Open thread: Regular season game 19


The essentials:
Suns (15-4) at Wizards (9-9)
7 p.m.
Verizon Center
CSN

Last year:
December 22: Wizards 144, Suns 139
January 23: Suns 127, Wizards 105

Notable Suns numbers this season (pound the salt):
5th in expected winning percentage (.732).
3rd in pace factor (97.8 possessions per game).
3rd in offensive efficiency/offensive rating (113.9)
14th in defensive efficiency/defensive rating (106).

Notable Suns numbers last season
3rd in expected winning percentage (.739).
3rd in pace factor (94.2 posessions per game).
1st in offensive efficiency/offensive rating (116.1).
13th in defensive efficiency/defensive rating (107.7).

Key links (drop any others in the comments)
Bright Side of the Sun.
Dwyer: Nash careful not to lose that passion.
BSOTS game thread.
Post: Youth Isn't Wasted on Young.
BSOTS blog preview.

Starting lineups:
Suns
PG: Steve Nash
SG: Raja Bell
SF: Grant Hill
PF: Shawn Marion
C: Amare Stoudamire

Wizards
PG: Antonio Daniels
SG: DeShawn Stevenson
SF: Caron Butler
PF: Antawn Jamison
C: Brendan Haywood

Tonight's lines:
Suns at Wizards: Suns by 6.5.
Over/Under on Big 2 scoring: 44.8 points.

Last year's first game against Phoenix was one of the high points of the season.  Agent Zero put in 54, Butler had 32, and the Wizards snapped the Suns' long winning streak on the road.  It didn't really matter that they returned the favor in the second meeting, because one win on the road against a juggernaut like Phoenix was enough.

Things change tonight, however, without Arenas in the lineup.  The Wizards are still playing fast, but not nearly as fast as before, as they rank 13th in pace factor.  Meanwhile, as seen above, though Phoenix is still playing at the third-fastest pace in the league, their average posessions a game is up by nearly three from last season.  That explains their high point totals, because even though they're quite good offensively, they aren't scoring at as good a rate as last season.  This might end up becoming a game of who can control the tempo.  We hardly want to make this a halfcourt game, but it's going to be important for the Wizards to work the ball inside, both by posing up Brendan Haywood and by convincing Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison to drive to the rim and draw fouls.  Per usual, that won't be easy, as Phoenix leads the league in fewest free throws surrendered per shot attempt.

Offensively, one thing I've noticed about the Suns is that they are more reliant on mid-range jumpers than ever before.  Some of that is the acquisition of Grant Hill, but I think the major reason is the change in Amare Stoudamire's game.  Last year, only 45 percent of Amare's shots were jumpers, and he had a pedestrian 43.9 eFG% on those shots.  This year, 58 percent of his attempts are jumpers, and he's shooting a decent 48.8 eFG% on those.  That leads me to believe we can stick Andray Blatche on Stoudamire for stretches and not worry as much about Amare overpowering the youngster.

The key, though, will be getting Amare in foul trouble, because behind him, the Suns only have Brian Skinner, who is mostly a half-court center.  That'll get the game into the Wizards tempo, where they can execute the Princeton offense to perfection.  Essentially, that's their best chance, because they don't have a guy like Arenas who can draw fouls at a high rate, unless Butler really goes off.

The other big problem is guarding the pick and roll, which is something that really can't be avoided unless Blatche has a big game.  AD's powerless to stop Nash, and especially powerless to stick with Leandro Barbosa.  Blatche is going to have to trap effectively, and the rest of the defense needs to surrender open mid-range jumpers to Stoudamire instead of three-pointers by Raja Bell and Shawn Marion.  

Anyway, this is an open game thread, so relive this moment here.

GO WIZARDS!

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