PHOENIX — Confidence.
For a veteran like Steve Nash, that word means nothing. He already has enough MVPs in his trophy case at home to make it so a couple missed shots or bad passes won’t shake him in the least bit.
For his understudy Goran Dragic, however, that word means everything.
Following a pair of horrific outings in which Dragic missed all 12 of his shots, with each miss begetting another miss, Dragic went out and played his best all-around game in a Suns uniform in Tuesday’s 143-127 victory over the Kings, scoring 21 points on 7-for-12 shooting while grabbing a whopping eight rebounds and dishing four assists.
“Today was totally different,” said Dragic, who recorded a plus 32. “I made a couple shots and my confidence went up and everything is different, so my hopes are that I’m going to continue that.
“The last few games I was twelve-zero,” he added, knowing exactly how many shots he missed in the past two games, “so it was really tough. Every time I was open for the shot I was thinking about if the ball was going to go in or out, but today was a little different. When I caught the ball I didn’t hesitate, I just shot it.”
That’s exactly what the Suns need out of Dragic this season, no thinking, no hesitating, just playing basketball.
When Nash went down with a sprained ankle a couple minutes into the third quarter and missed the rest of the half (don’t worry, he would have returned if this were a regular season game and he hopes to be able to practice on Wednesday), Goran got a chance to play with the first teamers and did he ever capitalize, putting up a 16-4-4 line in the second half.
He was aggressive both on the dribble and in taking shots, and his eight rebounds prove he isn’t afraid to mix things up a bit.
“Confidence,” Gentry said. “It’s all about confidence with him. I didn’t see him do anything differently, He did a really good job of his decision making tonight as far as knowing when to shoot, when not to shoot and when to pass, things like that, so hopefully that’s something that he can just build on from here.”
Added Nash, “I thought Goran did a really good job. He’s playing better, and we need him to have his confidence.”
Yes, confidence is definitely the magic word with Goran, and after a game like this everybody was quick to praise his “confidence.” I have a feeling this won’t be the last time we hear the words “Goran Dragic” and “confidence” in the same sentence this season.
Any time you score 143 points there is plenty more good to go around, but first a bit of the bad news, which is how Gentry started his postgame presser.
The Suns yielded 16 offensive rebounds to the Kings in the first half, which was four more rebounds than the Kings collected on the defensive side of things. Spencer Hawes, who seemed to be playing volleyball with himself at times, grabbed four of them and Jason Thompson and Sean May got three each by halftime, when the Kings led by one.
Then in the third quarter the Suns held the Kings to one measly offensive board, and wouldn’t you know it, they dominated the quarter by a 42-26 margin to take a commanding lead into the fourth.
Coincidence, I think not.
“It’s pretty clear what we’ve got to take pride in is getting rebounds after stops,” Nash said. “Our defense wasn’t awful for long stretches of the first half, we just gave up a lot of offensive rebounds.”
When the Suns weren’t yielding offensive boards, they were scoring at the other end seemingly at will, with Channing Frye leading the way with 29 points on 9-for-12 shooting, including 4-for-5 from deep, as well as a game-high plus 33.
Frye continues to be either ice cold from the perimeter or scorching hot, but on nights when he’s stroking the ball like this –- and not just on set shots, he hit a few after making a move — the Suns’ offense is lethal.
“It was a good shooting night for me,” Frye said. “I was just taking my time. I think the games where I shoot bad is when I’m rushing or get too excited. (Assistant coaches) Igor (Kokoskov) and Dan (Majerle) have been real patient with me in helping me just find my pace, and tonight I had it.”
Finally, Amare slowly but surely is rounding into form. He scored 27 points after going 17-for-21 from the line.
“Amare is getting a little bit better as far as conditioning and being able to become the old Amare,” Gentry said. “I felt he had a lot of bounce to his game.”
A couple other things that stood out were:
- Grant Hill was ejected for arguing a foul at the other end when the Suns were on defense. He uttered a choice word to get his first T, but I thought it was ridiculous that he got the second one to get the boot unless Grant had somewhere else to be and secretly plotted with the ref to be kicked out beforehand. That quick of a whistle for a second technical would also get at least 90 percent of the NBA players who draw a first T.
- Hill’s ejection and Nash’s injury meant Gentry did not get to simulate a regular season feel with his rotations, but we still got a general feel on what they will be like, particularly in the first half. Lou and Dudley both played about 18 minutes off the pine overall, and Earl Clark got just seven minutes, making his first appearance with 3:29 left in the first half. Gentry said Clark could play as many as 15-18 minutes or as few as 10-12 minutes during an average regular season game depending on the situation.
- The Suns hit 51-of-56 free throws (91.1 percent) awarded by replacement officials on the day news broke that the NBA and the real refs are close to a deal.
- Jason Richardson missed all eight of his shots, but he corralled a team-high 10 rebounds. That kind of effort on the boards will be crucial this year, and the guards certainly helped out in this one with J-Rich and Dragic combining for 18. “I know that it’s hard to get rebounds in the paint, but every time they shoot the ball … out of the lane, the ball has to be ours,” Dragic said of the guards.
- The Suns scored at least 30 points in every quarter.