PHOENIX — Marcin Gortat punctuated one of his poignant quotes after Wednesday’s defensive shellacking at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers by remarking that things can’t get any worse.
We will find out if they actually can when the Suns take on the woeful Detroit Pistons Friday night to close out 2010.
All eyes will be on the Suns’ defense after Philadelphia shredded it for 123 points with three players going for career games, and the first steps toward that goal were made during Thursday’s two-hour, 40-minute practice in which the Suns simplified schemes to ensure everybody would be on the same page, according to The Arizona Republic.
The Suns need to make some adjustments with their defense ranking as the sixth worst of all-time by yielding 114.1 points per 100 possessions, according to Basketball-Reference.com, just 0.6 points per possession off the worst defense ever (the esteemed 1992-93 Allas Mavericks, who went 11-71). Only one of the five worse teams won more than 25 percent of their games.
Making matter worse, the Pistons come in with their shooting touch intact as they have hit at least 10 treys at a 55 percent or better clip in consecutive games for the third time in the last 25 years, according to ESPN Stats and Information via Basketball-Reference, and while the Suns were losing to the Sixers the Pistons were beating the Celtics on Wednesday.
The Suns of course have lost four in a row, including theoretically winnable games against the Clippers and Sixers. They can not afford to drop even further below water in the next two against the Pistons and at the Kings before opening up a three-game homestand.
“This is a really important stretch,” said head coach Alvin Gentry. “The next two and a half, three weeks is going to be really, really important to what we’re trying to get done, if we’re going to stay in the playoff race and stuff like that.
“We’ve got a lot of home games that we’re going to play, and we’re going to have to win those games. We’ve got to re-establish what we do at home. I’m disappointed in our home record. I think that we’ve been pretty good here the last seven years at home. It’s always been a tough place to play, and we’ve got to re-create that atmosphere.”
The Suns have dropped to 7-7 at home after losing four of five in the Purple Palace, but while they aim to improve at home and figure out their defense they also need to sort out their rotation. Gentry seems convinced that an 11-man rotation won’t work for obvious reasons, but he still needs to find out if he can make 10 work like last year and who the odd man out will be.
On Wednesday it was Childress, who got the dreaded DNP-CD, but Hakim Warrick and Goran Dragic played 10 while Robin Lopez got 13 and Channing Frye only 19. Dragic figures to play more because Steve Nash can’t go 38 a night and Lopez will as well if he starts playing a little better, but Warrick and Childress seem to be the most obvious candidates to lose time, especially with Mickael Pietrus playing so well lately.
“One of the things that we’ve got to do is we’ve got to figure out how we’re going to be able to play,” Gentry said. “Then we’re going to have to make a decision and kind of stick with that and try to develop some kind of a continuity and consistency, so that’s going to be a big thing here, and we’ve got to get some guys who we think are going to be able to do it and then that’s what we’re going to have to kind of live with.”
The Phoenix Suns are a team in flux that cannot continue to blow home games to losing Eastern Conference teams. The Suns are essentially in training camp mode, experimenting with what works and what doesn’t and trying to decide on what kind of rotations to use, while the rest of the league is in midseason form.
We learned Wednesday that it’s tough to beat even a losing team missing its star while at home in such a situation.
It’s going to take time for this team to come together, but they must win games like this one so that it won’t be too late when (if?) that happens.
The Suns have been a porous rebounding team all season but might be able to re-assert themselves in that area against a Detroit squad tied for 29th in rebound rate, collecting 47.6 percent of the available boards to Phoenix’s 47.2.