PHOENIX — The Suns knew they had a player to step into the starting shooting guard spot and fill the void left by Jason Richardson. But nobody expected it to be Jared Dudley, at least to this degree.
With Vince Carter still nursing a knee injury, Dudley’s played out of his mind as a starter, averaging 20.6 points per game in three contests with the starters. He’s posting 30 a night in his last two games, most recently a career-best 33-point, 12-rebound explosion against the Heat as he nailed seven triples in a game-high 42 minutes.
“He’s done a good job spacing the floor and getting in open spots, and he’s shot it in rhythm,” said head coach Alvin Gentry. “His shot’s been going and he’s feeling real good about it. I’m real pleased with the way he’s played.”
Dudley said that since his outburst as a starter he’s been texting J-Rich, who’s now in Orlando, joking that Richardson was holding him back from unleashing offensive explosions like he has in the last few games.
“I first texted J-Rich and I said, ‘You were holding me back,’ after the San Antonio game,” Dudley said. “Then he texted me after this last game, he said, ‘Man, I guess I was holding you back.’ I think he’s happy for me, I’m definitely happy for him.”
Dudley’s gone off for 60 points in the 84 minutes he’s played in the last two games, against some of the league’s top defenses in Miami and San Antonio, nonetheless. But Dudley attributes his success to Steve Nash’s penetration and actually thinks it benefits him when the Suns take on upper-echelon defenses.
“The defenses like Boston, Lakers, those top defenses, the opposite wing always shows, always helps on the pick and roll,” Dudley explained. “Steve’s been drawing in the defense and then kicking out and obviously I’ve been knocking down shots but it’s been a lot of wide-open looks.”
“I was just like, ‘Man, should I keep shooting?’ I was so wide open,” he added.
Although they’ve been wide open, Dudley is certainly on point with his three ball, drilling 10 of his last 17 triples. He’s been the Suns best all-around player these last two games, but Gentry said Carter will still be the starter when he returns.
Dudley said “70 percent” of his success lately should be attributed to playing with the starters, but both he and Gentry are confident the 6-foot-7 swingman can continue his hot streak as a reserve, which is the role he’s clearly used to.
“JD is going to be JD, he’s going to be fine. He’s played off the bench,” Gentry said. “He’s still going to get extended minutes, he’s played well enough that he’s earned those. But we still have to get to a rotation that’s going to be our rotation when Vince is going to be a starter for us.”
Childress’ splint removed
Thursday’s loss the Heat was the first game all season that Josh Childress was able to play without a splint on his right index finger, which he fractured in the preseason.
“It felt good. I’m just trying to get the feeling back in my finger,” said Childress, who scored two points in 10 minutes against Miami. “But it feels good to be able to palm the ball. I’m looking forward to practicing more and playing more.”
He’s been extremely limited for eight weeks, and said “it felt like a year” that he had been wearing the splint. When asked the area that it hindered him most, Childress said with a smile, “Everything really. Your index finger is a little important.”
He’s still getting the sensation back and said everything still feels rough as he compared it to getting a cast off. But there was one benefit from the injury — Childress’ improved left hand.
“There’s been times in practice and even last night, shots that I normally wouldn’t shoot with my left hand, I am, and getting that stronger is obviously a plus for me,” he said.
Carter didn’t practice again on Friday, but did shoot three-pointers and free throws after practice. As for his status for the Suns’ Sunday afternoon matchup with the Clippers: “Questionable with a little bit of doubt, but maybe probable,” Gentry said with a laugh.
“He said he’s feeling better,” he added. “It’s going to be up to him as in when he thinks he can go and play. He’s itching to get out and play so if he’s healthy at all I think he’ll play.”
Suns searching for defensive consistency
Phoenix spent its entire Friday practice on defense, which is clearly an area of concern for a team that ranks 29th in points allowed and opponent’s field goal percentage.
“I told the guys, ‘You can’t look at the defensive stats and see that you’re 30th, 29th, 27th.’ That’s not good enough, not to be a playoff team and a factor in anything,” Gentry said. “We’re half a step short of getting out where we’re supposed to, we’re half a step on the weak side of being in a position where we can rotate and get there without the guy getting to the basket and laying it up, simple things that are very correctable that we’re going to correct.”
The Suns have tried a ton of different schemes and approaches in the last few weeks, putting in a 2-3 zone, matchup zone and just straight man-to-man. But Dudley quite candidly said the Suns aren’t exactly improving, and they’re running out of time.
“I don’t think we’ve made too much progress to be honest with you,” he said. “We’ve been watching film, some people in one defense, some people are in another, communication’s not there, trust factor is definitely not there. That comes with time, which we’re running out of. It comes with practice and we got a good one in today.”