At +550 the Phoenix Suns are one of the favorites to win the NBA Championship this season (as they trail only the San Antonio Spurs and the Dallas Mavericks on the title odds list). However, with only two wins in their first seven games the Suns find themselves much closer to last place in the standings than first place.
In fact, Phoenix is the only team in the Pacific Division below the .500 mark heading into play this week. Each of the Los Angeles Clippers, Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Lakers, and Golden State Warriors have managed to avoid a losing record thus far in a division that the Suns were supposed to handily win.
So is it time for bettors to start putting money on teams other than the Suns, or on the teams playing the Suns? Well, Phoenix did manage to snap a four-game losing streak Saturday night, but that victory was chock full of mixed messages.
On the positive side, Saturday’s 96-87 win over the Memphis Grizzlies was the first time all season that Phoenix had held an opponent under 100 points (and to be exact, it was the first time they’d held an opponent under 104 points). Phoenix isn’t exactly known as a defense-first club, but buckling down couldn’t hurt them.
As well, Amare Stoudemire picked up 25 points and 14 rebounds (in just 25 minutes of playing time) in the victory over the Grizzlies. Stoudemire, who is still not at 100%, hadn’t reached the 20-point or 10-rebound plateau yet this season.
However, Phoenix led the Grizzlies 89-58 at the end of the third quarter, but were outscored 29-7 in the final frame and almost blew that big lead. Those seven points were the worst one-quarter showing by Phoenix in franchise history, and the Suns have had a difficult time holding onto leads so far in the 2006 season.
Still, the team will tell you that a win is a win, and if managing to hold onto that lead turns around the Suns’ fortunes and takes them back to the top of the standings, few will remember that they set an ugly franchise mark along the way.
The last time Phoenix had pulled out a win was back on November 1 against the Los Angeles Clippers – the Suns gave up 104 points in that game, but they scored 112 to secure the victory. Phoenix was defeated 114-106 by the Los Angeles Lakers in their season opener, and they dropped games to the Clippers, Utah Jazz, San Antonio Spurs, and Dallas Mavericks over their four-game skid.
And of course the poor defense has played a large role in the Suns’ struggles to date. Phoenix has been giving up 108.1 points-per-game this season, which is the worst such average in the entire league (yes, even worse than the New York Knicks). On the road Phoenix has been giving up an average of 113 per game. Those numbers have so far offset the 106.3 points the Suns have been scoring.
The Suns next return to the court on Friday night, with a home game against Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers. They’ll follow up that contest with a road game against the Utah Jazz on Saturday night. The Sixers have won three of their six games so far this season, and they’re sitting at the top of a (so far) mediocre Atlantic Division. The Jazz have started the season a league-best 6-1.
Suns guard Raja Bell has missed two straight games with a bruised rib, and he’s listed as day-to-day right now. Bell is averaging 11.8 points-per-game in five contests this season. As well, with back-to-back games on the schedule this weekend Stoudemire might find himself playing limited minutes one of the nights.