Suns' defense holding down individual players, still a work in progress

PHOENIX — Here’s some paradoxical food for thought. Despite terrible shooting and the lack of a potent scoring threat on the roster, the Phoenix Suns have produced the game’s leading scorer in four of the first five contests.

Only Russell Westbrook’s 18 points in Phoenix’s loss to the Thunder has led the top Suns’ scorer. And the most points Phoenix has given up to an individual opponent was Eric Gordon’s 20 points in the season opener.

Here’s some perspective to add to that. To begin last season, the Suns went 14 games before holding an individual player to less than 20 points. It took just two this year.

A 2-3 start through mostly putrid shooting percentages isn’t so bad, and it’s a sign that the Suns’ defensive efforts are on the mend from their historical woes — even if the slower pace of this year has contributed to less points for their opponents.

There’s still much room for improvement, too.

“We’re working on the rotations,” head coach Alvin Gentry said Tuesday. “We’re having some breakdowns as far as who’s got the dive guy and who’s rotating out. We expected that, so it’s just something we have to continue to work on.”

Time though, isn’t on the Suns’ side. Gentry said he doesn’t expect teams across the NBA to find their true selves until they hit the 20-game mark. Such is the reason the young Minnesota Timberwolves defeated the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks following a near-victory against the Miami Heat, Gentry said. And such is the reason the defending champion Mavs, who Phoenix plays Wednesday in Dallas, are 2-4 out of the gate.

It’s expected that Steve Nash and crew will find their flow on offense, even if Monday’s win against the Warriors that came by way of an offensive outburst was a fluke. So defense is what will get the Suns through that tough 20-game stretch.

Point guard Ronnie Price said many of the defensive issues simply have to do with the players not being on the same page. Part of it is knowing who’s on the floor and what responsibilities each player has — Gentry said he’s nowhere near getting locked into a set rotation — and another issue is trust.

“I think at some points in the game, we had two or three guys doing one thing and then the other guys doing another thing. All that is, is communication,” Price said. “We have different rotations for different players. If guys are aware of who is on the floor and guys are aware of their assignment and trust each other … that’s how we become a good defensive team.”

But Gentry said the Suns will need to do a better job against dribble penetration. After all, that’s the issue that led to more rotations and more opportunities for Phoenix players to get out of position within their scheme.

That led to Golden State getting points in the paint in Phoenix’s 102-91 victory on Monday, Gentry said. Although, sometimes the ball just bounced the wrong way and into the laps of the Warriors’ big men.

“I just thought last night, there were four or five balls in the lane that bounced through their legs and they got (them) back,” Gentry said. “We didn’t take care of that right there.”

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