Tonight, the 20-15 Brooklyn Nets host the 12-25 Phoenix Suns in Brooklyn, for a matchup between two teams that quite literally have no connection to one another, other than that they both play in the National Basketball Association. Seriously, the closest these two teams get is that Joe Johnson played for the Suns as recently as 2005, and the Nets pretended once upon a time that they might take now-backup Suns forward Wesley Johnson over Derrick Favors in the 2010 NBA Draft (they didn’t, and never would have). That’s all I got. These are two very different teams, with two very different goals and plans, in opposite conferences with nearly opposite records.
The Suns have won just one game since December 19th and are in the midst of a four-game road trip, the Nets are 6-1 since P.J. “Not Phil” Carlesimo took over for Avery Johnson on December 28th.
To help me preview tonight’s matchup of Nets vs. Solar System Stars, I’m glad to welcome Kevin Zimmerman, lead blogger over at ESPN TrueHoop Phoenix Suns blog Valley of the Suns. Valley of the Suns is one of the best team blogs out there, so go there for any further info you want on the Phoenix Suns. We’ve gone one-on-one style: I’ve asked Kevin three questions about the Suns, and he’s in turn asked me three about the Nets.
Kevin Zimmerman on the Phoenix Suns
Devin: The Suns aren’t having the best year this season at 12-25. What would you say is their biggest weakness?
Kevin: The Suns’ biggest weakness is simply the lack of overall talent. They have shown flashes of competing through spurts in most games, but when Phoenix must rely upon Jared Dudley or Luis Scola to score 20 to stay in games, it says a lot. A team of oddly-fitting parts also doesn’t help on the defensive end, where again, the Suns have shown flashes of being quite good in spurts. Usually, however, teams will take advantage of lapses to throw knockout punches.
Devin: When are the Suns their most successful? What would have to go right for Phoenix to pull out an upset win on the road tonight?
Kevin: Phoenix is most successful when they’re getting a lot of deflections. It’s absolutely necessary for them to get into transition and force turnovers for easy buckets. That quells the problems in the lack of firepower and obviously means the Suns are playing defense. And when the Suns are in the halfcourt, Alvin Gentry is preaching at least three passes before a shot goes up. It seems like a practice drill, but it’s no joke for a team that has no room for error.
Devin: The Suns roster confuses me. They’re not built to win now but not built on prospects, either. From your perspective, what is Phoenix’s long-term “plan?”
Kevin: You’re absolutely right about the roster. The front office said this offseason they’re trying to win every single year (Lon Babby is very, very anti-tank). In theory, Phoenix will go after some big names this offseason after failing to land Eric Gordon last summer. They have cap space and some guys coming off the books. I’d say the biggest problem is the lack of prospects. They have acquired a number of draft picks, but likely none of those (Lakers picks for Nash, even) will be high-lottery selections. And the prospects they do have in Markieff Morris and Kendall Marshall, who has hardly played, aren’t showing that their ceilings are all that high as of now.
Devin on the Brooklyn Nets
Kevin: Suns fans saw Joe Johnson play efficiently as a No. 3 or so option alongside Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire. He put up big numbers in Atlanta as a high-volume shooter. What’s his role been like in Brooklyn, and how much (if at all) has it changed after Avery Johnson was fired?
Devin: Johnson’s role hasn’t changed at all in the Carlesimo era — it fluctuates, depending on the lineup he plays with. If he’s on the court with Deron Williams, he’s most often the second-in-command facilitator and spot-up shooter with some occasional pick-and-roll and isolation plays. When he plays with the bench — he’s the leader of the team’s “bench mob,” even from the starting lineup — Johnson is the primary facilitator and ball-handler, even with backup point C.J. Watson on the floor.
Kevin: The Nets are on a four-game winning streak that includes a big victory against the Thunder. Has anything come together of late, or is it just one big game in the midst of so-so competition (Washington, Sacramento, etc)?
Devin: They’re different. The major difference is that Deron Williams is hitting his outside shots. He’s still not probing the lane often — sometimes the defense brings a quick double-team on him, meaning you’ll more often see Joe Johnson or Gerald Wallace trying to create in attack mode — but Williams seems to have finally snapped his shooting funk. They’re getting more contributions from their bench, most notably MarShon Brooks & Mirza Teletovic AKA Biscuits & Gravy. Brook Lopez has ben an animal when he’s 100%. There’s no doubt they’ve taken advantage of a weak schedule — they haven’t lost to an under-.500 team all season — but it’s not a bad thing to beat bad teams, right?
Kevin: If there’s one concern for Brooklyn against Phoenix, however how small, what might that be?
Devin: Injuries/illnesses. Johnson & Teletovic are both game-time decisions with illness (hopefully not the flu bug that’s going around the tri-state), and corner 3 specialist Jerry Stackhouse will sit tonight with a sore hamstring. Johnson is the team’s leader in minutes and, as mentioned, has a strictly defined role in every lineup he plays in. Johnson is the only player on the Nets who’s started every game this season, and the Nets are a team of delicate balance; the team fell apart when Lopez missed a significant stretch in the beginning of December. If he’s out or limited, you can see the “trap game” narrative from a mile away.