PHOENIX — After observing the last 15 minutes of practice today, the Phoenix Suns looked like the team with a 2-0 series lead heading into Game 3, rather than the squad scrambling for answers against a seemingly unbeatable Lakers team.
There were smiles scattered across the court as the team wrapped up practice with a half-court shooting contest, and the overall atmosphere was very loose and positive.
There is no denying the team’s disappointment after its two-game stint at the Staples Center, but head coach Alvin Gentry made it clear that, much like the Suns did against San Antonio, the Lakers did what they were supposed to do by protecting home-court advantage.
“It’s still somewhat comical to me that when we won the first two games against San Antonio here, all everyone wrote about was, ‘Well, they really hadn’t done anything,’” Gentry said. “We lose the first two games in LA and they’ve already got us buried. Has anyone gone in there and won a game on their home court in the playoffs? They did what they were supposed to do.”
Gentry did, however, deem the team “very disappointed” in its first 96 minutes of play. He emphasized the importance of improving the team defense (big surprise there) and keeping the Laker bigs from dominating the paint like they have been through two games — 108-80 points in the paint advantage for LA.
So much of the blame for the success of Pau Gasol (25.0 PPG, 6.5 RPG) and Lamar Odom (18.0 PPG, 15.0 RPG) has fallen on the shoulders of Amare Stoudemire. There is no question STAT has been embarrassed defensively on numerous occasions throughout the series, but Gentry and Amare’s teammates haven’t been as quick to point the finger.
When Gentry was asked why Amare has struggled defending Gasol he responded vehemently, “Can you tell me another guy in the league that can guard him one-on-one?”
The same reporter then mentioned how Stoudemire had been out of position numerous times, leading Gentry to stand by his All-Star forward.
“I think you guys are making way too much of that. We had a lot guys out of position on certain plays,” he said. “If you’re telling me because of the statement he made (about Odom being lucky) everybody’s looking at him more closely, then OK, fine. But to say that he’s the only guy that’s out of position is not an accurate statement. That’s not true at all.”
Steve Nash also backed up his fellow All-Star: “I don’t think he should listen to anybody but himself. I support him. I think he’ll come back and play a great game. We are a team, we win as a team and we lose as a team. We can’t point fingers at anybody but ourselves collectively.”
Stoudemire seemed very calm when addressing the media after practice in regards to his recent criticism. He said that he understands that it comes with the territory of being an All-Star and seeking a max contract, but he did mention that a lot of the adjustments the Suns have made isolate him defensively a lot of the time, making it easier to point the finger at him.
STAT has been asked to front the post against Gasol and to offer help on Kobe Bryant, which left him “on an island out there.”
There is no hiding that Stoudemire has been burned time and time again defensively, while only managing to grab nine rebounds through two games. But Amare sounded like his ineffectiveness defensively is more a product of how good the Lakers big men are, coupled with the Suns’ mediocre defensive scheme, rather than his individual deficiencies.
“From my standpoint, I’m doing everything the coaching staff asks me to do,” he said. “Every single thing.”
Whether all of the criticism should fall on Amare’s shoulders or not, the Suns plan on going away from all of the fronting of the post and double teaming of Kobe. They want to get back to playing the type of team defense that fueled them to close out the season and in the first two rounds of the playoffs, rather than worrying about who to double and who to front in the post.
“I think we’re going back to what we’ve been doing all season long,” Stoudemire said. “We made a few adjustments in Game 1 and Game 2, that didn’t quite work out well for us so we’ve got to go back to what we know.”
We will find out Sunday if going back to the old style of defense will help the Suns or not, but whether anyone will admit it or not, Stoudemire needs to pick it up on the defensive end if Phoenix stands any chance against Gasol and company.
Coach Nick from BballBreakdown on Amare’s defense