The Suns (14-9) look to extend their season-long five-game winning streak tonight against the Spurs (19-5), who are coming off a loss on Monday to the Clippers.
It will be up to Phoenix to hand San Antonio its first two-game losing streak of the season. The Suns are eager for another chance against their conference rivals after losing by just three in their previous meeting earlier this season. Point guard Eric Bledsoe (19.5 ppg, 6.4 apg) did not play that game due to injury.
“The guys have talked about it, thinking we had a chance in that game,” said Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek. “I think they’re ready to go.”
With that in mind, here are five things to watch for in tonight’s game.
Can Spurs Score Without Parker?
San Antonio can usually withstand an injury or two due to the nature of its offense. Scoring opportunities are created within the flow of the Spurs’ half-court sets, which has allowed nine different players to average at least seven points per game this season.
Many of those sets, however, start with Parker, who is out tonight with a shin contusion. He leads the team in scoring and assists, which puts a bigger onus on the rest of the roster to be more than complimentary pieces tonight.
Tim Duncan (13.9 ppg), Kawhi Leonard (11.8 ppg) and Manu Ginobili (11.0 ppg) are all candidates to pick up the slack, but Phoenix can’t lose track of streaky shooters like Marco Belinelli, Patty Mills or Danny Green, either.
Can Dragic and/or Bledsoe take advantage?
The Suns’ backcourt duo has been on fire recently, averaging a combined 44 points on 51 percent shooting to go with 10.8 assists and 4.4 steals during Phoenix’s five-game winning streak.
Those numbers have come against normal starting backcourts. It’s tempting to think Bledsoe and Dragic will wreak havoc against the depleted Spurs’ guard rotation, but the Spurs’ team defense has made a habit of ignoring conventional “mismatches” over the years.
Frye Stretching the Defense
The Suns’ big man has played an integral part in the team’s recent success, hitting 45.8 percent of his three-point attempts during the team’s five consecutive wins.
The effect Frye’s shooting has on opposing team’s defense forms a double bonus. Big men are forced to race out and contest when he has the ball and stay close to him when he doesn’t. Such awareness keeps the lane less cluttered and opens up lanes for Bledsoe and Dragic to exploit.
Keep an eye in the opening minutes on how much this throws the Spurs and, in particular, Tim Duncan off their comfort zone.
Duncan on the Glass
The long-time Spurs big man has been on a tear, recently, logging double-doubles in four consecutive games. Fourteen of his rebounds in that span have come on the offensive glass, an area the Suns have tried to shore up in recent games.
Frye has proven adept at playing solid position defense and capping it off with effective box-outs. He, Miles Plumlee and Markieff Morris will all need to stick to those fundamentals to keep “The Big Fundamental” from wreaking havoc on the glass.
Suns From Deep
The Suns have been on fire from beyond the arc over the last two games, hitting 25-of-51 from three-point range.
Those results came against poor perimeter defenses from Golden State and Sacramento. So far this season the Spurs have proven little better, ranking just 14th in opponent’s three-point shooting.
If Phoenix can continue to slash and kick with the same effectiveness that has marked their current winning streak, another big night from long range could be in store.