Phoenix Suns 115, Portland Trail Blazers 111 -- One game back

PHOENIX — All the talk of rock bottom and blowing this thing up is missing one key fact. After Friday’s 115-111 victory over Portland, the Suns trail the Blazers by a mere one game in the loss column and two games overall for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Despite winning consecutive games for only the first time since early December following a stretch in which they lost to the Clippers, 76ers and Kings and got blown out by the Knicks and Nuggets, the Suns are right back in the thick of things.

“I think we knew the significance of the game,” said head coach Alvin Gentry. “This is just a much, much needed win for us.”

Unlike in previous seasons, the Western Conference really only features seven upper-echelon teams, and the Nuggets may be falling from those ranks any second now if they do deal Carmelo. Any other year and the Suns would be buried barring something like a 10-game win streak, but with Memphis, Houston and this Portland team failing to gain any separation, the race for No. 8 is wide open.

That’s why the Suns have remained right in the middle of this pack despite winning their first game against a non-losing team (Portland is now .500 after dropping three in a row) since the Orlando acquisitions arrived in Phoenix.

However, it doesn’t matter how close the Suns are to a playoff berth if they don’t start playing better than they have the past few weeks, and Friday’s victory marked improvement on that front as well.

Playing against a Portland squad that had smothered them in their three previous meetings, the Suns dictated tempo in this one, which rarely happens when these teams get together. The Suns not only reached the century mark for the first time in their last five regular-season contests against Portland, but only the Lakers — who put up 121 on Nov. 7 — have scored more against the Blazers all season.

“We struggle with this team as much as anyone because I think they do the best job of dictating tempo,” said Gentry, whose team pushed the ball faster than it normally does to create that quicker pace. “They really try to get a rhythm and play, and tonight I thought we kept forcing the issue and got the tempo up where we needed it to be, and it was a good win for us.”

The bench in particular played with energy reminiscent of last year’s bench to start the fourth quarter as the Suns ensured this game would be played in the 110s where they are most comfortable rather than the 90s, which Portland prefers. The Suns have now hit the century mark in three of four (and almost did in their Denver loss) after failing to do so in four straight.

“We have to be who we are, and our identity’s scoring,” Jared Dudley said.

After a porous defensive first quarter in which Portland scored 36 points on 62.5 percent shooting, the Suns stiffened up in that realm as well, particularly in a fourth quarter that saw the Blazers knock down just 38.9 percent of their shots and 1-of-7 threes as the Suns bottled up LaMarcus Aldridge with hard double teams.

The Suns once again overcame a double-digit deficit, winning their second straight such home game and sixth of the year, and once again it started with Dudley. Just as Dudley ended a 10-0 Nets run to begin the second half on Wednesday with a four-point play, he started a 9-0 Suns run with another four-point play after Portland took an 11-point lead midway through the second quarter.

Both times when Dudley’s long ball splashed through the net as he lay sprawled on the floor, the crowd went wild and really seemed to give the Suns a huge boost.

Afterward Dudley had some fun with it by admitting he might not have exactly deserved the extra free throw from the foul.

“I used to do that in college, kicking my leg out,” he said. “The first one against Philly, that was a foul, but today I stuck my leg out against Andre Miller because he came a little late, but hopefully I can keep it going.

“I’m admitting to the kick of the leg a la Reggie Miller.”

Like two of the three of the previous losses to the Blazers, this one also was close entering the fourth quarter. You might remember that the Suns melted down twice in the Rose Garden, but this time they were the better team in the fourth as Steve Nash drilled a tie-breaking triple with 1:11 remaining to take the lead for good to cap an overall solid period for Phoenix.

It’s too early to say whether the Suns are finally starting to figure things out or whether they just sandwiched two wins against poor teams and one against a .500 team at home around one of their worst efforts of the decade. However, this was the kind of game against a solid Portland team the Suns would have lost a week or two ago.

The Suns pushed the tempo against a squad that usually grinds them to a pulp and they stifled the Blazers’ offense down the stretch with some aggressive double teams, positive signs for a team still finding itself.

“I think it’s big. I think it’s a start,” Dudley said. “We can build off this.  That’s a good Portland team that’s beat us pretty well.”

One solid win won’t wipe away all the issues we’ve been discussing about this team the last two weeks, but tonight’s effort provides hope that the Suns aren’t as far away from being a playoff team as was thought earlier this week.

And 1

Grant Hill returned from his minor knee sprain to score 21 points on 9-for-14 shooting, a performance that made him the 15th active player in the NBA to reach 16,000 career points. “Sometimes I get depressed because I think back that I could have more, but I’ll take the 16,” Hill said of the achievement. … Steve Nash missed two of his seven free throw attempts to fall back into second place behind Mark Price on the NBA’s all-time free throw list. Nash, who had drilled 48 consecutive freebies entering the night, needs to hit 12 in a row to surpass Price once again. … Nash went for a 23-6-13 evening, making this the third straight home game in which he has gone for at least 20 points, 10 assists and six boards. … Dudley has reached double figures in five of six.

