Dallas Mavericks 98, Phoenix Suns 89 — Swimming upstream


Steve Nash went for 15 points and 12 assists but it wasn't enough against J-Kidd and the Mavs. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

Steve Nash went for 15 points and 12 assists but it wasn't enough against J-Kidd and the Mavs. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

For one night, the Suns and Mavericks played a game of inches. It wasn’t that the Mavs dominated the Suns in any one aspect of the game, and the problem in an 98-89 loss for Phoenix wasn’t any single matchup or deficiency.

Instead, Dallas was simply better by a slight margin all-around. Instead of swimming upstream against a torrential, incessant current, Steve Nash and company were rowing in an injury-riddled canoe — but with an oar made of sugar. After all, there were quite a few sweet spots, even if the final tally was bitter.

Nash came out with his hair on fire, scoring five points and dishing three assists in the first five and half minutes of the game. Channing Frye, who’s suffering from a case of the misses on his long field goal attempts so far this season, equaled Nash’s scoring total over the same time, and it looked as if the Suns would be able to hang with the Mavericks.

That optimism was short-lived, however, as the Phoenix offense came apart in the second quarter. Managing only seven shots in the paint and forced to the perimeter for most of their field goals, the Suns scored 16 points and found themselves trailing by eight going into halftime. While the offense rebounded in the third quarter, Dallas caught fire themselves in the third quarter, behind a strong strech by its star, Dirk Nowitzki, and a backbreaking buzzer-beating three-pointer by Jason Terry to end the quarter.

As Nash said in discussing the Mavericks’ offensive execution against the Suns defense, “We’re putting a lot of pressure on our offense. We haven’t made as many shots as we’re accustomed to.”

Terry continued to bury the Suns in the fourth, dropping another three triples. Coach Alvin Gentry said after the game that he doesn’t really consider Terry, who doesn’t start, a bench player, and he’s absolutely right. Terry is as much a bench player as Jared Dudley and Marcin Gortat were last year.

Speaking of Gortat, he had a bit of a breakout game, shooting 66 percent from the floor on 15 shots (tallying 22 points total), though his total rebound rate was only 13.3 percent. He grabbed 10 rebounds, but that was a product of the number of misses and his 38 minutes.

The minutes alone are encouraging, however, as it seems to indicate that Gortat is starting to feel a little more comfortable with his thumb injury and able to stay on the floor as a result. Robin Lopez, whose performance has fluctuated fairly widely in relief of Gortat over the past several games, saw only 10 minutes; he grabbed no rebounds.

Dudley’s night was hit-and-miss. He was his usual active self, particularly on the defensive end — where the Suns as a whole exhibited an encouraging amount of effort, even if the results were wanting — but shot 4 of 13 from the field. Many of those misses were a result of Dudley being used as a release valve late in the shot clock, however, low-percentage shots that someone has to take.

The NBA’s friendlier version of Stadtler and Waldorf, Nash and Grant Hill, had classic nights of their own, if not quite vintage. After getting off to his hot start, Nash finished the night shooting the ball well – a 60 percent TS% that could have been higher were it not for the Suns facing such a large deficit in the fourth and Nash missing several 3s in an attempt to bring the team back — and he dished 12 assists, only his second double-double of the season.* One of the missed triples was a wide-open corner three, but that was the only glaring deficiency in a performance akin to those Nash is accustomed.

*A factoid that’s admittedly skewed by the fact that Nash’s minutes have been limited in two losses that were well in hand — for the other team, that is — with at least a quarter of play left and the Suns inability to finish and put the ball in the basket. In such a compressed season, resting Nash on such nights is a pretty good idea.

Hill was in Nowitzki’s jersey on the defensive end whenever the two were on the court together, and he managed to fool Dallas defenders into thinking he was a three-point threat with pump-fake dribble-drives from the perimeter, scoring on several looks after getting Mavericks into the air, Top Gun-style, and on a nifty step-through in the second quarter that Suns broadcaster Tom Leander described as similar to a move by Nowitzki. Hill’s ability to get to the middle of the floor for easy looks is all the more impressive when one considers that he’s yet to knock down a three on the year; he went 0-for-1 from deep tonight. He and Hakim Warrick did a fair job holding Nowitzki to 20 points on 17 shots, but Terry’s triples, combined with Lamar Odom’s 15 points, five rebounds, and two steals off the bench, rendered the work put into defending Dirk null.

In the end, the Mavericks were just slightly better each time down the floor than the Suns were. There was no massive rupture to the canoe, no waterfall to desperately avoid. The Suns simply were fighting against the tide with an oar that slowly dissolved each time down the floor. When the final buzzer sounded, they were left clutching nothing but a loss and, once again, floating backward.

