PHOENIX — If NBA preseason games are good for anything, it’s gleaning where a team is set and where it still needs to improve.
Tuesday night’s preseason home opener displayed that few things are actually “set” for the Phoenix Suns as they fell 105-100 at the hands of the Utah Jazz.
Now, there is no reason to panic. It is, after all, just the preseason. Hedo Turkoglu’s early exit (he played just nine minutes) with a bruised back could be reason to worry, but Suns coach Alvin Gentry said holding him out was just precautionary.
However, the lack of certainty overall displays just how much this reloaded Suns team still has to figure out.
“It was a typical preseason game,” Gentry said after the game. “We had some good moments and we had some really tough moments. I was happy with a lot of things and, obviously, disappointed with some.”
It started and ended with taking care of the ball in Tuesday’s game. The Suns tallied 12 turnovers in the first half and finished with 20 for 23 points. Four turnovers came at the hands of forward Jared Dudley and three via point guard Steve Nash.
The Jazz coughed the ball up 15 times for 17 points.
“We need to continue to work on our turnovers,” Gentry said. “We’ve got to get that to a working number, which to me that’s got to be in the 12 [or] 13 turnovers range.”
It may not have be as much carelessness with the ball as it was an ongoing adjustment period for a team that saw three major roster changes in the offseason.
The Suns’ offense has for the past few years been a very smooth, flowing, connected offense with Nash tying it all together. But the team that took the floor against the Jazz looked like a group of players still a bit unfamiliar with each other’s style of play.
“We did some good things, especially on defense, but we had some break[downs] in communication,” point guard Goran Dragic said.
Dragic led the Suns with 15 points and five assists, including eight points in the fourth quarter and 3-of-4 shooting from deep.
Dragic’s three deep balls came in less than five minutes as the Suns tried to claw their way back into the game during the fourth quarter. With 8:56 to go, an Earl Clark jumper from 14 feet out gave the Suns their first lead, 84-83, since the 8:16 mark of the second quarter, but the Jazz quickly went on a 15-4 run to wear out the Suns’ secondary unit.
The deep bench took the final minutes of the game and tried to make it interesting when Matt Janning pulled the Suns within three on a three-pointer in the final moments, but it wasn’t enough.
Dragic also led a number of super-sub lineups through the night, with everyone on the roster seeing time except center Garret Siler. Nash led all starters with nearly 22 minutes of court time.
The Suns’ second unit also displayed that it is still finding its legs, as the subs played most of the second quarter when Phoenix scored just 11 points to the Jazz’s 25.
“Every day it’s better and better,” Dragic said of the second unit. “We are getting to know each other.”
Gentry continues to experiment with rotations, particularly with new Suns Josh Childress and Hakim Warrick, as he figures out how to best utilize one of the league’s deepest benches.
“We’ve got to do a better job in our rotations,” Gentry said.
Warrick was again a bright spot for the Suns, adding 11 points and three rebounds in almost 19 minutes of play. But Warrick seems to be bringing something beyond the stat line — energy.
The super-athletic forward showed on more than one occasion (including a nasty alley-oop dunk from Nash in the third quarter) that he brings a presence that can spark a run and generally raise the level of play around him.
Jason Richardson also continued to shine, posting 13 points on 3-of-6 shooting. Richardson’s shot looked smooth (minus one air ball) and his release quick, which is key as he may end up being the team’s leading scorer after the departure of Amare Stoudemire.
“J-Rich is playing real well with the energy he’s bringing and the way he’s shooting the ball,” Gentry said.
Al Jefferson led the Jazz with 16 points and five rebounds while C.J. Miles added 13 points and five rebounds.
The Suns also won the rebounding battle and showed flashes of being a dominant, fast-paced offense. It shouldn’t take too long for this team to mesh into a legitimate offensive threat, as per usual on Planet Orange.
With four preseason games to go, there is still plenty to learn about this Suns team for fans and the Suns themselves. With the season opener two weeks away, the Suns remain a work in progress.
The Suns finish off this home and home series with a trip to Utah to play the Jazz on Thursday at 6 p.m. MST.