Tags: Jared Dudley

  • 1m3

    i hope its the start of something good for phoenix. . . kudos!!!

  • shazam

    finally a real win

  • Mike L

    A few weeks ago I commented on here that LaMarcus Aldridge is a guy we should go after. Last night showed why. Unfortunately for our chances he’s put together an insane couple of months that makes him look like a guy PDX might build around now that B. Roy has been injured enough that he might not be THE guy in PDX anymore.

  • Mike L

    Oh, and I’ll toot my horn one more time. We have a history of losing games consistently when these guys settle for outside shots. You can go back years on this, too, it’s not just an issue this season.

    I loved SSOL basketball, but that is a fundamental flaw of the system. I think the key moment last night was when Duds could have taken that jumper and instead took it to the rim and scored. Every time you do that you either A)score or B)kick it to a shooter. You do NOT merely spot up first time down the floor and hope it goes in. You take it to the hole enough and then a guy like Duds build his confidence for shots like that 3 that became a 4-point play. EVERY time you take the ball to the hole good things happen … it opens up shooters or builds confidence for the jumper you WILL have to take later. Why else do we all feel that it is so important to have a real 4 on this team? And why do good things seem to happen when Warrick, the only TRUE 4 on this team takes it to the rim?

    And how might last night’s game have turned out if Duds takes the open jumper and misses?

    I, for one, am not mourning our current season’s woes. I was ticked off the moment Amare missed that boxout versus Artest. As others have accurately stated, we DO know where this team would have gotten if Amare had stayed: another missed box out late in the playoffs and we go down again. Anybody remember how many times we got close with D’Antoni here?

    We do have the trade assets, in my opinion, to get a 4 who is BOTH young AND a better scorer/defender than Warrick. And it doesn’t need to be THE star of someone else’s team, just someone who is ALSO willing to defend and rebound. With a competent 4 in our rotation, I think this year’s team might actually be better than last year’s. Gortat is certainly an upgrade at the 5!

    Which 4s you ask? Think Randolph or Josh Smith. I FIRMLY believe that with Gentry’s openness that he can’t play 10 guys, those trade assets and our obvious need for some level of inside play at the 4 that we’ll see another move before the trade deadline. If we can’t play more than 9 guys anyway, why not make a move?

    And one thing I’ll agree with KJ Loyalist’s earlier post, if that means you give up VC and someone else (Pietrus) to pick up a draft pick or two, I’m all for it. At least a part of this mess is Sarver’s stupid willingness to sell or give away draft picks. Anyone else get sick every time they see a Rajon Rondo highlight??

    And while I’d prefer that we find a way to get a 4 NOW, we have to use these assets while we have them. We can still keep at least 8 or 9 really great rotation players from this current team. If it means only getting a 2nd round pick, I’m cool with that. How many solid players were 2nd round draft picks? I just think we have too many decent players sitting on our bench for a move NOT to be made.

  • Mike L

    V of Suns … you guys really need a forum on here. Check out vBulletin or

    I posted this on the comments of the PHX vs Nets summary story, but will on here, too. This story is in ESPN today.

    We NEED to get into this trade!!!

  • Cam

    Just looked at a headline on espn that says NYK are looking for a first round pick for A. Randolph. I’m all for giving up the Orlando first rounder if we could get him. If we could hand a SF to them for some salary cap relief I’m all for that too. I agree with Mike L. Even if we only get some picks for VC maybe we could swing those picks for a higher draft pick in the upcoming draft and get someone who can contribute right away next year.

  • Drew

    @Mike L- We do have a forum on here. And I don’t think we need another Power Forward-lite. We already have that in both Channing and Warrick. Even though Anthony Randolph could be an upgrade to Warrick, Frye is playing well (I cannot believe I’m saying this) and he spreads the floor with his 3-point ability. And really, Warrick’s ability to attack the basket is an asset collapsing the D. The one thing I think Randolph could really do is focus on D and be a Kevin Durant Killer for the next decade.

    Having said all that, I think our best move is to pair up VC’s semi-expiring contract and Warrick for a TRUE 4 committed to defense- Josh Smith would be ideal. LA and K.Love would also be perfect, but those two seem to be untouchable as their franchise players. But let’s get rid of VC, he’s a disaster. I understand though why Gentry’s hand is forced to play him. If we don’t, his trade value will drop and we won’t be able to get as much in return. So we keep feeding him and let him score 18 a night to increase his trade value.

