Point guard Goran Dragic returns as Suns end skid with a much-needed shot of optimism.
By RANDY HILLFS Arizona
PHOENIX – Wednesday night's local prime-time NBA drama didn't exactly scream top-shelf production values.
But "One Flu Over the Cuckoo's Nest" had an ending that worked perfectly for the home team.
For the record, our title-motivating flu was what had prevented
Phoenix Suns point guard
Goran Dragic from participating in last Sunday's loss to the Orlando Magic. That particular event served as the Suns' seventh consecutive defeat and propelled a few, well, cuckoo assumptions regarding the team and its short-term future.
Anyway, with Wednesday's game clock bleeding down to one-half second before overtime, the finally fit and fiddle Dragic knifed through the defense of the mighty
Memphis Grizzlies and flipped in a layup that gave Phoenix a 82-80 triumph witnessed by 13,093 at U.S. Airways Center.
"The play was improv for me," Dragic said. "You know: I play pick-and-roll and take that last shot. I saw an open gap on the right side and tried to pass (Memphis center Marc) Gasol. He denied that and I pump-faked him – I don't know if he jumped, but I just turned around and saw that I had an open easy layup and I made it.
"You know, last time I missed the easy layup against Dallas, so this time I told myself 'you have to make that one.'"
The cuckoo that accompanied a then-7-15 team on an unlucky seven-game slide included early week inquiries from national NBA newshounds regarding the employment future of Suns coach Alvin Gentry.
Gentry, in the last year of his contract, rated a thumbs up for the rest of the season by owner Robert Sarver. The Suns didn't exactly rock this vote of confidence against the Grizzlies, making just 38 percent of their shots vs. the league's top-ranked defense (in points allowed per 100 possessions).
But they also didn't allow this crooked marksmanship to undermine what's left of their frayed resolve.
"We struggled offensively," Gentry said, "but I thought our defense was really good."
By the way, this week's other needle-moving non-story (it was a tweet) cast Michael Beasley in the lead. According to a post by another national reporter (citing a team source), the Suns' forward is "toxic."
Well, Beasley might eventually become the first player run off the 3-point line by his own teammates, but he's still quite popular with coaches and teammates.
On the court against Memphis, he struggled again. There was a lot of that going around. Luis Scola, for example, opened the game at power forward, pulled the trigger early and often, was used a bit on defense and left in favor of Beasley. Scola finished the night with one made shot (in six attempts) and one rebound in a pinch over 13 minutes.
Beasley did collect six rebounds in his 10:13 of court time, but that's it for his highlights.
Working first at power forward and then at small forward when Markieff Morris entered the fray, Beasley missed 9 of 11 shots in the first half. He never returned.
"Guys, he's trying hard," Gentry said. "You know what … we just have to keeping working with him. That's why we're here. We can't just give up on a guy because he's struggling right now.
"There's a lot of guys in this league who go through a growing process and things like that."
According to Gentry, choosing Scola to start was inspired by the visit of Grizzlies 4 man Zach Randolph, who poleaxed Phoenix (38 points and 22 rebounds) during the last game of the Suns' recent 1-5 road party.
Shannon Brown also was eager to help take down Memphis, taking 19 shots and making five, but he did manage seven rebounds.
To the good, the Suns had Dragic (12 points, eight assists), center Marcin Gortat (10 points, eight rebounds) and Jared Dudley (15 points, nine rebounds), all of whom made half of their shots from the field.
"Now we can start trying to get this thing rolling," Dudley said. "You look at this (playoff) board, and no one is really playing good except for the top five teams."
So the Suns knocked off one of those in the Grizzlies (14-5), a team that should provoke hope for big-picture-gazing Phoenix fans.
How's that? Well, many Suns fans aren't exactly thrilled with a lot of personnel decisions made by the current front-office crew. Its director is president of basketball operations Lon Babby, who – in a Wednesday afternoon interview on the team's flagship radio station – said he's working under the premise of "urgent patience."
The urgency of which Babby speaks refers to improving each day. And the patience … well, that probably is a variable to be shared by everyone.
The Grizzlies, it should be noted, didn't exactly run off a string of brilliant moves to become a solid playoff team.
In recent years, they drafted Kevin Love and quickly traded him for O.J. Mayo. Mayo was allowed to walk last summer and currently is giving his new team 20 points per game while making 53 percent of his 3s.
A while earlier, Memphis sent one of the league's best post players to the Los Angeles Lakers for the honor of receiving the expiring contract of a tremendous draft bust. And let's not forget the drafting of Hasheem Thabeet, who was selected at No. 2 overall with James Harden, Steph Curry and several other rising hotshots on the board.
But in the Lakers trade, the Grizzlies dumped Pau Gasol and – in addition to Kwame Brown – were given the rights to little brother Marc. Marc became an All-Star last season. Dumping Pau's contract helped the Grizzlies afford to keep some of their current stars.
They also took on the considerable baggage of Randolph, signed him for $71 million over four years and now have a nasty post tandem.
A three-season run that netted a combined 68 victories kept fan expectations at a reasonable level … and also enabled Memphis to select Rudy Gay in the draft.
All of this simply reminds us there is more than one viable blueprint for building a good NBA team.
Before we all get a little cuckoo, let's sit back and see what happens here.