For the second-straight contest, the Phoenix Suns will be looking to ground a team with payback on their minds. After the Rockets came out firing against them on Wednesday night, the Suns are expecting a similar attack from the Hawks on Friday.
After finishing the month of February with four-straight wins, the Suns managed to snap Atlanta’s streak with a 92-87 victory at US Airways Center. The Hawks then proceeded to lose five of their next six outings, and could now be without the services of their star swingman Josh Smith.
“It doesn’t matter who they have,” Suns Head Coach Lindsey Hunter explained. “We have to go in playing with the mentality that they’re at full strength.”
“They’re a good team and their record shows that,” Suns guard Goran Dragic said. “When a guy like Josh Smith is out, other guys step up, and they’ve got lots of guys who can do that.”
While the Hawks may not necessarily be playing for their playoff lives like the Rockets were on Wednesday, they are fighting for position. The ballclub currently finds itself seventh in the Eastern Conference playoff race, but are still within striking distance of home court advantage in the first round.
As far as whether or not the Hawks remember that March 1 loss to the Suns specifically, the playmaker said he knows from experienced that will most likely be the case.
“I can say from being on playoff teams in the past that when you lose against a bad team, players and coaches get mad,” Dragic said. “And coaches will emphasize, ‘Remember what happened the last time’ which is why he have to be focused. They’re going to be looking to put us away right from the start and we have to fight and make sure that doesn’t happen.”
“When a team has a record like ours and we beat you, opponents do kind of say, ‘Wow, you’re not supposed to beat us,’” Hunter explained. “But we’re going to keep fighting, I’m going to keep pushing our guys as well as myself every day.”
CENTER OF ATTENTION
Having played the last 13 seasons in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, there aren’t many big men more qualified to dissect Al Horford’s game than Jermaine O’Neil. On Thursday, Suns.com asked the former Eastern Conference All-Star to break down what it is that makes the Hawks star one of the more unique centers in the league.
“I think where he’s excelled is in his ability to pick and pop,” the Suns center explained. “Most centers aren’t used to guarding pick-and-pop players, but Horford does a really good job of both hitting jumpshots and finding ways to get to the basket. I think that’s where he’s able to take advantage of a lot of mismatches.”
Lindsey Hunter agreed with O’Neil’s assessment, and said he considers the Hawks big man to be a little old school in terms of his play.
“Al is a throwback player,” Hunter told Suns.com. “Nothing fancy but still gets the job done. He works extremely hard and that’s helped him to expand his game over the past few years.”
Horford’s hard work has been especially paying off as of late, and when he takes the floor against the Suns on Friday will be coming off of a 14-point, 14-assist performance against the Lakers.
NICE GUYS DON’T HAVE TO FINISH LAST
On Thursday, Lindsey Hunter was asked whether it’s possible for swingman Wes Johnson to develop a killer instinct as a scorer despite being such a nice guy. Hunter said he not only thought it was possible, but also compared him to a former teammate with whom he played in Detroit.
“I’ve seen several guys with the same demeanor who turn out to be phenomenal scorers in this league,” Hunter said. “Just look at Allan Houston. A guy like that could light you up, and that’s what we’re trying to get (Wes) to become.”