PHOENIX — Suns coach Alvin Gentry and 76ers coach Doug Collins go way back.
Most notably, Gentry took over for Collins in Detroit as the Pistons’ coach late into the 1997-98 season.
But the relationship goes back further than that.
“I knew his son Chris when he was in college and he had an accident and broke his leg, so I sent him a couple of Miami Heat shirts and I had known Doug anyway and we just got really close,” Gentry said. “So when I was let go in Miami I ended up working for him in Detroit when he got the job there.”
From that point, the two became much more than head and assistant coach.
“I’m as close to Doug as anybody in my life, other than my family and my wife,” Gentry said. “He’s been like a brother to me, we talk all the time, and not just about basketball things.”
But when the game does come up, the Suns’ coach said there’s no one better to talk to.
“I think he’s the best basketball mind that I know,” Gentry said. “He knows the game like no one else does. He’s also the most passionate person I know, too. He’s an extremely bright guy and I’ve learned a lot from him.”
Collins took a leave of absence from the coaching game after the 2002-03 season with the Washington Wizards and went on to became one of the most respected basketball commentators in the business.
Now he’s returned to the bench in his first season as the head man in Philadelphia.
“I think he wanted to try it again and he wanted to be able to leave the coaching part on his own terms,” Gentry said. “I still think he’s the best analyst I’ve ever watched.”
Collins is 344-306 as an NBA coach.
“I check on him all the time and want his team to do great,” Gentry said. “I pull hard for him for about 80 games of the season.”
Well, when the Suns and 76ers meet Wednesday it will be one of those nights when Gentry doesn’t root for his old friend.
Phoenix has lost three straight games but will have Vince Carter in uniform for the first time as a Sun.
The Suns are no longer the NBA’s highest scoring team, but they still average 107 points per game.
And that’s bad news for Philadelphia.
The 76ers are 0-14 when allowing at least 99 points.
More bad news for Philadelphia is that according to The Arizona Republic’s Paul Coro, the 76ers will likely be without their leading scorer, Andre Iguodala, who is nursing a right Achilles injury.
Phoenix is coming off a loss in Los Angeles in which it held the Clippers to 18 points in the third quarter, but allowed 90 in the other three.
“It’s more mindset than anything,” Gentry said. “I don’t think we can play the way we did in the third quarter against the Clippers and get back in the game if you don’t have the ability to [play good defense]. It was more about us than it was about them. We have to find a way to [play well] for 48 minutes, not 18 or 20.”
Phoenix is currently in 11th place in the West but is only one and a half games out of eighth place.
“For us to be any threat at all in the playoff race, we’ve got to get better defensively,” Gentry said. “We have to be able to have seven, eight or nine people to play with a high intensity level the whole [game].”
The Suns swept Philadelphia last season and have won 20 of the last 23 meetings in Phoenix.