When the Phoenix Suns face the Dallas Mavericks Friday night in America Airlines Arena, the word of the game will be "D" as in "defense." The Mavericks are a much improved defensive team this season, ranking seventh in the NBA in points allowed per 100 possessions (102.8). The Suns continue to struggle with that side of the game despite emphasis from the coaching staff and adjustments to the rotations. Phoenix is dead last with 113.5 points per 100 possessions allowed.
The Suns are hoping that the return of Robin Lopez to the starting lineup will help in a few ways. At his best, Lopez is a very good interior defender and affects the rebounding battle beyond his own numbers. He's not near his best yet, but hopefully will be in a few weeks. The Suns will also continue to start Channing Frye at the power forward position next to Frye, which gives the team much-needed size and, according to Steve Nash, size matters.
"I think Robin's going to be big for us. It's hard to be a good defensive team in this league without size. You look at all the good defensive teams and they have size, so we need him back and we need his presence," Nash said recently after a game.
Robin will be matched up with Tyson Chandler, who seems to be healthy again and is playing very well. That leaves Frye with the unenviable assignment of trying to guard Dirk Nowitzki. The Suns will likely give Dirk a variety of looks, ranging from Channing's height to Jared Dudley's pesky chest bumping presence.
When the Suns have been effective against Dirk in the past, it has been through the work done before he catches the ball. You have to stay with him coming off screens and bump him and not let him get to his spots. Basically, disrupt the play and the flow of the offense and you can slow down Dirk and Dallas.
This is the first game in a very tough stretch for the Suns (12-12). After playing the 20-5 Mavericks, the Suns travel to Oklahoma to face the Thunder (18-8) on Sunday and then to San Antonio (22-3) on Monday. The Suns return home to face Miami (19-8) on Thursday. That means these next four opponents have a combined winning percentage of .767. As pointed out in great detail on Suns.com, the Suns have one of the tougher schedules in the league through December.
The game tips off at 7:30 p.m. local time (9:30 ET) and will be broadcast in Phoenix on UPN My45 and Sports 620 KTAR radio. Fans can also follow along with other fans live during the game at the Bright Side of the Sun live game thread.