns Score Inside?
Speaking of Hibbert, how much can Phoenix reasonably expect to score against the most stout interior – and overall – defense in the league?
Jeff Hornacek doesn’t want his players worry about it. He said after Tuesday’s practice he wants to see his guards attack the rim as readily as they did at Denver, which led to 54 points in the paint and wide open looks from three (8-for-19).
If Goran Dragic, Leandro Barbosa and Ish Smith can get the timing down on when to shoot/pass after Hibbert rotates to help, Phoenix could create more than enough offense in the process.
Gerald Green and Lance Stephenson used to be sparkplugs off the bench for their respective teams. Now they are both starters who can single-handedly swing the outcome of a game.
Green does so with his shooting, often catching fire from long distance or mid-range. Stephenson (13.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 5.2 apg) is more versatile, but whatever he does is usually punctuated with great energy during a fast or hectic sequence.
Both pose advantages over the other (Green with his height, Stephenson his strength). Whoever wins, this matchup should be an especially entertaining one to watch.
The Pacers’ starting five is renowned throughout the league for its dominance over opponents. If there’s a weak spot, however, it lies at point guard.
George Hill has been a steady contributor at that position for Indiana, but Suns fans will remember Dragic torching Hill (then on the Spurs) in the 2010 playoffs.
If Dragic can win that matchup in similarly convincing fashion, it could force the Pacers into shuffling outside their normal lineups/rotation.
Battle of the Benches
Indiana went through great efforts to strengthen its bench during the offseason, trading for Luis Scola and seeing Danny Granger back from his injury woes.
The fact remains, however, that not one reserve averages double figures for the Pacers, compared to three for Phoenix. That’s not including Gerald Green, who has once again shifted into a starting role with Eric Bledsoe out of the lineup.
Indiana is in the middle of a three-game, Western Conference road trip. If the Suns’ reserves can force the Pacers to overplay their starters, Phoenix could be well-positioned for a win come crunch time.