Suns prepared for Heat check
PHOENIX — The Suns and their anti-tank weapons have yet another shot at absolute validation Tuesday night at US Airways Center.
"It’s just one of 82 games, but we want to get it so coming out of the All-Star break we’ll be rollin,’" forward P.J. Tucker said.
Right, this will be the Suns’ last run before the league’s defense-free festival in New Orleans.
And given the opponent, we solicited a little perspective from Tucker, as with the two-time defending champion Miami Heat in town, he’ll be the guy assigned to deal with LeBron James.
We caught up with P.J. a few minutes after the Suns knocked off the Warriors on Saturday night for their 30th victory in 50 games. Tucker, who scored 16 points and claimed a career-high 15 rebounds, had spent part of the evening chasing Golden State point guard Steph Curry through a phalanx of screens.
So when asked about defending LeBron, P.J. first paid tribute to Curry and the many small guards who register as mood-altering covers for a bulky, 6-foot-6 small forward. But after making sure we understood how tricky life can be while attempting to shut down the jitterbugs, he gave James his respect.
"LeBron … he’s LeBron, obviously," Tucker said. "He’s the best player in the game, probably. He’s a tough matchup."
We’ll attribute that "probably" as a nod to fellow Texas product Kevin Durant.
Anyway, Tucker certainly is aware of what he’s up against with the Heat in town. When the Suns visited Miami on the second night of a back-to-back trip through Florida on Nov. 25, James went 11 of 14 from the floor during a 35-point performance that ended in a 107-92 Heat victory.
"LeBron is just so strong, so big, he just overpowers you," Tucker said. "He’s so fast on the break. It’s tough, physically."
And things get truly gnarly when Miami is receiving significant contributions from Dwyane Wade. Working mostly against Gerald Green in that aforementioned drubbing, D-Wade hit Phoenix for 21 points while going 9 of 13 from the field.
Considering that LeBron and his cronies will have had two nights off since their last game on this current road trip, we can expect Wade to be fresh as a daisy. We also should point out the Heat will have had about 34 hours to ponder their last game, a somewhat stunning defeat administered by the Jazz in Utah.
With this irritation in place and knowledge that the Suns have two recent victories over the Pacers, expect severe focus from the Heat.
The Suns will show up.
"Right now … it starts right now," Tucker said Saturday night when asked about getting dialed in for Tuesday night. "The only thing that’s big about this game is going into the All-Star break. We want to go in with a win, it’s at home and it’ll be a great atmosphere.
"I think for us, morale-wise, it’ll be big to get this win."
A lot has occurred with the Suns since they slipped to 7-7 during that loss in Miami on Nov. 25. The Morris twins did produce 25 points in that game, but they combined to go just 6 for 21 on field-goal attempts. Excepting Markieff’s sleepwalk through the triumph over Golden State, he and Marcus have been tough customers off the bench of late.
Phoenix also was working without Eric Bledsoe, who had a nasty thigh bruise. And while that’s still the case, the Suns are much better at figuring out how to score with Bledsoe now.
With that in mind, Goran Dragic hadn’t quite ascended to his current level of elite-adjacent play. Dragic scored 14 points (5 of 12 from the field) and handed out nine assists in that first game against the Heat. By comparison, in January he averaged 22.3 points on 52 percent shooting, including 46 percent from 3-point range. Through four games in February, The Dragon is giving the Suns 26.5 points per game and knocking in 64 percent of his shots overall, including a crazy 58 percent mark from 3.
Having Dragic driving this rising Suns offense, Tuesday night could be a hoot. Although the Heat have slipped to 22nd among NBA teams in pace, they do arrive as the No. 2 team in offensive efficiency. Combine their slip to 15th in defensive efficiency with the Suns’ rank of eighth in offensive efficiency and we have a scoreboard that may be up for grabs.
By the way, Tuesday will be the first time Phoenix fans can show their appreciation for former Suns forward Michael Beasley. Beasley, who seems to have found his happy place back in south Florida, scored eight points and pulled down six rebounds in that first game against the Suns. He also was the only Heat player to register a minus (-5) in the plus-minus category in that game.