Suns show toughness in winning home finale

Suns beat Rockets in home finale; Hunter cites 'toughness' in case for job extension.

PHOENIX – In his last in-person audition for Phoenix Suns fans, interim coach Lindsey Hunter presided over the team’s second victory in its last three games.

If the Suns can manage a win in Wednesday’s finale at Denver, Hunter will – like predecessor Alvin Gentry – check in at 13-28.

Anyway, Monday’s 119-112 triumph over the playoff-bound Houston Rockets (45-36) may have compromised the franchise’s ping-pong ball aspirations a bit (especially with the Cleveland Cavaliers losing again), but a few glimpses of future competence certainly can’t reflect negatively on Hunter.

Well, they might if critics hold Lindsey accountable for not having coaxed Markieff Morris, for example, into providing more consistent evidence of solid play.

Morris, one of four Suns to score 20 more points against Houston in this one, produced an even 20 to go with seven rebounds, five steals and six blocks. In the next-to-last game of Markieff’s relatively disappointing season, the second-year power forward became the first NBA player since Antonio McDyess (1998) to post at least 18 points, seven rebounds, five steals and six blocks in the same game.

Luis Scola went for 26 points and 15 rebounds and inspired Houston to go small just to contest him from mid-range. Defensive touchstone P.J. Tucker contributed a career-high 21 points, and the terminally-plucky Goran Dragic provided 21 points, 14 assists and three stitches.

So, with a couple of solid efforts near closing time, the ultimate judgment of Hunter’s candidacy to remain on the job will occur when team owner Robert Sarver makes that particular call.

But for self-assessment, Hunter – speaking to reporters prior to the game with Houston – did give himself credit for, at least, doing things differently.

“I’m a tough guy,” Hunter said in regard to his coaching style and how it’s been received by the players. “That’s a little different than what they’ve been accustomed to.”

So, although Hunter puts defense on the top line of his calling card, we also know he doesn’t mind taking a shot or two at the previous coaching regime.

A Suns player – who, for the sake of self-preservation chose to provide his two cents in anonymous fashion – did agree that defensive details weren’t exactly stressed to the same degree by Gentry.

“But to characterize the team or coaches as having a general lack of toughness over an extended time I don’t think is fair,” the player said. “There were different points of emphasis, but I think the team played hard in relation to what our focus was.”

When asked what he would do differently if given the job on a full-time basis – and with the benefit of training camp – Hunter sounded like a serious stickler for details on the court and off.

“There will be a lot of things that I would do differently from the beginning,” he said. “I would change some things that were here all along that I was not particularly a fan of, but it’s been that way and you can’t just tear the house down when you move in halfway through the year.”

Here’s one example:

“I would change the way that we dress and the way we do things in the locker room,”
he said.

In regard to how things have progressed on the floor under his watch, Hunter’s self-assessment sounded pretty strong.

“I think that we’ve gotten better on both sides of the ball,” he said, leaning more on late productivity than long-range statistics. “I think, of late, we’ve really seen some good things.

“Defensively, I think that you can tell by the way that we’re rotating and covering for each other that fundamentally the guys are starting to grasp what we’re trying to be.”

It hasn’t exactly been easy for the rest of us to grasp what Hunter’s been attempting to build, but coaching consistent effort seems like an unnecessary chore (at least for a good team) at this level of basketball. With inconsistent focus from player to player – and game to game – changing strategic course in midstream can be daunting.

With a commitment to details as part of his self-assessment, Hunter indicated that sacrificing the emphasis on little things for an extra victory or two was something he wasn’t willing to try.

“You can’t skip steps to make myself look good and get a job,” he said.    

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