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GameDay Preview with James Neveau of Suns Rising | February
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I recently had the chance to gain some insight to the mind of the Oklahoma City Thunder's opponents for tonight's game. As the Thunder travel to take on the Phoenix Suns, I had the opportunity to speak with Jim Neveau, who heads up a great site for the Phoenix Suns - http://www.sunsrising.com/ - to talk about tonight's big game. After you read his interview here, make sure to check out Suns Rising later in the day to read my interview on his site.

I hope you enjoy his information, as it will undoubtedly get you ready for tonight's game!

Rob Kelley (RK): The Suns are currently two games out of the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference this season. What have you seen that you like from them, as well as what do they have to do to get into the playoffs this season?

James Neveau (JN): This team has been terribly inconsistent all season, which is obviously the thing I don't like about them. In fact, their last 11 games are a perfect microcosm of that inability to get onto a sustained run: they won five games in a row, then looked terrible in losing three in a row, and have now won three in a row again. That inconsistency has also been a problem for the players, most notable among those being Robin Lopez. He can have one game where he is aggressive in the lane, driving to the basket, and grabbing rebounds with abandon. Then there are other games where he plays tentatively, commits silly fouls, and looks lost on the floor. Alvin Gentry has kept him in the starting lineup, but with Marcin Gortat playing very well lately, that might change soon.

 
What I do like about the Suns is that they've been working really hard as of late on addressing some aspects of their game that haven't been good in the past. They're really making an effort to improve defensively as of late, and you can see the results of that in the way they forced the Celtics into a lot of mistakes and also in the way they kept the Hornets in check as well. They are also working on improving their rebounding, and having guys like Gortat and Channing Frye (when he's pulling down 13 rebounds like he did against Milwaukee) certainly helps.

RK: When Phoenix completed their blockbuster trade with Jason Richardson going to Orlando and Vince Carter and company coming to the Suns, what were your initial reactions? How do yo feel about the trade now?

JN: Initially, I did not like the trade. I didn't think they were upgrading enough to really justify dealing away Jason Richardson (who at the time was the leading scorer in the Suns' lineup), and the move really smacked of a panic transaction on both sides. As time has moved forward however, the more I realized the team's motivations behind the deal. Vince Carter has the potential to be an explosive scorer when he's on, and players like Gortat and Mickael Pietrus also can really help a team flow offensively. When you add in the incentive of getting Hedo Turkoglu's contract off the books, that was a win-win for Phoenix. 

 

RK: The Suns are the third highest scoring team in the NBA, which should come as to great surprise to anyone. But the Thunder are fifth, although they are 10th in the league in rebounding, while the Suns are just 26th. Both teams can give up plenty of points, so what are expecting in this one, especially from a defensive standpoint?

JN: As I said earlier, the Suns have really been working on playing better defense, which they have done by simplifying their rotations and trying to contest more shots and go more aggressively for rebounds. They have done this with some modest success so far, but the Thunder provide them with a challenge unlike one that they've faced recently. Kevin Durant will probably be guarded by Grant Hill, and while Hill is having a great year on both sides of the ball, Durant still will get his fair share of points. One of the match-ups I'm most interested to see is when Serge Ibaka is going down low against either Lopez or Gortat. Will those guys be able to prevent him from getting easy access to the ball on the boards, or will he overcome them? That should be a very interesting sight to see.

Neither team is probably going to be able to slow down Westbrook and Nash, as they are both having tremendous seasons and are wise to ways of beating defenses. I would expect an offensive slugfest, but I think that ultimately the team that wins this game will win the board battle.

RK: Phoenix seems to be a very streaky team this year, certainly as of late. They won five straight, lost three bad games, but are currently on a three game winning streak, highlighted by a huge home blowout win against the Boston Celtics? How do you explain the up and down of this team? Is it simply the new chemistry, or do you see more?

JN: When you have a team as reliant on outside shooting as the Suns are, you're going to experience some highs and lows. The biggest reason for their inconsistency recently, at least in my eyes, has been their efforts to focus more on defense and rebounding and move away from the run and gun offense that they've been known for. Implementing a new mentality takes some time, and the Suns have shown that it doesn't come without some growing pains.
The team is settling more into its rotation now, with Josh Childress and Hakim Warrick seeing less playing time as of late and guys like Jared Dudley and Gortat picking up the slack. It has been a process in setting things up after the trade with Orlando, but the Suns might finally be settling into a rhythm. Having a solid point guard on the floor at all times (even Goran Dragic looks more comfortable with the offense this year) certainly helps the guys get into the flow of things.

 

RK: Steve Nash is still playing at an elite level, which is certainly nothing new for him. If this team falls out of the playoff race, do you see the Suns entertaining trade offers for him, and if so, how would the city and their fans take a Nash trade out of town?

JN: Ah, the Nash question. Suns President Lon Babby was asked about entertaining trade offers for Nash last week, and he said that he'd look at moving players to improve the club, but that Nash wouldn't be one of them. Even though he has denied that the team is looking at moving Steve, the reality of it is that if they drop out of the playoff picture, there will be teams that will make offers for Nash, most notably the Atlanta Hawks. If that is the case, there is no way that Babby wouldn't at least consider dealing his star point guard.
As for the city's feeling toward a deal like that, it almost goes without saying that Nash is the most popular athlete in Phoenix. If he were to be traded, the fanbase would definitely see that as a white flag, and enthusiasm for the team would be dampened significantly. The team is going to weigh that very carefully, but in the end, this decision can't be based on loyalty to Nash or what he means to the fanbase. If the offer is right, Babby and the Suns will have to pull the trigger.

* Make sure to follow Kelley on Twitter @RobKelley24, and you can follow Suns Rising @suns_rising. 
 
 
 



 

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