The Phoenix Suns had things lined up in their favor for this game against a heavily depleted Milwaukee Bucks team who were forced to start combo forward Ersan Ilysova at center. But as Suns fans know all too well, it's one thing to have an advantage and it's another thing to use it. Tonight, the Suns used it as they went to their superior size and skill to pound the ball inside and take a 52-31 lead at the half.
The Bucks only managed four points in the paint and shot just 24.4 percent as the Suns active and bigger defenders cut off the lane and forced the Bucks into repeated bad shots. The Suns added a 30-20 rebounding advantage to their 24-4 points in the paint domination and the rout was on by the end of two periods.
"It was a very humbling game. Obviously, we were short-handed but we didn't have a ton of energy and we didn't have great focus. We looked like mummies in the first half a little bit the way we were walking around out there," Bucks Coach Scott Skiles said.
The rout was suspended during the fourth quarter when the Suns got a bit lax and gave up an 11-3 run to let the Bucks cut the lead to nine points. Nash was forced to come back in for a fourth quarter he should have been able to rest through. Steve restored order and the Suns were able to close out the game in comfort.
"I couldn't emphasize enough that these guys weren't going to quit playing. We missed some shots and then had some defensive break downs," Alvin Gentry said about the fourth quarter let down.
The Suns were led by Marcin Gortat, who had 19 points and 11 rebounds in the win. The Suns went to Gortat in the pick and roll but also tried to get him going in the paint against smaller Bucks players.
Jared Dudley said that Marcin was a little passive in the block and they are looking for him to score or draw double teams. Gortat explained why he struggled against the Bucks defenders.
"I was trying to battle over their two undersized big mans. I've got to tell you, for me it's really uncomfortable to play against undersized big men. Their leverage is lower than mine and it's harder to push them and both of these guys have a lot of energy so it was tough game for me," Gortat said.
It should be noted that Gortat didn't start playing organized basketball until he was 17 years old by which time coaches had him focus more on his defense.
The Suns have now defeated the Bucks in Phoenix for the 23rd straight time and have now won their seventh straight game on Groundhog Day.
The Phoenix Suns have OWNED the Milwaukee Bucks in Phoenix. Twenty-two straight home wins which is the NBA's second-longest active streak. The last Bucks' win in Phoenix came on Feb. 21, 1987 but that's really nothing more than a fluke. It's not as if both teams haven't changed over the years so in the end... irrelevant coincidence.
What does matter is who's going to play and for the Bucks that's means a trip through their extensive list of walking wounded.
Brandon Jennings will make his first start tonight after having foot surgery but he will be limited to 24 minutes. He was reportedly very frustrated when he was pulled from the Bucks last game (a loss to the Clippers on Monday) after reaching his 18-minute limit.
Andrew Bogut, who's been playing very well since returning the devastating elbow injury suffered last year against the Suns, is a game time decision. He suffered a bone bruise to his right knee in the Clippers game when Randy Foye stumbled into him while setting a screen in the fourth quarter. After watching the film Bogut said he felt lucky it wasn't worse.
"My whole knee is kind of locked up from it but we'll see where it goes," Bogut said at shootaround.
He will get treatment back at the hotel and try and warm up before the game. He wants to play but also understands that he needs to be smart and not push too hard and do more damage. He called himself 50/50 for the game.
The Bucks are also missing John Salmons (hip) and Drew Gooden (plantar fasciitis) and of course Michael Redd is still out and is unlikely to play at all this season.
Needless to say, Alvin Gentry isn't taking anything for granted. The Suns have had their fill with the Portland Trail Blazers coming to town with a banged up roster and still winning games and the Bucks have a similar personality.
"I just think this team (the Bucks) is a grind it out team. (Head coach Scott Skiles') personality is the way he played when he was in the league. They're not a very high-scoring team averaging 91 points a game. They're not a great shooting team, field goal percentage-wise, but they're always in the game because they just lock in and they just guard and they play the whole 48 minutes," Gentry said.
Gortat vs. Bogut
If Bogut plays and can play well, he will be a real test for Marcin Gortat. Bogut had 31 points and 18 rebounds against the Magic in game the Gortat started in place of Dwight Howard (flu).
"I took a lot of crap from a lot of people for that and I just didn't deserve that. It was one of these wakeup calls where you feel good about yourself and all of a sudden you're going down really quick and you're waking up and you just got to do better than that. That's what I'm going to try and do today," Gortat said.
"Everybody's getting tuned up every night. In some team somebody is scoring and on other team somebody is getting tuned up. Obviously, you don't want to be tuned up but that's just how it is. It's just part of the game."
Bogut had a similar feeling about the previous match up, saying, "It's just one of those games in the NBA, it happens to everybody...That was his first game he'd played 30 or 40 minutes and I just caught him on a good night."
The game tips at 7 p.m. local time and will be broadcast on Fox Sports Arizona and Sports 620 KTAR radio. Fans can follow along with other Suns fans at the live game thread at Bright Side of the Sun.
"I really don't care. He can play, he can not play. It's not like Andrew Bogut is not going to be in the league anymore. Sooner or later I am going to meet him. I just hope he's healthy. He's a great guy, I know him personally and he didn't deserve to sit for so long and be out of the basketball for so long.
He had a terrible, terrible injury and nobody wants to have an injury like that. I just wish him he's going to be healthy and I just wish him to play well and perform well. If he's going to play today that's fine. If not, that's fine too. I don't really care. I just want to win the game," Gortat said.