Phoenix Suns 106, Cleveland Cavaliers 98 -- Moving on up


Marcin Gortat tied his career high in points Wednesday with 16. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Two down, three to go.

The Phoenix Suns avoided the proverbial letdown game Wednesday by defeating the worst team in the Eastern Conference, 106-98, for the team’s fourth consecutive victory.

The Suns defeated the Knicks on Monday to begin their five-game East Coast swing.

Phoenix led by as much as 17 but let the shorthanded Cavaliers sneak back into the game in the fourth quarter before pulling away late.

“Our offense was really good as far as spacing the floor and spreading it out,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry told Suns.com. “I thought, in the fourth quarter, we got a little bogged down and we started being in too many isolation situations. We’re not really an iso team, we’ve got to have ball movement and people movement.”

Steve Nash had his 23rd double-double of the season with 15 points and assists apiece.

Grant Hill was the main reason for the victory, as he led the team with 27 points and 12 rebounds.

“I feel fresher and the rest of my body, before tonight, felt really good,” Hill said. “Maybe if there is a lockout, I can play in Europe once a week. I might be able to excel over there.”

Even though Robin Lopez started, Marcin Gortat played 27 minutes, 16 more than Lopez. The Polish Hammer tied his career high with 16 points and added 12 rebounds.

It might be only a matter of time now before Gortat makes his way into the starting lineup

Phoenix was down early but went on a 14-0 run in the first quarter to take a lead it would not surrender the rest of the way. The Suns shot 57 percent in the opening frame, scoring 36 points aided by seven layups.

The second quarter was much of the same. After Phoenix took Cleveland’s initial blow, the Cavaliers seemed to lie down a bit.

Nash had 10 assists at halftime. Hill and Channing Frye led the way in scoring in the first half with 14 and 15 points, respectively.

Phoenix outscored Cleveland 27-14 on bench points in the first two quarters as well. Coincidentally, that 13-point margin was the same amount the Suns led by at the break.

All of those offensive performances allowed Phoenix to grab a 62-49 led at the midway point. Wednesday marked the second consecutive game the Suns scored at least 60 points in the first half.

The Suns had an 11-0 run in the third quarter before Manny Harris drilled a three. Phoenix immediately answered back with a Gortat layup delivered from Nash to put the team up 85-69.

The Suns have struggled mightily at times in the third quarter this season, but that did not seem to be a problem Wednesday. Phoenix just cruised right on through to a lackadaisical 28-point quarter.

It was tough sledding for the second unit early in the final frame, Nash had to re-enter the game earlier than he normally does as the Suns missed their first eight shots of the fourth quarter before Nash gave Hakim Warrick an easy layup.

Unfortunately for Phoenix, the Cavaliers answered right back.

Coming off a 9-0 run to get within single digits, Cleveland made back-to-back three-pointers to cut the Suns’ lead to three.

Hill stopped the bleeding on the next possession by sinking a mid-range jumper as the shot clock expired. The veteran was clutch all night when Phoenix needed him the most.

Vince Carter missed his first five shots and didn’t get on the board until he he drilled a three from the corner with less than three minutes remaining in regulation.

“We won, that’s all that matters; Grant was rolling, so why not give him the ball?” Vince Carter asked. “We were getting shots in transition and [Hill] was doing everything. He played the entire second half because he was playing so well for us. You can’t not go to him.”

Despite his offensive struggles, Carter was still plus-13 while on the court, second highest of any Sun behind Gortat’s plus-24.

Cleveland tried to get back in the game, but the Suns were nearly perfect from the free-throw line (20-of-21) and cruised through the final few minutes of the game to another victory.

One negative from Wednesday was that the Suns failed to put away the Cavaliers earlier in the game. The starters could have been rested to help for the remaining games on the road trip but the team was forced to play hard through the majority of the fourth quarter instead.

With the win, the Suns remain just one game back of Portland in the loss column for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

  • Mel.

    To no one’s surprise, Gortat’s showing potential for 20-10 production, given the appropriate minutes. I know it’s against the Cavs, but… it’s good to see that Gentry’s apparently taking notice of the weapons he’s got at his disposal.

    That picture is a bit terrifying, though. Just sayin’.

  • Mike Meez

    Happy to see the Suns finally pulling things together. Hopefully they’ll continue to find their swagger in these relatively easy games and make a run to get into the playoffs. I don’t understand how Hollinger predicts the Suns only have a 10% chance of making the playoffs when about a week or less after his prediction the team is only 2 games out of the 8th spot.

