Los Angeles Lakers 99, Phoenix Suns 95 — Getting closer


[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FS_GAywUaQM&fs=1&hl=en_US]

PHOENIX — As the Phoenix Suns drift further and further below .500, they must take their positives where they can get them.

Although Wednesday’s 99-95 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers featured the same old lack of rebounding and lack of crunch time scoring, the Suns moved ever so close to figuring things out and scoring that much-needed quality win.

“Once again, I thought we played well,” said head coach Alvin Gentry. “We have nothing tangible to show for it, but I think over the long haul, it’s going to help us. I’m disappointed about the loss, but encouraged about what I see for our team, and what is going on with it.”

It’s now been two weeks (feels like much longer, right?) since Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus first put on Phoenix Suns uniforms and one week since Vince Carter joined them for active duty.

In that time these newcomers have had to learn their offensive and defensive responsibilities while the Suns have adjusted defensive schemes. You just can’t create chemistry like this on the fly and thus the Suns have lost five of six games against lackluster competition aside from the Heat and Lakers games.

“The positive out of it is that we’re fighting like Hell,” Vince Carter said. “We’re really starting to put it together. The most important thing is just to stay focused, still believe in each other. We’re just right there, and I think if we put one or two together we’ll feel better about ourselves and our situation.

“We just ask the fans to be patient. We know you want to see your team win. We want to win. It’s not fun coming in here and being so close. It’s just frustrating to keep going out and for whatever reason getting beat, but we’re right there.”

The biggest reason the Suns lost this one is that they got crushed on the boards once again, this time by a 47-31 margin. That’s despite the Suns starting a front line of Robin Lopez and Marcin Gortat, but Lopez was once again ineffective with two points and one board and poor defense against Andrew Bynum.

Gentry was pleased with his twin towers, but they inherently ruined the spacing on offense (aside from the fact Gortat isn’t used to playing the four and wasn’t always in the right spot) and their defense/rebounding didn’t make up for it. When asked about this lineup, Steve Nash said it was necessary to combat the Lakers’ size but he doesn’t expect it to become a Suns staple.

The Suns fought back from a nine-point second-quarter deficit when Jared Dudley exploded for 15 points on 6-for-7 shooting in the period as Phoenix took a 50-49 halftime lead.

The Lakers then jumped out to an early second half lead but could never put the Suns away until the very end. Phoenix’s final rally cut an eight-point lead with four minutes to go down to one when Carter drilled a three in the corner.

But Ron Artest followed a pair of Shannon Brown free throws with a back-breaking three that the Suns never recovered from when Carter missed a shot, Gortat made one of two free throws and Hill got blocked before Carter missed a three with 10 seconds left and the Suns down four.

“It was a disappointing loss,” Steve Nash said. “We didn’t play bad, we just didn’t make enough plays or play well enough to win the game, so it’s disappointing, but we got to stay positive and keep moving.”

Added Grant Hill: “It’s one of those games where you kind of go back, just a bounce of the ball, one shot, one play you could do over again, but just learn from it.”

The Suns suffered their second straight loss when yielding fewer than 100 points after dropping just two of their 33 such previous games. That means Phoenix held the Lakers below 100 points for the first time since Jan. 17, 2008, a span of 11 consecutive meetings.

That’s another glass half full/half empty proposition. Either you can say the Suns’ defense has been improving on the heels of the stinker against Philly with their stifling performance against Detroit or you can say their offense hasn’t been good enough in stretches to win such games, failing to score 100 in three of their past five defeats.

With every loss the Suns make this hole more and more difficult to dig out of. There’s no shame in losing to Kobe, Pau and the defending champs, it’s just a shame when losses to the Clippers, Sixers and Kings in the past week make the straits so dire.

The Suns are showing progress, putting together solid stretches (the bench played particularly well in the second quarter tonight) and showing glimpses of becoming a playoff-caliber team. But time is not on their side as they start to approach the midway point of their season still in training camp mode.

“It’s going to take time, we just don’t have time,” Gentry said. “We don’t have that luxury of being the first couple games of the season where we’re trying to find things out. When you change the team the way we have it’s not going to be the same team we were last year, so we have to find new ways to score at the end of the game and how to create situations and mismatches and things like that.

“That all is just a process. We just need to keep working and hope the chemistry and everything kicks in and we can go on a run where you win 10 out of 12 or something like that to get back in the race. That’s the way it has to be.”

As the national media circles the Suns like vultures waiting for them to gut the team and rebuild (AKA trade Nash), all Gentry and the players can do is continue to try to find that chemistry that could turn this season around. Many of the interviewed Suns believe they just need a couple quality wins to get rolling back on the playoff path.

“We went through the same thing last year,” Gentry said of these late-game struggles, “and the one thing I can say about all the guys in that locker room is that they’re a confident bunch. Although we’re struggling and our record is not where we think it should be I think that we’ll continue to play. I think we really feel like at some stage it will all come together for us.”

