UPDATE (4:19 P.M. CST): It’s still unclear whether Suns guard Eric Bledsoe will play tonight, according to ESPN.
The Wolves play Phoenix tonight at 8:30 P.M. CST. You can see it on ESPN or listen on 830 WCCO. The 8:30 P.M. tip is an odd time for a Wolves home game. (Eds. Note: Earlier this season, the NBA amended its schedule so tonight’s game would start later than initially planned and be shown on national television, presumably because the NBA and ESPN were concerned that no one would want to watch the Kobe-less Lakers against the Houston Rockets–the game that was initially scheduled to be on ESPN at 8:30 P.M. tonight.)
But tonight’s tilt promises to be an extremely interesting game for fans–perhaps more so than Stern and Silver, LLP, expected when the game was pushed onto the national TV slate–as the Wolves will be taking on one of the League’s most enigmatic teams with which the Wolves are competing for a Western Conference playoff spot. (Eds. Note: The Suns are the rare NBA squad that’s enigmatic in a good way, basically the opposite of the way in which the Brooklyn Nets are enigmatic.)
The Suns are a breath of fresh air. They’re good. Really good, actually. They’re 20-13 thus far, good for a winning percentage of .606. The Suns have the 7th-best record right now in a stacked Western Conference. They trail the much-hyped Houston Rockets by just one game for the 6th spot in the West. The Suns’ record shines when compared to the Wolves’ 17-17 record. If the playoffs started today, the Phoenix Suns would be in the playoffs. The Minnesota Timberwolves–currently 10th in the West–would not.
The Suns are a pleasant surprise–a pleasant surprise in a real, honest-to-pete, winning sense of the term. The Suns’ no-name roster and winning record differentiates them from other 2013-14 “pleasant surprise” teams, like the Boston Celtics and the Charlotte Bobcats, which carry the “pleasant surprise” distinction simply because they aren’t as bad as expected so far this season–a season which future historians will likely refer to as “The Season of Tanking,” or “The Season in which Tanking Became an Art,” or (hopefully) “The Season that Forced the NBA Address Its Tanking Problem.” (Eds. Note: Is there a 12-step program for this disorder? 2:1 odds say that Passages Malibu is frantically expanding its curriculum to treat this unfortunate disease so that it can help those franchises addicted to this temptress of drugs.)
Don’t you feel reassured? NBA tanking addicts will be in good hands at Passages!
The question is, how are the Suns doing it? If I could ask Suns rookie coach Jeff Hornacek just one question, it’d be, “What’s your secret, dude? Got any tips?” (0:42).
Two main factors stand out: Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. Nicknamed the “Slash Brothers“–a natural complement to the other brothers in today’s NBA, including the Golden State Warriors’ “Splash Brothers,” the Wolves’ own “Bruise Brothers,” and, last but not least, the Morris and Lopez twins–Dragic’s and Bledsoe’s dribble penetration has been a nightmare for opposing defenses this season. Dragic and Bledsoe are both having career years thus far, averaging an almost identical 18 ppg and 6 dimes each night. Former Timberwolf and Slam-Dunk champion Gerald Green is third on the team in scoring, averaging over 13 ppg and almost 18 points per 36 minutes. Channing Frye is shooting over 42% from distance, and Markieff Morris has proven a better-than-expected glue guy in the Suns starting lineup.
Can the Suns keep winning at their current pace? Probably not. So far this season, Bledsoe has shot significantly better than his career average, and although he’s a definite candidate for the League’s Most-Improved Player award, that percentage is due to regress to the mean. That said, his strength and penetration game could give Wolves shooting guard Kevin Martin fits tonight.
Gerald Green has never been more than a streaky scorer whose defensive lapses and low basketball IQ make it difficult for a coach to keep him on the floor when it counts. But man can that dude jump!
(Eds. Note: Don’t worry Gerald–your dunks still get A+ marks on the eye test.)
And would you really want to go all-in betting on a front-line of the Morris twins and Channing Frye to hold the 7th spot in the West? Me either.
Still, the Suns are having a really, really, fun start to their season. Tonight’s game is a nice chance for the Wolves to gain some ground in the Western Conference standings and to beat a team–the Rising Suns–with a better record before Friday’s game against one of the NBA’s other “pleasant surprises,” the Charlotte Bobcats, at home on Friday night.
That’s all for now. Here’s a live recording by the Animals’ Eric Burdon of House of the Rising Son to pre-game to.
Enjoy the tilt.