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Defensive learning curve: Suns drop first preseason game to Denver Nuggets, 127-110

At a first glance, the Phoenix Suns’ 127-110 loss on Tuesday to the Denver Nuggets doesn’t suggest that much has changed from last season on the defensive side of the ball.

The Suns’ defense ranged from porous-to-downright poor in Denver, and considering they were looking to improve behind the leadership of defensive coordinator Elston Turner, Tuesday’s loss was troubling. Then again, it should be realized that these things take time.

However, from an offensive perspective, there might be room for optimism. The Suns’ big men showed well as Marcin Gortat and Hakim Warrick led Phoenix with 14 points apiece. But per usual, it was Steve Nash who got the ball rolling.

Nash scored six points and had two assists in the first six minutes of the game, and he finished with 11 points and five assists in 20 minutes.

Early on, the Suns kept even with the Nuggets, who led 34-28 by the end of the first quarter. But to begin the second, the Suns offense sputtered with Nash on the bench, and they were outscored 29-21 by the end of the quarter as Denver put up a 14-point, 63-49 lead by halftime.

Phoenix wouldn’t break the double-digit deficit until 2:54 remained in the game, as a Warrick jumper brought the score to 116-108. The run came despite Nash’s exit from the game with 5:05 left in the third quarter.

The Suns would come no closer than eight, but here are a couple notes and observations from the game:

Defensive learning curve

There were some things for head coach Alvin Gentry to cringe at on defense but also some signs of progress.

There were a number of blown pick-and-rolls coverages that resulted in dunks for Denver, but at the same time, Phoenix created some pass break-ups against Denver’s pick-and-rolls. Rookie Kenneth Faried took advantage of such, and he debuted with 14 points and six boards in 15 second-half minutes for the Nuggets.

For the Suns, two passes were broken up by center Robin Lopez, who scooted over from a help position on separate occasions to force Denver turnovers.

As a whole, many of the defensive woes came because of the Suns giving up 17 offensive rebounds and by turnovers that led to transition buckets.

Big men flex muscles

Lopez backed up his claims that he’s ready to go this season. In 23 minutes, the 7-footer scored 10 points, grabbed five rebounds and had a block. He showed an energetic second jump that was reminiscent of his play two years ago, when he made a difference in the playoffs against the Lakers and their large frontline.

Meanwhile, Gortat continued his solid play, notching 14 points and grabbing eight boards. Rookie Markieff Morris fouled out, but not before scoring 10 points and grabbing eight boards himself.

The most notable performance, however, came from Warrick. With the previously-mentioned big men eating up minutes at power forward and center, Warrick saw time playing small forward, where he scored 14 to go with six rebounds and three assists. Showing off an improved jumper, he knocked down two consecutive 20-plus foot shots that brought the Suns within eight points late in the game.

Backing up Nash

The muddled backup point guard situation became no clearer on Tuesday, with Ronnie Price and Sebastian Telfair getting equal run. Price scored nine points, dropped four dimes and had two steals, while Telfair scored six and recorded five assists.

That said, the duo combined to turn the ball over seven times.

Even more concerning as a whole, the Suns point guards — including Nash — gave up 21 points to Ty Lawson in just 25 minutes while Andre Miller, who often played alongside Lawson, had 12 assists on the night.

Green light for Brown

Shooting guard Shannon Brown is relishing his opportunity in the Suns’ system. He took 13 shots but only hit four, and could probably use a little better shot selection. Nonetheless, he scored 12 points, had four assists and picked up three steals, and there’s little doubt he’ll have a significant role this season in a number of different ways.

And 1

Gortat suffered a hairline fracture in his right thumb, according to The Arizona Republic, and will be re-examined Wednesday. He is not expected to miss much time, if any.

“Hell, no,” Gortat told The Republic. “I’ve still got my left (thumb). I’m not going to give up my spot.”

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