  • shazam

    i think mike l “toots his own horn” a lot (even privately) but this time i totally agree w/ him

  • Ace

    This was a great win…and Phoenix did well in the boards…I hear that Clippers are willing to trade Kaman for a small forward with a reasonable contract…How about Phoenix jumps on this and trades Childress and Pietrus or Warrick and 1′st round pick for Clipper’s Kaman…This would improve Phoenix’s size with 4 7 foot guys at all times…and get rid of the Small forward problem…Just think about it:
    Vince/?(Pietrus or Childress)
    Frye/Gortat/?(Warrick if not traded)
    Kaman would definitely have to be a starter and Lopez would be place as the reserve center and give him more opportunity to develop alongside Dragic playing in the second unit.

  • Cam

    Ace I think the problem with getting kaman would be the fact that if we lost warrick our only athletic pf (if you wanna call him that) would be frye. When it comes time to defend guys like lamarcus Aldridge and Stat our bigs wouldn’t be able to keep up with their speed and athleticism, ie fast breaks, etc. I think with Gortat starting and Rolo as a backup we need an athletic PF like warrick, but with some defensive prowess. Also, have you seen Rolo on pick n rolls. He does ok but he is so hard to watch because he just seems to be moving in slow mo. I think an explosive would work better in the suns system at PF.

  • Mike L

    Ace I didn’t hear that. Kaman would be a great addition … Always hate it when we get matched up against him. He’s a gat defender rebounder and he can score inside. He can also get up and down the floor. Would love to see that deal happen, although I doubt LAC would trade him within the division. I also wonder how much our need is for a guy we could run a post play for … Not sure Kaman is that guy.

  • Mike L

    Another way of looking at it is we need a 4 who can create his own shot. Amare could do that, but was a liability on defense and rebounding. Kaman can’t create his own shot. That’s the reason a guy like Aldridge, Josh Smith, A Randolph or Boozer would be a great addition … Those guys aren’t liabilities on defense and the boards. And again, we don’t need someone else’s star 4. This is also why Warrick doesn’t fit the ultimate need at 4 and why we were all so hopeful Hedo could play the 4. As a guy who could create his own shot, if Hedo could have done that he’d still be a Sun. So you add a Randolph/Aldridge/Smith and you don’t need them to carry the team, but rather create their own shot when the game is on the line and the Suns are having a night where the outside shots haven’t fallen as much. We’ve had those games so far and lost the because we have no inside guy who can create his own shot.

    And thats why Amare had to go. Why lock up so much money, regardless of injury concerns for a guy who could create his own shot, but was a liability defensively and on the boards.

  • KJ Loyalist

    I’m very sorry. Very sorry indeed.

    Kaman hasn’t been good since 2007, (I’m giving him a year), and he is still a Clipper, in part, because the rest of the league agrees with me, and nobody wants him. I’ll take Gortat and RoLo every single day over Kaman.

    Boozer isn’t a liability on the defensive end? Since when? Cleveland? He’s a terrible player on the defensive end and Chicago signed him for his offensive game to try to compliment Rose because Noah is a beast on the defensive end and can cover up Boozer’s weaknesses.

    J Smoove is more of a weak-side defender who comes over late to gobble up blocked shots and rebounds. If he came to PHX he would be asked to guard the prime threat on the offensive which moves him to the strong side. Strong side players that he is forced to guard destroy him on a nightly basis, (and in PHX that would be every night). At least he has a mid range jumper I suppose.

    Aldridge is great, but watch his game closely. Does it fit with the current style of the Suns? No. It’s more than just: “WOW THAT GUY IS SO GOOD WE NEED HIM!” – if it was all about that, Hedo would have been a stud in the valley. It’s about the system and getting players that mesh in that system which is why Hedo was terrible in TOR / PHX but such a beast in Orlando.

    As for that Randolph situation, NY is not going to be looking for Orlando’s draft pick because it would not be enough to help them achieve their goals. It’s not a high enough pick. I don’t want anybody touching our other pick; I’d rather use them.

  • Cam

    Maybe the suns should just try and make do with what they have, make some trades with VC and our other expendables either to some cash strapped team in need of cap releif for another first rounder or for a young talent like Evan Turner who doesn’t seem to be meshing with their team. Then we can use the first rounders to move up in the draft for a true PF like Jared Sullinger from OSU. There are probably gonna be 3-4 good PFs that could contribute next year coming out. I think an Evan Turner type player who needs the ball in his hands would work with Dragic in the backcourt because they can both create and distribute like combo guards. Maybe we go after a guard and/or more picks with our trades this year and get the big later.

  • Jeremy

    Mike – J RICH was the one who forgot to box out Artest, not Amar’e… just sayin…

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