Suns' lineup tweaks pay off in rout of Blazers
PHOENIX -- Suns coach Alvin Gentry, still seeking tasty lineup combinations, did some experimenting Wednesday night to find out what goes best with Polish whine.
OK, so when Suns center Marcin Gortat – dancing on that skinny line between recklessly candid and marginally subversive – recently complained a tad about his role in the Phoenix offense, it had no influence on Gentry’s decision to alter the starting lineup.
Alvin simply chose to shake it up because the Suns were 4-7 and riding a three-game losing streak into Wednesday night’s 114-87 triumph over the eagerly complicit Portland Trail Blazers.
“I’m not going to yell from the mountaintop,” Gentry said after the first look at his alterations. “It’s one game.”
And two relatively bold moves for Suns-kind.
Coaching one of the league’s least formidable first-quarter teams inspired Gentry to move shooting guard Jared Dudley and power forward Luis Scola to the second unit. In their places were Shannon Brown (going from closer to starter) and Markieff Morris.
“I want to make it perfectly clear that it’s not that these (Dudley and Scola) are the two guys that are not performing or anything like that,” Gentry said before tip-off. “I just think that we need to try to see if we can do something different and to see if that will help
the overall rotation.”
It didn’t exactly bother the on-court maneuvering.
Instead of barging into the same space visited by Scola, Gortat roamed the lane while Morris worked the edges. Playing against 20-year-old Blazers rookie Meyers Leonard and what appeared to be a hologram of LaMarcus Aldridge, The Polish Quote Machine scored from the post and on put-backs to go 8 for 10 and amass 16 points in the first half. He finished the game with 22 (on 11-of-14 shooting) and seven rebounds in three quarters.
Morris, who started the evening shooting an icy 35 percent for the season, went 5 for 7 over the first 24 minutes. When it was over, the second-year pro from Kansas was 9 of 13 for 19 points. Backup center Jermaine O’Neal – credited by Gortat for providing locker room leadership during this blip of adversity – was 7 of 9 and had 17 points.
The Suns retired for the evening at 59.7 percent from the field, pounding the Blazers for 54 points in the paint.
“Obviously, that was our most complete game for 48 minutes,” Gentry said. “We just seemed to have a good flow going.”
Gentry’s mixology, by the way, resulted in a 29-25 lead at the end of the opening period. It certainly helped that the Blazers (now 5-6) didn’t appear to be worried about minutes or defined roles. Their seeming disinterest enabled the Suns to shoot 63 percent in the first quarter and an even 60 for a first half that ended with a 57-44 advantage.
With J.J. Hickson inactive for this date, Portland moved Leonard into its starting lineup and had Joel Freeland and Victor Claver posing as inside reserves. With those two leading what qualified as an inactive bench, the Blazers subs erupted for one point in the first half. One.
So we’re advising Suns watchdogs to avoid the notion that poleaxing the Blazers – who, ironically, hit town with a three-game winning streak -- means Wednesday’s lineup changes were an act of genius. But it also doesn’t mean they were to be avoided.
“They’re no demotions or anything like that,” Gentry said of the personnel-deployment shifts. “It could have easily been someone else. We just think right now we are going to use this combination of players for a lot of reasons that we have thought about, and we’ll see how it works out. We’ll see two to four games from now where we are.”
Among other less-quantifiable tactical dimensions, the changes broke up the starting baseline trio of Gortat, Scola and Michael Beasley, whose protracted mediocrity and immobility on defense had been tough to overcome when displayed in concert.
While the team defense seemed more fluid, it’s hard to lose when you’re that overwhelming inside on offense.
Gortat, playing big after checking in as a squeaking wheel, admitted he “played mad."
"I tried to put myself in a better position to score.”
But, like Gentry, he also attempted to curb any enthusiastic overflow attending Wednesday’s victory.
“Honestly, we can’t get excited about this game,” he said. “Portland didn’t have the best game.”
No, the Blazers seemed to be on an early holiday. And the Suns seized the opportunity.
“We came out ready to play, and I think that was the biggest factor,” he said.
And Gortat's steady desire to succeed wasn't lost in translation.