PHOENIX — When Alvin Gentry took over the Suns’ head coaching position after last year’s All-Star break, he vowed to make the Suns better at home and then did just that.
The Suns reeled off victories in 24 of their first 27 games under Gentry, but since then have looked more like Terry Porter’s troops at home, splitting eight games, including losses to less-than-elite teams in Oklahoma City, Memphis and Miami.
Those are decent teams, don’t get me wrong, but combined they are only five games over .500. They are not world beaters, and they are not the kind of teams the Suns should be losing to at home.
Considering Phoenix’s 0-7 December away from the 602, it’s paramount not to drop any more games to teams that have no business winning in the Valley of the Suns. And that means tonight when the Milwaukee Bucks come to town.
First off, the Bucks spent last night getting pounded by the Lakers, 95-77, in a game in which they scored eight in the first quarter, 28 in the first half and 46 through three; the Suns often get to 46 in half that much time. Meanwhile, Phoenix has spent the weekend peeved about the game Miami stole, and maybe just maybe watching a little Cardinals football.
With it being a getaway game for a four-game road trip starting on Wednesday in Indiana, the Suns really have no business not blowing out a Milwaukee squad that’s gone 7-16 since an 8-3 start and this despite a three-game win streak to start 2010. The Suns’ 7-9 December pales in comparison to Milwaukee’s 3-11 end to 2009.
The man to watch for the Bucks, of course, is the electrifying rookie Brandon Jennings, who leads Milwaukee with averages of 18.5 ppg and 6.0 apg to go with that monster 55-point game against the Warriors on Nov. 14. But after averaging 22.1 ppg on 42.0 percent shooting in November he slowed down to 16.7 on 37.6 percent shooting in December and is at 9.3 on putrid 24.5 percent shooting this month.
Still, we already know Jennings is capable of busting out for 55 at any point in time. Or 49 like he did in his only official game in the state of Arizona, back when he was a senior at Oak Hill Academy and played a high school game in McKale Center, where he had originally committed to play college ball before later opting for Europe. Jennings’ quickness, shooting touch and passing prowess made him a future star from where I sat that afternoon in Tucson.
The Bucks also feature former top overall pick Andrew Bogut, who is becoming quite a player with averages of 15.9 and 9.8 rpg.
Still, the Suns should be able to run up another big lead on this tired, overmatched team, especially the way Jennings is struggling. If they do, it will be interesting to see if the Suns step on Milwaukee’s throat or once again let the opposition back in the game.
There has been so much talk about the Suns blowing leads of late that I look forward to seeing how they respond. They can’t keep losing winnable home games if they want to be a factor at the top of the West playoff picture.
To Suns guard Steve Nash, that means not letting what happened in the past influence the future.
“We’ve got to try to play better on Monday, but we can’t hang our heads,” Nash said. “I think that’s what happens, we have a bad stretch, we hang our heads a little bit, it compounds it. Then we fight back and it’s too little too late, so I think we need to stay positive, just keep working and keep learning from our mistakes.”