Suns/Sixers – What to Watch For

The Suns wrap up their 5-game road trip tonight in Philadelphia. One hopes that being in our nation’s first capital tonight will remind Phoenix of their time in Washington earlier on the trip, where the Suns held the Wizards to 88.3 points per 100 possessions. Our friends from Valley of the Suns posted a great preview of tonight’s game, drawing attention to the fact that the last time the Suns were in Philly, their defense was eviscerated enough to upset new-acquisition Marcin Gortat.

After that Sixers game, the Suns made a concerted effort to improve their defense, with mixed results. In the 12 games since, Phoenix has allowed more than 1.1 points per possession (PPP) 5 times, including the first game of their current road trip when the Knicks’ posted an offensive efficiency of 117.5. The Suns are allowing opponents an offensive efficiency of 109 on the year, and they’ve surrendered even more points per possession than that to all of the winning teams they’ve played since that awful Sixers loss.

So what’s the good news? In the past three games, the Suns have held their opponents to an average 91.2 points per 100 possessions and below 50% eFG% (their season average is 52.4% eFG%). Looking back a little further, the Suns are 8th in the league in efficiency difference (+11.2) over the past 5 games, even after Saturday’s horrid fourth-quarter collapse to the Pistons.

Furthermore, Mr. Gortat has put his money where his mouth is over the past 5 games. Alvin Gentry has kept Robin Lopez in the starting lineup, but Gortat is averaging over 30 minutes per game on the Suns’ road trip, and he (along with Jared Dudley, who deserves his own article – and soon – and is averaging 24 minutes per game over the past 5) has led the Suns bench to the 3rd best ranking in efficiency difference since Phoenix left the friendly confines of the desert.

(Does a desert have confines? Whatever.)

Much of defense, as any coach will tell you, comes from effort and concentration. Can the Suns stifle a Philadelphia team that averages just over a point per possession with their still-developing defensive energy, particularly on the last night of a nearly-3,000 mile road trip? Or will Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner light up the Suns’ guards again? Tune in tonight at 7:00 PM EST for the Suns’ latest tilt!

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