Early tests showing Suns’ deficiencies

By Randy Hill

October 29, 2010

PHOENIX — According to the leading brains dedicated to NBA study, Planet Orange soon will be back-spinning off its picking-and-rolling axis.
It also has been hypothesized that P.O.’s gravitational pull is unwittingly wooing a calamity-sized asteroid with the same disturbing shape of a draft lottery ping-pong ball.
But less than one week into the anticipated irregular season, here’s one important thing we know about the Phoenix Suns:
Now working in the first year AA (After Amar’e), their first four play dates were scheduled against four of the best teams in the Western Conference. That’s not an alibi … but it is one fact we feel obligated to mix into a swirling torrent of amateur basketball analysis.
It also should be noted that the entire opening month falls something far short of a scheduling hay ride.
Anyway, through the first three of these skirmishes, the Suns are one up and two down. That second defeat was slapped on ’em, 114-106, Friday night (the second of a back-to-back) by the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, who still look good enough to provide the opposition with some hard early-season looks into the mirror.
“We see where we have to get to if we want to be in the championship mix,” Gentry said after this particular dose of Laker-related reality. “I was happy with our effort. I think we played extremely hard.”
(Despite two work nights in a row, we’d like to think of playing hard as a given, right?)
So, with the Lakers providing the latest test, let’s take a look at our catalog of what’s good and bad with a team grappling for an identity:
— OK, it’s pretty obvious the Suns are nowhere near talented enough to execute like some chubby rascals at the rec center and come away with a victory against a top-tier team. Sure, they have a Hall-of-Fame facilitator in Steve Nash and several pretty good players running around. But without someone toting around star-caliber scoring ability, the boo-boos can be murder.
Against the Lakers, the Suns didn’t set any records for turnover frequency (a measly 10, which is very good for any pace), but they did miss several point-blank scoring attempts.
“I think we executed pretty well,” Gentry said after losing to the Lakers. “We just missed some easy ones and that hurt us.”
Well, that falls under our merciless blanket of execution.
— Mediocre rebounding may have prevented the franchise from ultimate glory in recent years, but it wasn’t enough to propel it toward a really high draft pick.
With a whopping three-game sample as our guide, however, it certainly appears that rebounding may have a greater impact on the win column.

With center Robin Lopez not blocking out on the defensive boards (yeah, it sounds elementary, but it’s stunning to see how often NBA bigs just turn and move toward the rim when a shot is fired), the Suns were minus-18 on the glass at Portland (a fourth-quarter free fall). Channing Frye had moments of block-out failures against L.A., but Lopez rallied with 14 rebounds and the Suns lost the board battle by a mere three.
If the Suns had converted some of those lay-ups, they could be 2-1 and skipping into next Wednesday’s home showdown with the San Antonio Spurs.
— The post defense threatens to be as poor as advertised … still. For now, at least. But let’s temper our lack of enthusiasm with a reminder that Game 3 seemed really awful, in large part, because Laker big guy Pau Gasol and sidekick Lamar Odom are pretty stinkin’ good.
Both are longer than a day at traffic school, and Gasol probably is the most-skilled big in the league now. He put 21 points, eight rebounds and nine dimes on the Suns, who had to choose between several defensive-killing poisons in defending him. Allow Lopez to play the Spaniard solo and Gasol can go berserk. Double him and the Lakers — who were 12 of 27 from beyond the 3-point line — make you painfully accountable. And the attendant spacing in Coach Phil Jackson’s triangle offense makes sending a second defender to the post more difficult than normal.
Now lob the attention required to keep Kobe Bryant from going monster into your game plan and we see bad things for your defense.
Odom, by the way, was working against Suns newcomer Hedo Turkoglu, a career three man who now seems like a solar-power forward in a league full of night games.
— Goran Dragic probably needs to play more than 18 minutes and change. In two stints as Nash’s point-guard caddy, Dragic scored 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting against the Lakers defense and had four assists.
Right, despite putting up a relative stinker against L.A., Nash (9 points on 3-of-9 shooting) should not receive appreciably less time on the floor, meaning Gentry would have to find minutes for two point guards at once. Match-ups against lanky guards would be a problem, but the Suns already have size-related issues on defense; maybe putting Dragic on a two guard would keep opposing fours from feasting on the post against Turkoglu.
* We’re pretty sure that no team (excluding the L.A. Clippers) has been officially eliminated from playoff contention before November.
“If we play with that kind of effort and if we execute like that and we rebound just a little better, we’ve got a chance to be pretty good,” Gentry said following a loss to the Lakers that was anything but iffy. “We still have guys trying to learn and be in the right spots and do the right things.
“I said to the guys, ‘We’re not going to play the Lakers every night, either.’ “
Well, they did for a while last May, but — with that asteroid allegedly speeding toward Planet Orange — we know another harmonic convergence may be needed for the rematch.