  • Mel.

    Meez, Hollinger predicts that the Clippers have a 3.2% chance of making the playoffs. His logic is a bit tetchy, to say the least.

  • Steve

    Hollinger’s playoff odds take into account his own ratings of the teams using his weighted system. I checked a few days ago and the Suns were ranked in the bottom 5 of the league overall. Even though their record is middle-of-the-pack, they are AWFUL in most “important” statistical categories. I would imagine that they’ll be picking up in those ratings, however, as their offensive efficiency is really starting to increase as of late.

    To be fair to Hollinger, his system is rarely WAY off. The Suns are a pretty bad team that might be pulling it together. But they’re still a pretty bad team.

    • http://www.valleyofthesuns.com Michael Schwartz

      I was disappointed the Suns let the Cavs back in the game. Leading by 15 at the tail end of the third, you can’t make this a game where Grant Hill plays the entire second half and Nash comes back a bit early in the fourth.

      As for Hollinger, his rankings and thus his playoff odds weight point differential fairly heavily, as that’s generally a good predictor of future success. The Suns’ point differential (-2.3) is actually worse than that of the Clippers (-2.0). You guys know I generally believe in this kind of stuff, but the fallacy is when a team changes so much. The Suns, literally, are a different team than they were in November. They are just now finally starting to find a groove and the team they are in March might not be the team that these rankings are evaluating them as. I would buy differential a lot more in cases where the team is essentially the same. Also, the Suns have had a number of bad blowouts that has really murdered their point differential.

  • Mike L

    It was great to see Gortat play the way he did. I saw a couple of occassions where he was the only guy in the paint for the offensive rebound and he either got the ball or got fouled. THAT’S the kind of rebounding focus I was alluding to the other day.

    And I agree that he might be on his way into the starting lineup. Gentry is going to want to give this starting group more time, I think, but Gortat may make his decision for him. And with the way RoLo and Dragic play together, it may be a better way to rotate things.

  • KJ Loyalist

    If a switch is made at the 5 it won’t be for offensive production or rebounding numbers.

    It’ll be because Gortat doesn’t burn 2 fouls in 1 minute.

    I’m shrugging at PHX beating the Cavs. They suited what, 8 guys? Jamison is the best player and he hasn’t been a threat in 3 years.

    Interested to see how PHX comes out against another bad team on the back end of a back to back on the road. This will be the first real test of this road trip. The NY game doesn’t count because they’re just like the Suns with 1 premier player and we got the better of them in round 2.

  • KJ Loyalist

    Scratch the back to back thing – still get confused being almost a day ahead now in Australia.

  • harvmel

    Well stated Mike. Hollinger’s work is good and it reflects how bad we have been. In addition to losing many blowouts we have rarely won easily so our point differential is that of a low level team. But Mike is right to say, that there have also been so many changes, that this may be the one case, where you need to read Hollinger’s work with a bit of a grain of salt.

  • AnacondaHL

    First thing Gortat tweets after the game: “Damn i tired!!”.

    After 27 minutes.

    No need to rush, ease into more minutes. Other than that, I like what I see.

  • Mel.

    Mike, I don’t question Hollinger’s metrics, because–as you noted–they’re usually dead on. What I question is the fact that he typically ignores trending and variables that happen within the league itself, over the course of the season; despite STAT’s upswing play, he never gave the Suns the benefit of a contendership status prior to their run to the WCF, and then dumped them into the cesspit the moment that Amar’e left for NYK.

    Granted, the team’s not great, but he’s consistently projected them as being a bottom-ten squad. That doesn’t hold water, with them contending for the last playoff spot in the WC, though it can be argued that it’s indicative of how awful the non-contender teams in the league are right now.

  • Lloyd

    Gortat is getting better and better. I would like to see him dunk more. He has the quickness and size to draw a lot of fouls.

  • Kenton

    I like how J-Rich is still leading the Suns in PPG on espn.com.

  • Mirza

    Steve you’re right the Suns are still a bad team (and KJ Loyalist good point the Cavs only suited what 8 players??). Its still good to see them WIN games and as much as I want them to have a good draft pick its really REALLY hard rooting against them (I know I sure as hell dont know how). Having said all that I dont like what Gentry is doing to the lineup(s). Yes I want to see more of Gortat but I also wanna see Grant play less than 42min or Steve 38 (GORAN GOT 11 MINUTES???? I DONT GET IT?!?).

