Phoenix’s bench holds off Philly after nearly blowing it


PHOENIX — You can look at a number of different stats to analyze how a basketball player played, but really it comes down to this: did his team score more points than it gave up while he was on the floor?

Thus Friday night’s Suns-Sixers game can be boiled down to two statistics relating to the all-important plus-minus:

Steve Nash — plus 30 in 28 minutes.

Goran Dragic — minus 28 in 20 minutes.

When Nash and the starters were in this team looked great, and when Dragic and the bench came in things weren’t so great to say the least, and the numbers say the Suns were 58 points better with Nash running the show than they were when Dragic/Dickau were at the controls.

The Suns jumped out to a big early lead and then saw the bench give it away in the second quarter. Then they jumped out to another big lead in the third but saw the bench give it away late. Yes, it’s going to be that type of season again.

That doesn’t bode well for a team that expects its bench to be a bigger part of what it does this coming season.

However, after blowing an 18-point lead with eight minutes to go, the Suns’ bench recovered to pull out a 115-113 victory.

“I thought the other guys did a good job of hanging in there and wining the game,” head coach Alvin Gentry said in a 44-second, one-statement, can’t-wait-to-get-this-trip-over-with presser. “I wanted those guys to battle to the end of the game, and that’s why I didn’t want to sub anybody back into the game, but they did a good job, and it’s a good win for us. It’s really a good win in that the second team guys played the entire fourth quarter and were able to still just hang in there and pull it out.”

That is true, but barely.

The Suns led 98-80 with eight minutes remaining. They trailed 106-104 six minutes later after a monster 26-6 run by a group of Philly rotation players against the Suns’ deep bench.

At this point I was getting ready to write about how the Suns won their only preseason game that the starters finished and lost the games finished by the bench, but then Dan Dickau managed to hit six straight free throws, including three after being fouled on a three, to put the Suns over the top.

It was nice to see this group of Goran-Clark-Lou and soon-to-be ex-Suns Dickau and Carlos Powell show the intestinal fortitude to win a game they had all but lost.

The Suns will need the Goran-Clark-Lou group to make big leads stand up in the regular season, so this was great practice for the real time.

The best part about the ending was watching Gentry on the sidelines. The Suns’ head coach was obviously pleased with the win, but you get the feeling he would have been OK with an L in this situation if only the game wouldn’t go to overtime.

I will say, getting to watch the game close enough to hear Gentry’s every shout is high entertainment.

Amare hits the boards

After grabbing just two rebounds in 32 minutes Wednesday in Portland, Amare Stoudemire collected 12 in 30 minutes of play Friday night. He also chipped in with 16 points to go with a plus-22, as obviously he played many of his minutes with Nash.

Before the game Gentry said he sees Amare as being about 60 percent back, and that showed. He lacked his explosiveness at times –- missing a lob from Nash he would normally convert as well as a few other plays a 100 percent Amare would make –- but you can tell he’s starting to get there.

“I feel great,” Amare said. “I wasn’t tired at all. I didn’t get tired one time out there, so that’s a great sign.

“It’s a matter of getting a feel again. Tonight I got the feeling out there, kind of slowly starting to catch my rhythm offensively and also defensively. I’m just trying to find my areas where I can score, find my areas where I can defend, rebound things like that.”

However, on the flip side, Marreese Speights looked like the second coming of Tim Duncan, going for what would be career highs of 32 points and 12 boards if this weren’t preseason.

Anybody who knows against what team he set his career-high scoring total gets an autographed Leandro Barbosa jersey.

Just kidding, I’m going to give you the answer now: Feb. 9 against the Suns when he scored 24 in the infamous Terry Porter “we quit” game.

Frye busts out of slump

Channing Frye busted out of his two-game offensive slump by exploding for 17 points on 7-for-8 shooting from the field and 3-for-3 shooting from deep in the first half. The ball found Frye, and he didn’t hesitate in drilling shot after shot.

That’s a dimension I’m excited to see play out during the season.

Frye had been mired in a 3-for-19 (15.8 percent) slump the past two games, and his defense and rebounding (one board in 25 minutes Friday, no defensive boards) still leaves something to be desired.

“Right now it’s just trying to figure out like, ‘OK, some games I’m really good defensively, other games I shoot well. Then other games I don’t shoot well and don’t do anything good,’” Frye said. “I’m just trying to get complete games so they know what they’re going to get out of me.”

Dudley does it again

Do I ever enjoy watching Jared Dudley play.

Dudley, the only bench player to record a positive plus-minus (OK, he played with the starters for much of the third quarter replacing Hill but still), drained a pair of threes and finished off a sweet Nash dish for a three-point play.

He also added to his preseason-leading total with five, count them, five steals.  J.A. Adande might not like him re-tweeting his own stats, but five steals is more than a re-tweetable amount.

As for the much hyped Barbosa trivia contest, @nbarocksstc won the autographed LB jersey by answering that the Blur averaged 21.1 ppg this summer for the Brazilian national team.

Not sure how I feel about that if he isn’t a Suns fan. Doesn’t appear to be from a quick look at his page.

However, Dudley certainly knows how to engage his fans on Twitter, and I look forward to him vastly expanding his online presence with more giveaways like this throughout the season.

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  • The Z. Man

    VERY good reporting!!!! Wins and losses are what competitive sports should have as their measurement for success. That is why I’m a big proponent of the plus/ minus (“+/-”).

    Last year, who had the best plus/minus in the game? King LeBron, who, therefore, was indeed the Most Valuable Player. When naysayers dismiss Nash as an undeserving 2-time MVP, they get too caught up in how well-rounded the ball player is and not to what he contributes to the team. Nash is the man. When Nash and LB play together, the Suns are near unbeatable. They know each other’s every move and both play for the love of the game and to get wins. Last night, Nash had a better plus minus than any other starter because he was at his best with J-Dud and the Brazilian Blur.

    Nobody beats the Trail Blazers in Portland, except, THIS TIME, the Suns. Gentry responded to Portand’s going back to its entire starting five, when they obviously wanted to win the game. Suns response? Gentry, who wants to give 4th-quarter playing time to his subs and even scrubs, postured back. Gentry went for the “W” this time. He closed out the game with his best. Only his best 3 starters and his 2 superb subs (J-Dud and the Brazilian Blur). This has proven to be, by far, his BEST team. Suns should start the SAME five. Will give us MORE WINS!!!! Mercury are 2-time champs playing small ball. Suns almost got the ring in 2007 – they WERE the best team that year. Suns can surprise most folks and other teams this year ONLY if we know which players to play. Don’t want to panic but it’s obvious that Tragic will cause us to LOSE. Ship him off to Iowa. Keep Dickau and let Nash’s back up be LB. Start and finish games with a back court (as in our closing team vs. Portland) of LB and Nash. What a combo they are!!!! Suns should start and finish with: 1) Nash; 2) LB; 3) J-Dud; 4) Hill (or the other way around at the 3 and 4); and 5) STAT. This small ball team will blow away our opponents early and late. LB has amazing stamina and could play 40 minutes per game EASY. J-Rich can become 6th Man of the Year. Rest of our 2nd unit can be Earl, Louis, and Frye (a 9-man rotation). Love Tucker’s potential (former Big Ten Player of the Year over Greg Oden in his #1 overall pick draft year) and would like to find a way to give him regular playing time. Suns should limit the rest of the team to slop time, unless a key player gets hurt. Play the guys who give us our best (plus/minus) shot each game.

    MUST start and ALSO finish with LB. Let’s go SUNS!!!!

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