And 1

  • Rookie Markieff Morris cooled off in this game, only scoring four points in 17 minutes. He did grab five rebounds, however, continuing his strong showing on the boards. His limited minutes were more a product of Gentry continuing to play the starters, especially as the Suns made a run in the fourth quarter, than poor play on his part. Expect him to continue to play a big role for the team.
  • Former Sun Shawn Marion played as if he had something to prove to his old squad, getting into the lane for his patented, ugly floater-hook shot and grabbing seven boards — 6 offensive. Though several were his own misses, he was active in the paint amongst the Phoenix bigs and seemed to relish his opportunities.
  • Another former Sun, Jason Kidd, did what he does, controlling the game while hardly scoring at all. Kidd had three points on six shots (!) in 28 minutes, but he orchestrated the offense (zero turnovers, three assists, and several passes that led to the open man down the line) and did his best to fight over screens and harass Nash on defense.
  • The Suns play four of their next five games at home, split up by a road game on Tuesday at the Lakers. None of those games are on a back-to-back. The Suns will need all the rest they can get before they embark on a five-game road trip after that initial five-game stretch against the Spurs, Bulls, Knicks, Celtics and Mavs.

  • Mel.

    Cripes, no wonder the team was off its game; from the look of that picture, poor Nash was playing with a dislocated neck, a’la “Death Becomes Her.”

    Feel better soon, Steve-o.

  • Tony

    Andrew,

    the reason why the Mavs were slightly better than the Suns at everything is because they are a superior team with superior talent.

    As for Dudley, he is the most overrated Suns player. He did make some shots, but his misses always were at important times and even though he is active defensively, his man on man defense is not vey good. A big part of the problem is that he’s not a natural 2, but is a sf, and so he doesn’t have the speed or athleticism to be effective defensively.

    The only positives I saw were Nash, his pick and roll game with Gortat, and Hill’s effectiveness both offensively and defensively. I don’t understand why we can’t just be blunt about this team. They are clearly not a good team, but a lottery team. This was not a case where Dallas was “simply better by a slight margin all-around.”Let’s cut out the “if only, or if this, then that” and just be objective. The Suns had to play perfectly for them to have any chance of winning tonight and they did not. Simple as that.

    We can talk about improving their rebounding, but then their defense will suffer or their offense will suffer or vice versa. The point is, is that this Suns team simply doesn’t have the talent to compete against the upper echolon of teams. Sure they can beat a Warriors team missing its best player, but I doubt they can beat any of the contending teams that are at full strength.

  • luis

    imagine this lineup
    1st unit 2nd unnit
    C Gortat C Frye
    PF. Lopez pf warrick
    Sf. Morriss sf dudley
    SG.Hill sg brown
    PG. Nash pg telfair

  • ditchpigii

    Free Nash, please!

  • Elviro (Italy)

    A loss to Dallas is normal: there are definitely superior!
    Also I think Dudley is a SF and a G: pay in defense of reactivity (and, among other things, did not shoot well …).
    Brown to do what we got? He’s a guard … I do not know what it’s worth defending, but as speed, responsiveness, athleticism he could give us (perhaps) more (but in attack was zero)!
    J. Chill other guard useless and cumbersome and along with a contract: we get rid of!
    At this point I hope that Redd is good and knows how to give us something more!
    Morris definitely a few points but this is normal since it’s a rookie, not bad pulled 50% and zero to 1 2 3, but was present to bounce!
    Gortat well, well Nash, better Frye but we lost!
    Portland Now … it’s hard!
    In the next 5 games we have to win at least 3 (the dream would be to win and lost four with the Lakers that there is …) then we will have 5 consecutive trips terrible where we can get very sick …. hopefully good!

  • steve

    The third quarter made me sick. Every time we had an opportunity in this game, we gave it away as quickly as we could.

    Sarver,

    I will take 50% of the salary of the lowest-paid member of the Suns to leave the other team’s shooters open every game. You can save a buck, I can increase my pay substantially, the Suns will get the same results they’re getting now. It’s win-win-neutral (after all, not everyone can win right?).

  • Scott

    Since no one else mentioned it, I guess I will: Frye hit his first 3 shots in the first few minutes, but only took one more shot for the rest of the game. He was out on the floor for 20 minutes without scoring. I suppose he stayed out there because he was snagging rebounds, while Lopez wasn’t. Despite his lack of continued scoring and 4 turnovers, Frye ended up with a greater +/- than anyone on the team not named Nash.

    I think Dudley’s bid to start is based on his ability to shoot the 3. If he’s not shooting the 3 well he’s still scrappy, but he’s not athletic enough against opposing starters to do the damage the Suns need. He had a nice +/- in that game (Dudley, Nash, and Frye were the only players in the positive range), but with his “crafty veteran” style game, I think he’s most effective playing the majority of his minutes against the opposing bench. But there’s no one else to replace Dudley, except maybe Redd when he gets into game shape.

    Brown has been inconsistent in his play; it looks to me to be mental, more than mechanical. He didn’t show up in this game on either side, so far as I can see, yet he played 10 minutes. He shared honors for 2nd lowest +/- with Telfair …

    Telfair replaced Price, as Gentry was hoping to get more out of the bench. But Telfair ended up with a +/- of -13, essentially double the -7 of Price.