  • Mirza

    Yea Grant and STeve are our best players arguably but its no secret they’re the oldest and Im not sure how much longer they can play 40min/game.. PLAY DRAGIC MORE PLEASE !!!! What’s the deal wit Pietrus? (wonder if he’s in the dog house .. thought he was supposed to be one of our best perimiter defenders?)

  • Steve

    @Mel

    I understand what you’re saying, and that’s the problem with using models as future projections. Think about a mock “Global Warming” projection. Let’s just say scientists came up with the following scenario:

    “In the year 2108, there will be 56% less ice in the world than there was in 2008.”

    Even though they might have some reason to say what they say, it’s little more than an educated guess because there are SO many variables that can be involved (let alone whether or not it’s even real). Hollinger’s model really should only be used to describe past happenings, but instead, he tries to force the past into the future, assuming that all things in the basketball universe will remain constant.

    Most of the time, a team is what it is, it won’t get any worse, but it won’t get any better, and Hollinger’s ratings will be on. But he has no way of accounting for the change of the variables that make up a team’s success. He can only look at the numbers from the past.

    And yes, play Goran more. I don’t feel comfortable having guys in the upper 30s in both years and minutes.

  • KJ Loyalist

    Mirza I think I’ve got a handle on the Dragon thing. Kind of want back and forth with Zach on DDL and I kind of came up with my own reasoning, (be prepared to be sad).

    They were talking about how bad Dragon has become. I countered with him not being given a set bench to work with and most of the tweaking of the Suns as a whole has been to benefit Nash and the way he runs the team. Then it hit me.

    With all of the switching and reorganizing Gentry has done to try and compliment Nash, I’d bet you that Dragic has had almost no attention paid to him in terms of anything on the court. I don’t think Gentry has had the time to properly get him reps in practice in terms of getting him used to the current plan of attack. I also think the bench has suffered from that because really, there hasn’t been a bench.

    The bench is more like players who won’t be in the starting rotation on that night who come off the bench when the starters on that night need a rest or get in foul trouble. A far cry from the definition of a “bench mob” from last year.

    As a result, I think Dragon has been floating in the wind this year and I think that the current minutes-played differential illustrates that.

    It does seem like Gentry is settling on a rotation though with Childress and Pietrus being the odd men out. Hopefully that means that a set bench rotation is being established with a philosophy to match, (like last year), and Dragon’s minutes will climb.

    In the end though, I think it comes down to something Tyler said. Dragon can’t fully explode until Nash is gone; I just hope we hold onto him until then.

  • Mel.

    Steve, that pretty much sums it right up; nothing to add to what you’ve so eloquently stated.

    And KJ, you’re also dead on the money. Coming into the Turkoglu deal and the new season, all we heard was the likelihood of Hedo being put into the second unit as their “floor general,” a role which would have ostensibly put Dragon on the shelf. Instead, Gentry stuffed him into the starting five as part of the grand experiment, where he underperformed so routinely that it turned into a sword of Damocles situation: it was pretty much taken that Hedo was going to the bench, which meant that Dragic had to try and fulfill his typical Nash-backing role while knowing that he was likely to get bumped to SG, or some other complimentary role.

    All in all, that’s two steps back from the leap he took last year. You can’t blame the kid for his fading confidence and lack of effectiveness; he’s clearly a player who thrives when being marshaled in a defined role, and that just hasn’t been the Suns’ modus operandi this year.

  • Steve

    We need more Gortat 25-30 min, more Warrick 20-25 min and Goran 15-20 min

  • KJ Loyalist

    Warrick’s problem is his mid range jumper.. or maybe that isn’t a problem. No, he just doesn’t have a jumper. Confused myself.

    If Warrick had a mid range jumper, he’d be getting 35 minutes a game.

    Because he doesn’t, it becomes a spacing issue. He can’t be on the floor very long with other big men who don’t have jumpers because the spacing goes to hell.

    He works better with Dragon because Dragon can be his own dive man with his ability to get to the tin without a screen.

    He also works better with Frye because Frye can shoot, but Frye works better in a starting alignment, (meaning with Nash and co.), so they don’t get to overlap as often.

  • Steve

    Hey, there’s only room for one Steve on here. I can’t have somebody hi-jacking my name and saying things I would never say. :)

    (Well, I agree with Gortat and Goran, just not Warrick)