Perhaps it will, but if it doesn’t happen soon then it may be too late.

And 1

The Oregon and Auburn football teams attended the game. … Jared Dudley scored 21 points on 8-for-11 shooting to go with six boards. Dudley now has eight career performances of 19 or more points, four of which have come in the last seven games. … Gortat went for 12 and nine, and he has now scored in double figures in four of six games with the Suns after doing so just twice in 23 contests for the Magic. … Orlando has won seven straight after dropping its first two following the trade, so that team has gelled considerably faster than Phoenix. … Six Suns scored in double figures.

  • female

    man vince is not mentally in the game start dudley ASAP… vc’s defense sucks baaad

  • elway

    female….leave. VC clutch 3 towards end brings em within 1, obviously you didnt watch the game.

  • KJ Loyalist

    Elway:

    13 points – 6/13 from the field. 1/4 from 3. 2 boards. 0 +/- Clutch city, indeed. Horrid.

    Meanwhile, JMZ:

    21 points on 8/11 shooting 3/4 from 3. 6 boards, (and +5).

    Dudley should be starting. the day J Rich got traded, JMZ should have been and should still be starting. He fits better with what the team is currently trying to do.

    On top of that, both of your guards in the starting rotation, (or off the bench), can’t be revolving doors on defense. Nash isn’t leaving the starting lineup, so having Vince starting with him is just crippling. At least you break them up. Nash with JMZ & Dragon with Carter so there is some shot at a decent perimeter defense at all times.

    RoLo needs to come off the bench as well. It’s nice that Gentry is so loyal to him, but Gortat is just a better fit and Frye needs to be starting at the 4.

  • female

    elway…. he missed a clutch shot in the previous game so what. did you see artest’s 3pointer at the end. he could have go and defend but he looked like he’s out of the game. mentally he is off. he missed casspi and he missed artest…

  • Sean

    elway- I was at the game and I agree with female. The Suns need less Vince Carter and more Dudley, Pietrus, and even Childress.

    Carter was disengaged on defense, and other than 1 or 2 drives to the bucket, he was a long jump shooter last night. Getting his 3-pointer blocked with 12 seconds left or so was very disappointing. The Suns have enough 3-pt shooters that you don’t need to force a bad shot there. He frankly looks out of shape and kind of lazy. Maybe he’s looked like that for a couple years now but I haven’t seen him as up close as I did last night.

    The Suns overall actually played quite well last night, aside from rebounding. The rotation is too deep with average players. When you’re paying a guy $6M a year to not play at all (Childress) that has skills the team could use for 20 minutes or so, that’s not working. I thought Warrick was decent during his short stint. Bottom line: I think management needs to be working on another trade. We have 10 decent to good players, plus Nash. We need a 2 or a 4. Is Amare available?

  • Sean

    KJ Loyalist-

    You are spot on. This should be their rotation:

    Starters:
    Nash
    Dudley
    Hill
    Frye
    Gortat

    Bench:
    Dragic
    Carter
    Pietrus/Childress
    Warrick
    Lopez

    They really need to trade 2-3 of their average type players to get someone else. It’s a shame to pay Childress $6M/yr to sit on the bench with a DNP, especially since he’s a decent player.

  • Drew

    Sean– I agree with this line up. I think that if you wanted a faster game and run the PnR a lot, you can flip flop Warrick for Frye on occasion.

    Echoing what has been pointed out, a big issue is that Pietrus and Childress are both too good to be splitting minutes. It seems a trade needs to be made to unload. VC is the obvious choice because of his value (he’s an above average scorer and has the semi-expiring contract). VC+Warrick even for draft picks seems fine, although a solid 4 would be preferable.

    Bottom line, lets settle into a solid squad and let it simmer. We haven’t given this team time to gel. Last year’s run shows there’s something to be said for team chemistry. Last night it seemed Nash and the Polish Hammer are on the verge of clicking. Lets give them some time to get used to each other.

  • Freddy

    The Suns played great ball last night. A lot of positive stuff to work from. If they can continuously play like this we may have a winner. Dudley has been busting his hump when he gets the minutes and his stats show it I wouldn’t mind seeing him play a good portion of minutes considering he knows the system and can work the floor.

    RoLo IMO is hurting the team more than he helps. I expected more from him at the start of the season and so far he is a bust he gets into Foul trouble quick, clumsy with the ball, can’t play good defense, or get rebounds.

    I personally enjoy watching Childress and Warrick but with so many Wings its hard to give them minutes and paying talent to DNP is a waste.
    I say Dump Rolo/Childress/Warrick/(maybe throw a pick if someone bites) for a solid PF that WANTS to play in AZ.

  • MKM

    Steve only attempted 16 total shots in the last two losses while making 12 of them (75% FG). He should shoot more off Gortat/RoLo screens, especially in clutch situations where nobody dare to take the big shot. He is our MVP, best shooter and should carry the team in those situations. I don’t want to see VC or Pietrus taking contested 3′s in the final seconds again!

