The Phoenix Suns (7-7) come out of a tough early season schedule stretch with a .500 record, which is about all that anyone could have asked for when the season started. Now things get a bit easier, starting with the road-weary Chicago Bulls (7-5), who lost to the Los Angeles Lakers last night. The Bulls are five games into their annual seven-game "Circus" road trip. The Chicago starters played big minutes last night in LA., which hopefully will work in the Suns' favor.
The Suns don't face an "elite" team until Dec. 17 at Dallas, which is followed by back-to-back road games in Oklahoma and San Antonio. It will be important for the Suns to take advantage of this relatively easier portion of the schedule and build up a bit of a cushion over the next ten games.
While the Bulls are far from an elite team, they are still very good and extremely dangerous with young point guard Derrick Rose leading the way. Rose is averaging 26.5 points per game along with 8.4 assists. He's nearly impossible to contain on the perimeter and has improved his outside shooting to the point that he's gone from a bad three-point threat to a career-high 34.8 percent from long range.
Addressing the Suns defensive and rebounding woes
The Suns are the worst rebounding team in the league and will have their hands full tonight with Joakim Noah, who averages 13.3 boards per game, along with a slowly improving offensive game. Steve Nash joked about what the Suns can do to improve their team rebounding.
"We're going to try and grow. The more you sleep, the more you grow," Nash said before talking about how the Suns need to make up for their lack of size and rebounding ability with desire.
The rebounding is something Suns head coach Alvin Gentry is very much focused on. He prescribed a more specific and practical solution for his team.
"We're not doing a good job of boxing out. We're ball watchers a little bit on the flight of the basketball and we're letting guys beat us to the inside position. That's one of the areas I think we can get better by just putting our body on guys and trying to maintain that inside position."
Defensively, the Suns have also taken a step back. Early in the season, they were pleased with their effort in the initial defensive possession even if they weren't finishing the play by securing the ball. That slipped, as well, on the road trip, culminating in the loss to the Bobcats.
"The disappointment in the Charlotte game, that was the first game in a long, long time where I really didn't think we competed and tried as hard as we could," Gentry said. "But I thought we bounced back in the Houston game and we played hard."
Nash was asked about that lack of effort and what caused it and had an interesting response.
"I don't think it's in our team's make up to not play hard. I think sometimes we get a little paralysis. I think when things don't go our way, we lose our confidence. We drop our heads and then you stop working as hard as you need to because you're thinking too much. It's important for us to (not) get our heads down and play hard every possession and not worry about the result of the previous possession."
At the same time, Nash says there's no excuse for not being a better defensive team, even if the rebounding is a problem. He doesn't want to see one slip just because the other is a problem.
One potential solution for the size issue is seven-foot center Earl Barron, who the Suns signed while on the road trip. Barron played 25 minutes in two games and had a total of two rebounds and two points. That certainly didn't earn him more minutes right away, but the Suns want to give him time to get used to playing with Phoenix and hope he can contribute at some point.
"He's just here early and we've gotten him into a couple of games," Gentry said.
"We want to try and see if he can help us at all or what he can do for us. There's going to be situations, as I told Earl Clark, where Earl Barron is going to be able to get in the game and we can evaluate and see if he's going to be able to help our team."
Not exactly a ringing endorsement or even signals for near-term help.
Nash injury update
After playing through the groin injury in Miami and missing the next two games in Orlando and Charlotte, Nash played and played well in Houston. He said he felt better, but is by no means fully recovered.
"I've just got to battle through this for a little while and hopefully get on top of my health and feel good the rest of the way," Nash said, adding that he's got a lot of work to do, but hopes that it's under control.
The next morning after the Houston game, the groin injury felt better, but the heel he bruised during the game was painful. Nash reported that it's better today and he will play tonight against the Bulls.
The game tips at 7:00 p.m. AZT / 9:00 p.m. EST and will be shown locally on Fox Sports Arizona and broadcast on Sports 620 KTAR radio.
Bright Side of the Sun will have a lively game thread for those wanting to share the action online in real time.