• Chris Stewart

The Phoenix Suns and Their Interdivisional Play

*Photo via AZcentral

After four games into the 2015-2016 NBA campaign, the Phoenix Suns are off to a two and two start. What else can you ask for if you're a Suns fan in a stacked Western Conference, right? Well...that wasn't exactly the vibe on opening night in the newly crowned Talking Stick Resort Arena, so let’s take a look back at what’s transpired in the first week of play for the Suns.

After a tough offseason and the lost signing of free agent center DeAndre Jordan, the Dallas Mavericks came into Phoenix and played a very solid basketball game on opening night. Winless throughout the preseason -- Dirk Nowitzki and company would come to play when it counted – and spoil it for planet orange.

The Suns trailed by 29 points in the third quarter, as the backcourt tandem of Raymond Felton (18 pts/six assists) and Deron Williams (12 pts/seven assists) would lead the way for the Mavs. 18 Suns turnovers to go along with 25 percent three-point shooting would spell a 111-95 home opening loss for Phoenix.

The Suns did not play the following night, but welcomed the division rival Portland Trail Blazers in on Friday. Much like the Mavs, the Trailblazers endured a tough offseason when they lost their best player (LaMarcus Aldridge) to the San Antonio Spurs via free agency.

But teams don't feel sorry for each other in the NBA, and besides that the Blazers were feeling good about their opening night win over the New Orleans Pelicans. With their Steve Nash emblem socks donned in honor of a 2-time MVP, the Phoenix Suns looked like a different team on this night.

Despite 40 minutes of halftime intermission, the Suns were focused and determined to come out in the third quarter with an energy and intensity that was missing on opening night. After foul trouble led to 21 Maverick points in their first game, the Suns were active and aggressive and it led to 32 of their own points from the free throw line.

*Photo via AZcentral

Damian Lillard tried to carry his team with 24 points and six assists, but the Suns pressuring backcourt led to his seven turnovers, and Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight combined for 40 points and seven assists, that went along with 15 points and 13 rebounds from Tyson Chandler. The Suns would get a much needed 110-92 victory to cap off a memorable Ring of Honor ceremony for Steve Nash.

Beating the same team on back-to-back nights in the NBA can be difficult, but that’s what the Phoenix Suns had to do if they wanted to win their second game of the young season. The Blazers are a talented and exuberant team that wanted to get back a loss that occurred just 26 hours earlier. With two-time All-Star point guard Damian Lillard and shooting guard C.J. McCollum – who was coming off a 37-point performance in Portland’s home opener -- ready to go again, the Blazers were ready to get one back from the Suns.

After leading most of the way, the Suns would fall down 81-80 in the fourth quarter, before Bledsoe and Knight combined to score 10 straight points. Knight finished 4 of 9 from three-point range to add 27 points and five assists, Bledsoe poured in 33 points and six assists, and Markieff Morris tacked on 15 points and nine rebounds to secure a 101-90 victory on Halloween night in Portland.

*Photo via Washington Post

The Suns would then travel West to take on the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night, who are once again deep and talented. After nearly losing the indecisive DeAndre Jordan to Dallas via free agency, a last minute swaying convinced him to return to L.A. Additionally, the Clippers signed veteran forward Paul Pierce, small forward Wesley Johnson, and forward Josh Smith this offseason in free agency.

With a combination of All-Stars in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin already in place, many believe the Clippers will be the best in the West, but this is another story as far as the Phoenix Suns were concerned on Monday night. The Clippers had seven straight wins over the Suns going into this game, and many fans remember the Blake Griffin rim-clanking buzzer-beater last season.

From the tip, the game took on an identity of runs, streaky shooting, and foul trouble for the Suns. While neither team shot well from behind the 3-point line in the first half (2 of 15 for each team) the Suns trailed 48-39 at half, while Markieff Morris missed 10 of 11 shots at one point. But the second half was a different story, and showed the Suns ability to compete with an upper echelon team.

Phoenix would come back to take the lead in the third quarter, as Morris would eventually find his stroke. Tyson Chandler showed why the Phoenix Suns cherished his services in the offseason, through defensive presence, alley-oop dunks, and offensive put-backs. Chandler’s fire was evident both emotionally and physically, as he outrebounded last year’s rebounding champion DeAndre Jordan and finished with 14 points and 17 rebounds.

Ronnie Price and T.J. Warren chipped in off the bench to combine for 20 points, seven rebounds, and three assists and the Suns would get close multiple times in the fourth quarter, but it wouldn’t prove to be enough. Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe were a combined 10 of 39 from the field, including two of twelve from three-point range, and the Suns would lose to Blake Griffin (22 pts/10 rebounds) and the Clippers 102-96.

The Suns (2-2) will continue their oh-so important inter-divisional play Wedesday night at home against the Sacremento Kings (1-3).

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