PHOENIX — Sentimental wasn’t the way to describe Phoenix Suns rookie Markieff Morris following his NBA debut.
“I need to cut my hair,” he said to begin his media session following Tuesday’s practice.
And will it bear any significance that the Philadelphia native will get a shot at his hometown Philadelphia 76ers tonight at 7 p.m. in Phoenix?
“When AI (former Sixer Allen Iverson) was done, I couldn’t watch the Sixers no more,” Morris said, dryly.
Tonight’s game, if anything, means Morris can move on from the season opener. It’s just another game, an opportunity to forget his errant pass that went into the first row of the US Airways Center stands and sealed the New Orleans Hornets’ victory against his Suns.
Asked if he kept the game ball or his shoes that he wore in Monday’s debut, Morris shook his head. He just wants to look ahead.
“No, I didn’t save nothing,” he said. “I just left it all on the court. Forgot all about that — (I) was still thinking about that pass.”
Quiet and soft-spoken off the court, Morris isn’t that on it — not one bit.
If Monday’s game was any indication, Morris’ toughness that he developed growing up in the basketball hotbed of Philadelphia will serve the Suns well. He scored seven points, grabbed nine boards, and had two assists, steals and blocks against the Hornets.
With starting power forward Channing Frye struggling in the season opener with a 1-for-6 shooting performance, Morris could play the 25 minutes against Philadelphia that he saw in his first game.
And he proved that he’s plenty capable of going nose-to-nose with some of the most physical power forwards in the NBA. Against a bruising Carl Landry of New Orleans, Morris got his first taste of what’s to come.
“First play, he went through me,” Morris said. “I was like, ‘Wow.’ I had to toughen up and bang with him a lot, but he’s a great player, very skilled and definitely real strong.”
It gets no easier against the Sixers. Morris will likely end up dealing with 6-foot-9, 254-pound power forward Elton Brand, who had 10 points and eight boards in his first game. The Suns’ rookie very well could be the best bet to keep the former All-Star in check.
The only thing that could keep head coach Alvin Gentry from giving Morris more than 25 minutes tonight is foul trouble. He had four personal fouls against New Orleans and had trouble staying out of it in the preseason as well.
“It is what it is,” Morris said of the officials’ calls. “I’m not going to change the way I play.”
Spencer the dispenser
One of the more intriguing matchups for the Suns will be how they defend Philadelphia’s do-it-all center, Spencer Hawes. The 7-foot-1, 245-pound Hawes scored 10 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and came one assist shy of a triple-double in Philadelphia’s 107-103 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers in their season debut.
But with Doug Collins’ squad having a limited bench — he only went eight players deep on Monday — the Suns might be willing to let Hawes have his way. They’d rather focus their defense on the high-scoring guards Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams along with wing Andre Iguodala.
“If Spencer Hawes is scoring, that’s basically what we want,” Suns forward Jared Dudley said. “We want to stop Holiday, Williams and Iguodala’s penetration.
“Against every team, you have to give up something.”
Williams led the Sixers with 25 points off the bench in Monday’s opener, and Iguodala added 22 points, showing an improved three-point shot by hitting 4-of-8 from deep.
Meanwhile, Holiday struggled with only 13 points and six turnovers.
Slow starts aplenty
Gentry wasn’t worried about Phoenix’s poor offensive production in their first game, and he said it’s a lockout hangover that also appeared to hamper playoff squads like the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks.
It’s not time to panic, not yet anyway.
“The teams that get off to a really good start, that’s a pretty good cushion to have,” Gentry said. “Eventually, everybody will get their legs under them and play good basketball. Right now, I don’t see Dallas as being a team that’s going to be down 35 in the first two games they play. That’s something that’s not going to happen, and the Lakers are not going to end the season 0 and 66.”
He added that the Suns do need to protect their home court. Especially through the growing pains of the early season, he emphasized to his squad that it needs to make the one or two plays to grind out wins.
“Teams are going to struggle right now a little bit offensively,” Gentry said on Tuesday, “and you’re going to have to stay in the game by doing defensively what we did last night.”
Points of improvement
I asked Gentry how he evaluated the play of his backup point guards in the Suns’ first regular season game. Here’s the obvious answer (you can’t replace Steve Nash) with a little bit on how he plans on helping Ronnie Price and Sebastian Telfair succeed:
“I told somebody, ‘How did the coach do without Peyton Manning?’ (Nash) is who we are, you know, so we just have to be solid with him out. We’ve got to be better than we were last night. Some of that is we’ve got new guys, Ronnie and Sebastian. As a coaching staff, especially me, I’m going to have to put them in a better situation where they can be successful. That may be calling a few more halfcourt sets as opposed to us being more of a freelance situation when Steve’s not in the game.”