Suns headed in right direction for playoff push
PHOENIX — We’re not ready to declare March Momentum or even Marcin Madness, but the Phoenix Suns will be hauling a three-game winning streak into their next game.
That next game happens Wednesday night in Oklahoma City. So any prevailing heat check could be severely overruled in a reality check offered by the Western Conference-leading Thunder.
“That’ll be a good test for us,” Suns guard Shannon Brown said after providing 13 points off the bench Sunday in Phoenix’s 96-88 triumph over the Sacramento Kings.
As tests go, this one should be as delightful as passing the bar exam.
But their three-game run of triumph — boosting the 12th-place Suns to 17-20 — does include wins over the pretty decent Minnesota Timberwolves and the suddenly powerful Los Angeles Clippers. It also means the Suns no longer are being used as doormats at US Airways Center.
“The most important thing is that we’ve had to right the ship at home,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said with his team now checking in at 10-9 within the friendly confines.
Well, the ship may have been pointed in the wrong direction, but it also was taking on considerable water. Since returning from the All-Star break, however, the Suns have attempted to assist their own defensive efforts by collecting rebounds after forcing the opposition to miss shots. That always helps.
“Our defense has been solid most of the year,” Suns point guard Steve Nash said following a 19-point, 7-assist performance. “We just haven’t been able to come up with a good percentage of rebounds.”
As a key to the resurrection of their playoff aspirations, the Suns have prevailed on the boards against three of the league’s best rebounding teams while limiting each to less than 40-percent shooting.
“I feel like we’re doing a much better job of rebounding and closing out possessions,” Nash said. “I don’t think it’s natural for our personnel … we just have to make an extra effort and some nights we’re going to lose that battle. But we’ve done a better job the last three games of fighting for it.”
Channing Frye’s probably hasn’t inspired anyone to suggest “The Natural” in tribute to his history on the glass, but he had 10 rebounds against the Kings after taking down 14 vs. the Clippers.
“There’s other facets of the game he can help us in,” Gentry said of Frye, who has managed to be an important contributor despite missing 25 of 30 shots from the field in the last two games. “Everybody wants him to be this tough guy. That’s not his personality; he’s a nice guy. He’s also a good basketball player.”
Another good player and nice guy — who happens to rebound his area even if he’s inconsistent at boxing out — is center Marcin Gortat. Matched against Sacramento strongman DeMarcus Cousins, The Polish Hammer finished with 14 points, 17 rebounds and enough defensive pluck to help limit the Kings’ center to 7-of-20 shooting.
“It feels good and definitely we made a plan … we said that we want to get those three wins and now we have them,” Gortat said, “so we have to keep going. We’ve got a great rhythm right now, we are playing well and, hopefully, we are going to show up next game ready to play against Oklahoma.”
The challenge of knocking off the conference’s top team on the road is abetted by rare practice time and maybe even a new therapeutic contraption the Suns possess that offers 300 degrees of cold to battle the aches and pains.
Gortat said it reminds him of being outside in Poland during the winter.
The frigid burst may remind Suns fans of Frye’s recent shooting efforts. But Channing’s cronies did manage to crank out five made 3s in a relatively conservative 12 attempts, including a 4-for-7 run in the fourth quarter. Two were provided by Brown in a 26-second span that boosted Phoenix’s lead from three to nine points at 82-73 with 8:20 to play.
“I think the thing that killed us was Shannon Brown,” Kings guard Tyreke Evans said. “Those 3s he hit … after that we could never really find a rhythm. Those were big shots for them.”
And rallying to win after falling behind by double digits for the third time in a row might be a shot in the arm for the Suns.
“I think rust has a lot to do with it,” Nash said, referring to the seven-day break as explanation for the early-game lapses. “But I could be wrong.”