    Lowest +/- on the team? Warrick, at -14. He scored 9 pts, and got 3 rebounds in nearly 20 minutes, so I’d suspect the main part of his trouble was on the defensive end.

    I thought the Suns didn’t play at their pace. The Mavs were sharper and they controlled the tempo. The game looked like a practice session from the very beginning, slow and with no contact. The Suns wound up with 15 trips to the line, with Nash there once and Hill there zero times.

    Lopez got to the line the most, with 4 shots, yet he didn’t rebound and didn’t score, so he ended up with just 10 min. in the game.

    I’m not sure I buy this “Dallas is the more talented team” stuff. I think the Dallas players just know their roles, as individually they’re doing mainly what they’ve always done, and for whatever reasons, the Suns are still searching for their roles and are playing with a fair degree of inconsistency.

    Robin needs to rebound and get to the line. Gortat needs to get to the line more. Frye needs to be more involved with the offense. Hill needs to stop playing in every practice, especially when injured, because he’s not 100% at game time. Etc.

  • Serek

    I agree with Scott’s assessment.
    I think the Suns lost any game so far because of opponents’ superiority. It was rather the identity crisis, overall shooting slump and resulting inability to find the balance between trying to shoot, trying to rebound and trying to defend.
    Leaving opposing shooters with open shots, giving the another chance if they miss (either by ORB or TO) and not being able to convert on our own scoring opportunities was the main reason for the run we had so far.

    The Mavs got blown by Spurs last night, so they are not that good. I think the sooner we excorcise our own demons, the faster we start winning.

  • Serek

    Correction:
    “I *don’t* think the Suns lost any game so far because of opponents’ superiority”, obviously.

  • http://godaddy.com Big Daddy

    Line ups/substitutions need to be worked on. I’m excited about Redd, I have a feeling his career is on the uprising now that hes here in phoenix. GO SUNS!

  • Marley

    Don’t worry folks … it’s still early in the season!

    The Suns will make a run near the end of the season … a run for the 9th seed that is!

    PUAHAHAHAHAHA!

    Whoo hoo, Michael Redd is the new flavor of the week!

  • Scott

    I still advocate a starting lineup that features:
    Nash, Redd, Hill, Gortat, and Lopez,

    and a second unit comprised of:
    Price, Dudley, Warrick, Morris, and Frye.

    Gortat is a mobile defender with a dependable jump shot, who can clearly play the pick and roll. So far as I can see, he’s really the Suns’ best candidate for starting PF, especially if the Suns are serious about defense. He and Lopez together should be able to control the paint, and they should match up well against the front court combos seen in the league (like Aldridge / Camby, Gasol / Bynum, etc.).

    On the second unit, Dudley, as I’ve said before, should play there due to his lack of athleticism. He’s a star backup player, like Jason Terry, but he’s not really starting unit quality. And Warrick needs to be playing at SF, not PF, because of his light frame. He’s shown he can shoot 2s and 3s, as well as crash the basket.

    Once these units are established and working (assuming they are indeed the correct groupings), then the remaining players can get worked in for minutes where they merit it. Everyone will benefit from having a clearer role on the team. They can practice against each other as units.

    If Gentry gets a 2nd unit going that he can rely on, then that takes pressure off the starters. They don’t have to play as many minutes. In the Dallas game, despite it looking ugly and lost from the 2nd quarter on, the Suns starters were still called upon to play huge minutes. (Nash, Dudley, Hill, and Gortat all logged north of 34 minutes.) While I can understand Gentry wanting to work his guys into shape, obviously you don’t want to have the starters playing so many minutes throughout this compressed season.

    Price is the clear choice at 2nd unit PG. He got pulled in the Dallas game, only to have Telfair’s squad be twice as ineffective. That move in itself might have cost the game.

    If Brown’s inconsistencies get resolved (if he gets clear on what to do on the court – to play solid, up-close defense, and take the ball to the hoop and get fouled before attempting 3s), then he can be backup SG, moving Dudley to SF, and Warrick can sit on the bench. But right now Warrick is at least scoring, even if he’s still playing most of his time at PF (and being a defensive liability), and isn’t learning how to play defense at SF, where he needs to focus more on chasing through screens on the perimeter.

  • Scott

    In the above suggested lineup, let me also point out that a key job of the starting front court would be to get opposing front courts in foul trouble. These two guys (Gortat and Lopez) ought to be able to rebound at both ends and force fouls on put backs, thereby getting to the line. They should also be able to grind it out in half court sets, a perennial weakness of the Suns in the playoffs.

    BTW, in such a situation, can Gortat as PF play defense on Dirk, thereby freeing up Hill to harass Kidd? I wonder. (That would leave Nash to cover VC, which should work. lol)

    As for the 2nd unit, above, this should be a solid defensive and scoring team with young fast legs that should be able to keep a high tempo and keep the Suns in games. It would be like the old Dragic-led unit, except with better offense.