Posted: Monday January 2, 2006 1:14PM; Updated: Monday January 2, 2006 5:20PM
With the aggressive Raja Bell helping anchor the backcourt, the Suns are holding opponents to 43 percent shooting this year.
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images
Have a question or comment for Kelly Dwyer? Submit it here.
By and large, the NBA schedule-makers do a fabulous job. They've many things to work around while clearing arena dates and laying the tracks for an 82-game season amid hockey's glorious return, the usual assortment of ice skating extravaganzas and the very real threat of dinosaurs (your Rolling Stones, U2s, Madonnas).
But on Jan. 1, 2001, then Minnesota coach Flip Saunders complained loudly and openly about having to play a matinee New Year's Day game. Fair enough, the NBA said, and it soon addressed Saunders' complaints by not scheduling any afternoon New Year's Day games. But eight games on New Year's Eve this year? The hell? Is there nothing more desultory than having to ring in the New Year while Matt Harpring hits a technical free throw?
On to the New Year ...
While many are enthused by New Jersey's inspiring return to the ranks of the mediocre, we're more impressed by the Suns' sinister stare-down of the rest of the NBA, a needed pose struck without the services of their most imposing player -- Amaré Stoudemire.
The Suns have won three straight and are 19-10 overall, which is good enough for the Pacific Division lead and second overall in the West. That's a 54-win pace, which may not look too hot in comparison to last season's 62-win run, but it's a darn sight better than many predicted for a team featuring three new starters while playing without the best young big boy in the game. Saturday night's overtime win against the Bulls was Phoenix's 17th game in just 32 days, a brutal schedule for any team, much less the fastest squad in the league. Still, the Suns won 12 of those games, answering a whole host of questions regarding their rank among the NBA's elite.
Heading into 2005-06, the biggest issue facing these admitted sieves was defense. Though the '04-05 squad wasn't as uninterested in stopping the ball as most media outlets would like you to believe (Phoenix was 16th out of 30 teams in terms of overall defensive efficiency), the Suns middle-of-the-road D did little to close the gap on defensive giants such as the Spurs and Pistons.
This year the Suns rank second (!!) in the league in defensive efficiency, a fact virtually unnoticed because their blistering offensive pace skews all traditional defensive benchmarks, including points allowed per game. And as much as the addition of Raja Bell and Kurt Thomas was supposed to help the defense, their aging presences alone have not been the fuel to the Suns' defensive fire.