PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns looked more like a team that began practicing together 12 days ago than a squad four days away from its season opener during their 110-85 preseason finale loss to the Denver Nuggets Thursday night in US Airways Center.
Unfortunately for Phoenix, both statements are true and thus the Suns have lots of work to do after a game that featured some bright spots amid another walloping defeat.
The Suns played a spirited second quarter to go into the break trailing by just two, but then fell apart in a second half that saw them shoot 28.9 percent as the Nuggets ran away with the game.
“Our offense kind of collapsed in the second half,” said head coach Alvin Gentry. “We weren’t good offensively and then we began to give up too many easy baskets. We’ve just got to execute a little better.
“We’ve got a lot of work that we’ve got to get done, and we have a very short time to do it in before we start playing games that count, but nobody ever said it was going to be easy.”
Forgive me if you’ve heard this before but Gentry wants his squad to improve on the defensive glass, as he lamented not only the fact that Denver secured 15 offensive boards but the fact that they were timely caroms as well.
Then there’s the offensive struggles as Phoenix never could get into a rhythm without Marcin Gortat providing a strong roll man presence for Nash and with Channing Frye taking an 0-fer on six shots and thus failing to provide a spacing presence.
“We’re going to have to start knocking down the shots when they’re available to us,” Gentry said.
The coach also feels the Suns gamble too much on defense, sometimes even when they hold an advantageous defensive position.
The game only turned into a blowout at the end as Phoenix actually led 60-56 after Markieff Morris drilled a trey with 7:40 left in the third. The bottom fell out from there, and thus Frye chose to take the glass half full approach to analyzing this game.
“We played good for a half,” he said. “I think defensively you saw a glimpse of how we can be and I think we improved on last game. … I think everybody’s just trying to figure out their niche on the team and we’re just working things out.”
The Suns did improve somewhat defensively, limiting the Nuggets to 42.9 percent shooting, the kind of shooting percentage that always used to turn into a Suns victory in years past.
There were a handful of individual bright spots as well, starting with the Suns’ rookie. Morris was the Suns’ first sub and he immediately energized the club with six points, four boards and three blocks in the opening period alone. He drilled a pair of threes for the game on his way to 12 points and a team-high seven boards.
“Great job,” Frye said of Keef. “I think he’s learning fast. I think he does a lot of great things out there. I think he’s going to be a great help for us. I think he’s going to be a great addition to this team, and I love being out there playing with him.”
Morris played like he belonged. He brought a physical presence down low, gobbled up the boards and shot jumpers with no hesitation that often found the bottom of the net.
The one issue revolves around that whole six fouls and you’re disqualified rule as Morris fouled out for the second consecutive preseason game, this time in less than 18 minutes. Gentry feels he’s picking up too many “chippy” fouls, something he will learn how to prevent through experience.
“I’m a rookie,” Morris said. “I’ve just got to understand I’ve got to earn my due before I get away with calls.”
Starting in place of Gortat, Robin Lopez opened the game with a major rush of energy. In the first four minutes of the game alone he drew three fouls, stuffed Timofey Mozgov, grabbed a couple offensive boards and tipped in a shot. If Lopez can bottle the kind of effort he gave in the opening four minutes then the Suns would have some kind of a backup center.
“I thought Robin was pretty good tonight,” Gentry said. “He didn’t shoot the ball well at all (1-for-6) but just his activity was really good and I think he’ll continue to get his timing and a better feel and everything. I thought that he was pretty good.”
Jared Dudley produced about as efficient an offensive game as a player can by scoring 17 points on six shots, which includes five makes and three long balls. Dudley played like a legitimate starting shooting guard as he was the only starter to score more than five points.
Hakim Warrick (15 points) and Shannon Brown (14) both chipped in as well on identical 5-for-11 nights. Warrick in particular flashed a consistent mid-range jumper that he did not often possess last season.
Ronnie Price ran the show off the bench, as Sebastian Telfair didn’t even enter until 6:21 remained and the outcome had long been decided. Price scored three points and dished one assist to five turnovers in almost 20 minutes of play. His defense was solid as usual but he did not exactly cement the backup point guard job.
“It’s a process for him,” Gentry said. “He’s adjusting to a situation where he has a lot more freedom than he had at Utah as far as what he can do and what we allow him to do. It’s going to be an adjustment for him, and he’ll be fine.”
Now the Suns will head back to work with practices the next two days before taking Christmas off and then embarking on their 66-game sprint of a season.
The Suns feel they have improved since Tuesday, but after being blown out by the Nuggets for the second time this preseason and struggling on both ends of the floor, they are certainly far from a finished product.
“We had a pretty good first half. Kind of fell apart in the second half,” Steve Nash said. “Made some strides, did a lot of things we worked on in practice out there in the first half. We can’t get down. We’ve only been working for like 12 days now. We’ve got to stay positive, just keep working.
“There was improvement today.”
Frye shot 1-for-14 in the preseason but he’s not concerned because “it was just ridiculous” how well he shot the ball warming up and at shootaround.
“I think once I get in the game I just rush things a little bit like I do every year, so I’ve just got to slow myself down and not be so emotional about every shot,” Frye said. …
Denver sat out Nene, Ty Lawson, Al Harrington and Rudy Fernandez. Gortat was the only Sun to miss the contest.