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Silver Linings From Suns Road Trip
January 14, 2014
By Matt Petersen, Suns.com
The Suns arrived back home in Phoenix at roughly 4:00 a.m., Tuesday morning. Fatigue is implied at that hour, but there would have been enough reasons for that had their plan touched down at noon.
A week isn’t an abnormally long time, but the sheer number of events that took place in that span, not to mention travel difficulties, must have made it seem at least twice as long for Phoenix.
Since hitting the road last Tuesday, the Suns experienced 17 hours’ worth of plane delays, the loss of star guard Eric Bledsoe to knee surgery, the gain of Leandro Barbosa, the thrill of a one-point victory and the weight of four losses by a combined 14 points.
It’s a lot to take in, but there’s also plenty that Phoenix can take from their five-game road swing into – wouldn’t you know it – a five-game homestand that starts Wednesday.
Suns Aren’t “Done”
Charles Barkley was his usual candid self when assessing the Suns after the team announced star guard Eric Bledsoe would undergo knee surgery and miss a significant portion of the season.
But are they?
Yes, Phoenix lost four of the five games on their road trip, but the four losses came by a combined 14 points. Put another way, they were by an average margin of just 3.7 points and none were lost by more than five.
Given the suddenness of Bledsoe’s absence, the significant role Leandro Barbosa (21 points on Monday) has played without the benefit of an actual practice and the setting of those five games (seven nights, constant flying, plane delays, etc.), Phoenix looked more dogged than done.
Shooting Makes All the Difference
You can analyze stats, lineups and other analytical data all you want, but at the end of the day, Phoenix could have gone 4-1 instead of 1-4 had they made 2-3 more shots in each of those games.
The Suns shot just 39.5 percent from the field over the five games on the road, worst in the league in that stretch. Despite that, Phoenix was within 1-2 possessions of winning every game on the road.
Contrast that to the Magic, who also hit 39.5 percent of their shots in that stretch. They went 0-5, but lost their games by an average of 20.2 points per contest.
Threes Kinder Than They Appear
If the Suns were the worst-shooting team in the league over a five-game stretch, how were they still putting up 98.8 points per contest in that span? Three-pointers.
Phoenix appeared to “fall in love” with the three on the road, but there’s a method to their madness.
- They were making 9.6 treys a game, which makes up a lot of ground on the scoreboard. They hit a below-average clip of 32.7 percent from three-point range (essentially one of every three attempts).
- The Suns weren’t that much better inside the arc, making 42.8 percent of their two-point shots in that stretch (basically three out of every seven attempts).
- If you pro-rate and compare their shooting from inside the arc to outside, you’d find out gunning threes was actually the better option between the two on the road trip. Example: Phoenix would have scored 18 points on 21 attempts taken strictly inside the arc, compared to 21 points on 21 shots taken solely from deep. So yes, the three made up ground AND was actually a more productive game-long option for them.
If and when their shooting stroke returns, the long ball figures to be even more beneficial for Phoenix in the long run.
Barbosa’s Drive to Drive
When the Brazilian Blur went off for 21 points on Monday night, he did it by taking it to the rim. Six of his eight made shots came in the paint, and the other two were 16 feet and 10 feet away, respectively.
In short, he was the slashing guard Suns fans remember well.
Monday marked the latest step up for Barbosa. Here’s a breakdown of his first four games:
- Jan. 8 at Minnesota: 3 pts, 1-6 FG, 3 ast, 3 rbs
- Jan. 10 at Memphis: 4 pts, 2-7 FG, 2 rbs
- Jan. 11 at Detroit: 9 pts, 3-9 FG, 4ast, 2 rbs
- Jan. 13 at New York: 21 pts, 8-of-15 FG, 2 ast, 3 rbs
In short, he’s getting better, and in a hurry, too.
Suns Took Care of the Ball
Lost amid the slew of heartbreaking losses is this: the Suns were the best in the league in not turning the ball over.
Phoenix committed just 10.4 turnovers per contest during the road trip, the best mark in the league over that stretch.
Dragic may deserve the biggest praise of all. Despite playing point guard full time with Bledsoe out and logging an extra three minutes per game during the road trip, the Slovenian guard’s turnover rate went up by just 0.1 miscues per contest.