  • MikeMeez

    I was at the game last night too and I wasn’t particularly disappointed in VC last night. 6/13 shooting really isn’t bad at all. Unfortunate he was blocked at the end, but there was really no one else on the 3-point line and there were only a few seconds left.

    But Dudley played like a stud last night and is starting to show that he deserves the starting spot after a slow start this season. His 3 is back apparently and he was hitting the boards. He must have gotten 6 points just by getting the offensive boards and putting it back up. Our bigs certainly doing that.

    Funny to me that Dudley always looks really good playing D against Kobe, like Dudz really looks to be doing all you could do, but it’s not effective and Kobe continually got his shot off. Hill is our only effective one on one defender on Kobe. I think it must be Hill’s veteran savvy and just constantly manhandling Kobe off the ball to get him frustrated. And I don’t know if it was on the highlight reels, but did anyone else see Hill breaking Kobe’s ankles going baseline and finishing strong? Best play of the game, collective “OHHHH” from the crowd

  • MikeMeez

    looking at it again i guess there were a couple other guys on the three point line but only 8 seconds left down by 4. not enough time to be passing the ball around. VC just needed to get it off a little bit faster.

  • tottenham

    Can anyone tell me what the Hollinger ESPN insider article said?

  • Martin

    Dudley finally playing great basketball … even if it hurts to say but if we want to unload some bad contracts (j-chill, frye, maybe warrick) we have to give up some valuable assets too … so it could be dudley … RoLo leave would not hurt to much with Marcin on board now …

    to me it looks like this team has no identity anymore. no run and guns anymore but also no halfcourt / defensive team …

    direction is unclear, but this team definetely will look different after feb 24 trade deadline.

    apart from a few tough games, there are lots of winnable games until feb. 20 when vc can be moved again

    vs ny
    vs cle
    @den
    vs nj
    vs port
    @ny
    @cle
    @was
    @det
    @phi
    vs cha
    vs mil
    @gs
    vs gs
    vs sac
    vs atl

    if th suns won’t suceed til then, I think nash will be gone

  • JZ

    Had a dream last night that the Suns were playing the Rockets and were down 63-45 with 10 seconds left in the 2nd quarter. All of a sudden, Nash is taken off the floor and sent to the lockers. Then, at the start of the 3rd quarter, Nash returns wearing a Rockets uniform (He got traded to Houston during halftime). Point is, maybe it’s time to set Nash free and let him seek for better pastures elsewhere.
    P.S. Frye blows.

  • Zak

    For those of you who keep moaning about the Suns’ need to trade for an all-star quality PF the only PF who might be on the trade market who comes close to that description is Andray Blatche. 16.4 ppg, 8 rpg and .6 bpg BUT also much talk of an “attitude problem”. I’ve checked it out and the math works for a trade between Phoenix and Washington but who knows if it would be worth it. Maybe getting out of Washington would improve Blatche’s attitude but maybe not. If Washington really wants to get rid of him then the trade cost might not be too much. Personally, I wouldn’t take the chance on trading for him but, as I said, he’s the only player who remotely resembles the mythical PF that so many people say that the Suns need to trade for that is actually available on the trade market. IMHO, better to just add Gani Lawal to the rotation and hope that he can come close to his college stats in the NBA.

  • Cam

    Just looked at a trade in NBA trade machine. VC for Igoudala and Evan Turner. I know we would be taking on salary but if we could make another move like the one Zak talked about we could have something there, especially for the future. 76ers might do it for salary relief next year and the NBA trade machine thinks +11 in wins for phoenix if that trade happened. What do you think?

  • Cam

    Throw in the orlando first rounder to the 76ers to sweeten the deal if necessary. I think Turner just needs some playing time to shine and he might get it next year with the suns if we lose Hill and then have Igoudala, Dudley to move through SF/SG and have Turner play SG at times.

  • AnacondaHL

    As the national media circles the Suns like vultures waiting for them to gut the team and rebuild…

    This is an awesome phrase. I may steal it for future use.

    100% Echoing Carter needing to be on the bench. It’s that time of his career. No more 4th quarters for him.

  • http://www.twitter.com/arturbm Artur

    We can trade Frye and Vince for Varejao and Antawn Jameson. Sounds good to me.

  • vaanhalen

    ditto, but its more likely Varejao *or* jamison. Cavs are sucking it up and you can always count on owners of underperforming teams to do something foolhardy as we all know. jamison is on the blocks.

  • Zak

    Jamison is on the blocks but he’s not what the Suns need at all. If they could swing a deal to bring Varejao to Phoenix without giving up too much for him then that would be a very sweet deal. Unlikely but you never know… Cleveland is in a worse position than Phoenix right now and we can only hope that THEY panic enough to make a bad trade (for them) that would send Varejao to Phoenix.

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