Left to look for silver linings

BY foxsports • January 5, 2011

GameTrax: Stats and more

By Randy Hill
FOXSportsArizona.com

January 6, 2011

PHOENIX -- With two of their most popular exes scheduled to hit town in a couple of nights, the Phoenix Suns continue doing very little to make 'em regret the messy exercise of breaking up.

At 14-19, the Suns have become the NBA equivalent of a former significant other that's sprouted a couple of ripe zits, grown a minor tummy and started rollin' in a beater. So, when Mike D'Antoni and Amar'e Stoudemire check in on Friday with the New York Knicks, the new-look Suns may remind these two that going in another direction (east) was a nice idea.

The latest evidence of relative difficulty in rebounding (and other issues) was acquired on Wednesday night when the Los Angeles Lakers dropped a 99-95 loss on the Suns at U.S. Airways Center.

Based on evidence from the last couple of weeks, failing to beat L.A. hasn't become that easy. But the Suns managed to find a few ways. They were slaughtered on the boards, unable to conjure more than three second-half shots for Jared Dudley (after he ripped the Lakers for 19 first-half points), and wasted a collective 48-percent performance from 3-point range.

To his credit, impressively optimistic Suns coach Alvin Gentry isn't just looking at the big picture -- he's eyeballin' a block-long mural.

"I was happy with the way we played," said Gentry, pointing out how his collection of random personnel parts made the Lakers earn the victory. "I thought we did a good job of fighting back. We have nothing tangible to show for it, but I think over the long haul, it's going to help us.

"I'm encouraged about what I see. We feel like at some stage, it'll come together for us."

The big question around town is how much ground the Suns -- assuming a harmonic convergence occurs -- can make up on the teams currently north of them in the Western Conference playoff race. For now, the Suns will attempt to comfort themselves by looking for silver linings in defeat. That's where they are, leaning on the crutch of having to assimilate new players while similar circumstances haven't created comparable doom back in Orlando.

Anyway, in addition to stockpiling ordnance for a Steve-Nash-will-be-or-should-be-traded campaign currently waged by the big thinkers of national sports journalism, Phoenix's eighth defeat in its last 11 games provided an interesting strategy twist. Right, Gentry still refuses to surrender in his quest to find a lineup capable of steering this team toward the light. While he's at it, Alvin might as well take a look around for Bigfoot.

In case you hadn't noticed, Gentry had been working with a smaller starting lineup the last couple of games. It worked pretty well for 91 of 96 minutes. Unfortunately, going smaller against the Lakers -- whose post players are longer than the line at Starbucks -- is a bit terrifying. So Gentry super-sized his opening five, offering the tandem of Marcin Gortat and Robin Lopez for the tussle with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.

"I thought we fought and did as good a job as you can keeping them out of the paint," Gentry said after Bynum checked in with 14 points and Gasol -- creating more audition tape for a "Weekend At Bernie's" remake -- gave the Lakers a measly half-dozen.

Further inspection reveals, however, that the Phoenix Skyline Project lasted just long enough for Lopez to produce his second foul with 5:27 remaining in the opening quarter. His early work included allowing Bynum to snatch two offensive rebounds that sabotaged solid team-defensive stands. For the evening, Lopez worked just 11:56, giving the Suns two points and one rebound -- exactly what Bynum provided the Lakers on a single first-quarter play. Gortat, who demonstrated the ability to battle Gasol with minimal double-down assistance, had a dozen points and nine rebounds.

Gortat still has room for improvement in defending ball screens. Fashionably late to join the would-be screener, the Polish Hammer frequently takes curious angles that invite the ballhandler to either turn the corner or split the intended trap when Phoenix attempts to blitz.

With Gentry not backing off this aggressive strategy against PNR (thumbs up on that), Friday's appearance by the screen-roll-happy D'Antoni and his Knicks should be interesting to witness. First, the Suns have to decide which of their myriad lineups to trot out. The recent small-ball crew would require card-carrying small forward Grant Hill to battle Stoudemire. Channing Frye, who frequently puts the "ow" in power forward, may even return. Gentry said his jumbo lineup of Gortat and Lopez remains an option, although court coverage against the Knicks would be dicey and neither Sun post player appears capable of exploiting a size advantage on offense.

A loss to the Knicks in another nationally televised date will only make the drum beats for pre-deadline change sound even louder. For now, they vow to keep working and ignore the on-line chatter.

"Well, we're getting better, I think," Nash, keeping with the silver-lining theme, said. "we just haven't gotten the results. We just got to keep after it and try to get some results."

If the Suns don't muster the desired result Friday, we may see how many visiting writers attempt to kidnap Nash and haul him off to New York.


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