PHOENIX — This year’s rewritten Phoenix Suns script seems to be offering considerably more than a changing of the point guard.
Evidence of the differences is everywhere.
There’s a new offensive structure (which wasn’t working very well), a fresh paint job for the U.S. Airways Center floor and nine players who worked somewhere else last season.
One additional — and even more important — change is the Suns’ ability to avoid falling apart in most of their fourth quarters. OK, so they’re not exactly the Dream Team in the first quarter (or selected other intervals), but at least they’ve figured out how to generate offense and make stops with the game on the line.
And even with you-know-who running the offense, that didn’t happen very often the past two seasons.
Please note that falling to the Chicago Bulls, 112-106, in overtime Wednesday night does not completely trash the positive karma created by doing well in the final 12 minutes of regulation. Playing against the league’s sixth most-efficient defense, the Suns piled up 31 fourth-quarter points and limited Chicago to 17.
“I think we did a good job of hanging on and shaving some points here there,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. “But when you fall behind by 18 points, you put yourself in a perfect-storm situation. To get all the way back, it’s almost impossible.”
For the record, this defeat ends the Suns’ three-game home winning streak and puts them at 4-5 for the season. But the equal-opportunity approach to crunch playing time seems to be working.
Sure, that’s the silver lining in a Suns’ sky that offers little in the way of star power. With 73 games remaining, looking for doomsday clues would be too painful.
So, Gentry remains obliged to closing games with players who are going well at the time. The what-have-you-done-for-me-lately approach can produce interesting, single-game heroics. With this roster, it’s a difficult strategy to avoid.
It’s also tough to sidestep the notion of shaking up the rotation, just to see if the Suns can start games with more gusto.
Gentry said it’s something he’s considered, but not something that’s in the offing… at least not right now.
“You’ve got to be a little bit careful with all of a sudden changing it,” he said, reminding us that working with a rotation full of new players can be tricky enough without making multiple alterations. “Do we like to get off to slow starts? Heck, no.”
This means that Jared Dudley (5 points vs. the Bulls) and Michael Beasley (12 of 4-of-15 shooting and 4 turnovers) will continue to start. It also keeps Shannon Brown and Sebastian Telfair providing juice off the bench.
Against Chicago, Telfair (he made 4 of 8 3s), Brown and P.J. Tucker (7 offensive rebounds) kept the Suns alive.
“It’s just playing with energy,” Telfair said. “Me personally, I heard a few boos. The last thing you want to do is lose the interest from your fans.”
Even without injured star Derrick Rose, the Bulls (6-4) remain fairly formidable. They don’t figure to pose much of a threat to the Miami Heat (even if Rose returns in fine form), but rallying from 18 down to force overtime against them isn’t easy.
By the way, the Suns did this despite making only 40 percent of their shots from the field against Chicago’s five-men-on-string, half-court defense. With the court flipped, the Bulls made half of their attempts against a Suns defense with continued frequent lapses.
What saved the Suns was a 51-46 advantage in rebounding, including 20 boards on the offensive end. The Suns did cough up 15 turnovers (converted into a whopping 22 points by Chicago), but forced the Bulls into the same number. With a rebounding victory and more reasonable turnovers (they just six in Monday’s win over Denver), the Suns can do some work.
“You can see that when we do manage those two things, we’re usually in the game with an opportunity to win,” Gentry said.
Wednesday’s opportunity was boosted by power forward Luis Scola, who made 12 of 22 shots, scored 24 points and grabbed 14 rebounds before fouling out.
His understudy, Markieff Morris, contributed 10 rebounds and 8 points, but missed 9 of 12 shots before leaving with a bruised hip. Telfair had 17 points, but missed 8 of 13 shots. Brown had another huge role in the rally, but was only 4 of 15 from the field.
A more conventional approach to winning basketball would be nice, but for now, Gentry and the Suns most cobble successful games by any means necessary.
Their next two dates (the Lakers in L.A. Friday and the Heat here on Saturday) should provide sufficient opportunity for the Suns to be resourceful.