Brooklyn takes a trip to the Desert to play the Suns

Christian Petersen

It doesn't get any easier.

Yeah, about Wednesday night. With three days off and coming off a close loss at home against Indiana, the Brooklyn Nets started their three game road trip in Sacramento. The Kings had lost five straight and were thinking about making changes in the lineup. Just how bad was it?

That bad. The Nets hope to turn things around against the surprising Phoenix Suns. I think if you asked most writers, pundits and bloggers about the Suns coming into this year, I think they all would have told you they'd be near the bottom of the Conference as they continued building for the future. This view was amplified when the team moved Marcin Gortat right before the season started.

The Season so Far

What have these teams been up to so far? Let's check it out:

2013-2014

Brooklyn

Phoenix

Record

2-5* 5-3

Pace

97.13 98.6

Offensive Efficiency

96.9 100.7

Defensive Efficiency

102.8 96.2

Offensive Rebounding percentage

22.7 24.6

Turnover rate

16.5 17.8

Assist rate

16.4 14.2

Rebound rate

49.3 50.4

Free throw rate

32.3 24.8

Effective Field Goal percentage

47.6 50.9

Opponent Effective Field Goal percentage

48.5 46.5

*I originally had it as 2-6, corrected to reflect their record.

When we had our roundtable at the beginning of he season, I thought Kevin Garnett would be the player that would be the most important to the Nets success. I figured his defensive acumen in addition to his great jump shooting would serve as a major improvement over Reggie Evans. However, Garnett has been awful for the Nets in the early going, as his jump shot has been nonexistent and he hasn't improved the team's defense at all. If it helps matters, Garnett only played 14:37 against Sacramento so he should be revved up for this game. Brooklyn also finds themselves in a similar position as compared to last Friday. Last week, they had a back-to-back against a team not expected to compete and a Championship contender the next night (Washington and Indiana). They ended up losing both games. After the Suns game, they head out to Los Angeles for a challenging matchup against Chris Paul and the red hot Clippers, who've been resting up since their win against the Thunder on Wednesday night.

On the other side are the Phoenix Suns. Like Brooklyn, they are run by a first year coach, however their's is experiencing much more success in the early going. Jeff Hornacek and the Suns are off to a very impresive 5-3 start, but are coming off a heartbreaking loss in Portland on Wednesday night. They were down one and missed three shots right at the rim, although it should be noted that Nicolas Batum committed goaltending on one of the attempts. Outside of Eric Bledsoe and maybe Channing Frye, Goran Dragic, and our old pal Gerald Green, there aren't a lot of players on the roster that are immediately recognizable. (One of them Mason Plumlee's brother Miles, who's playing well, averaging nearly a double-double after coming over from Indiana.) So how have they been playing so well to start the year? Searching for an answer, I headed over to Bright Side of the Sun and Kris Habbas wrote:

Individual accomplishments aside this is a team effort by the team with strong defense. Right now, through seven games, the Suns are tied for 6th in points allowed (96.0), have the 6th best field goal percentage against (43.0%), they are the 11th best overall rebounding team (44.0) and 10th best defensive rebounding team (27.3). They are playing hard for 24 seconds each possession, contesting shots or blocking them, then ending it with a rebound, unlike last year (19th in rebounding and 26th in points against) where they struggled on the defensive end.

*BTOTS writer Dave King has more on Phoenix's defense.

Offensively, they've seen a big improvement in their three point shooting. As of this writing, they're 14th in the league in three point shooting at close to 36 percent. That's only middle of the pack, but considering they were one of the league's worst from downtown, being in the middle is a dramatic improvement. Their perimeter shooting has been excellent as well, as they find themselves in the top ten in field goal percentage from the midrange area. Ex Net Gerald Green is off to a great start shooting the ball, as he's averaging 13 points a game with a sparkly 62.3 True Shooting percentage. Eric Bledsoe has been excellent as well, and we'll get to him in a bit.

Matchup to Watch: Deron Williams-Eric Bledsoe

It has not been a good start to the year for Williams. He spent the preseason dealing with an ankle injury (again) and has been working to recapture the level of play that he has been known for. He's coming off a lousy game against the Kings and was thoroughly outplayed by the Kings' Grevis Vasquez. Vasquez is certainly a solid player in this league, but that was a matchup that you would have expected Williams to dominate, or at least provide an advantage for. Considering he's got Bledsoe & Paul, it might get worse before it gets better for D-Will.

Even as a Clipper, I think everyone knew how talented Bledsoe was. However, I don't think anyone outside of Bledsoe's immediate family thought he could play this well. Much like Green earlier, he's off tho a blistering start, averaging 21 points 7 assists, 4 rebounds and a terrific True Shooting of 62.3. He's always had great finishing potential, and this year, he's been even more successful around the basket, hitting on 67 percent of his attempts inside the restricted area and getting to the line seven times a night. However, the one surprising area he's excelled at has been his perimeter shooting. He isn't known for his great jump shot (under 30 percent from the midrange the previous two years), but so far his jump shot has been top notch (52 percent on a healthy amount of jumpers).

Surprisingly (to me at least), the Suns are way worse (18.7 points per 100 possessions to be precise), but Bledsoe is a very capable defender at his position so the numbers should get back in order as the season progresses. As it relates to this matchup, I expect him to dominate. He's got the quickness edge over Williams, has been playing much better so far, and will keep D-Will and the Nets bigs under pressure all night. His game has improved dramatically (Prada discusses some of his improvements over at the mothership, and he figures to see a nice pay raise this summer.

From the Vault

Relive one of Charles Barkley's many amazing performances as a member of the Suns.

More reading: Bright Side Of The Sun

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