Preview: Phoenix Suns (2-3) at Dallas Mavericks (2-4)

Dallas Mavericks 98, Phoenix Suns 89

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PHOENIX — Count the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks as two teams that the NBA lockout and the loss of a real training camp has hampered to start the season. In fact, label the Suns and Mavericks, who will meet in American Airlines Center tonight at 6:30 p.m. MST, as two of the most question-laden teams in the NBA.

But let’s remember who these teams are: Phoenix was an average ball club last season with a roster relatively unchanged while Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks are the defending NBA champs.

Sure, the Mavs are the defending champs without Tyson Chandler, DeShawn Stevenson and J.J. Barea, three players that took their unique roles elsewhere. That doesn’t mean Dallas isn’t beginning to find itself in its seventh game of the season.

The Mavs are coming off an impressive 100-87 victory against the previously-undefeated Oklahoma City Thunder, and at home where they’ve beaten Phoenix the last seven times, it won’t be easy for the Suns.

“I know they’re struggling right now,” Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said, “but at the end of the year they’re going to be right there.

“I don’t think they’re in any kind of panic situation or anything,” he added. “I know they lost a couple of guys but they’re still a good basketball team.”

So how do the Suns stop Dirk?

Grant Hill has traditionally been the tool of choice in stopping Nowitzki. However, he’s only played more than 30 minutes in one of Phoenix’s first five games and that might be due to a tender knee. Gentry will have to reach into his back pocket to figure this one out.

“We go there, you got to play solid basketball and you’ve got to know guarding Dirk (Nowitzki) is a really tough matchup,” Phoenix’s head coach said. “It doesn’t matter who you play on him. Our hands are full.”

Channing Frye is a big risk in handling Nowitzki on the perimeter so that leaves the Suns with the options of Hakim Warrick — not known for his defense, although the length couldn’t hurt — and an undersized Josh Childress if Gentry will pull him off the bench.

The intriguing matchup would be rookie Markieff Morris getting a stab at Dirk and physically it might be a good idea. Although Nowitzki could quickly put Keef in foul trouble, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Gentry dabble with Morris on the German for a few minutes here and there, just to see how the rookie handles it (by the way, Morris is killing it across the board in advanced stats).

Whatever the case may be, look for the Suns to implement some traps on Nowitzki and keep an eye out for how well the help defense is rotating behind said trap.

“Dallas is tough at home, but they’re definitely beatable,” Suns guard Ronnie Price said. “I think some of the defensive things that we’ve been doing … if we come out and execute the way we know we can, and play a full solid game instead of one quarter off and one quarter on, I think Dallas has matchup problems with us.”

Something (anything?) from the bigs

I wrote in the Golden State preview that the Suns must win the matchups in the paint. Well, that didn’t happen as I thought it would. Marcin Gortat and Robin Lopez were quiet throughout, and the duo of 7-footers saw time on the pine in the fourth quarter in favor of Morris and Frye.

As a resilient individual — or perhaps an unrealistic one — I’ll again say that Gortat and Lopez must give Phoenix something extra coming off a disappointing performance in which they combined for seven points and seven rebounds in 30 combined minutes.

Said Gentry: “It comes down to execution, and obviously rebounding the basketball against that team is important.”

Marion questionable against Suns

Former Suns All-Star and current Maverick Shawn Marion is questionable against the Suns tonight after missing the morning shootaround with an illness, according to ESPN Dallas’ Jeff Caplan. If Marion isn’t able to go, look for head coach Rick Carlisle to give former Laker Lamar Odom his first start for the Mavs.

Odom has struggled so far, and his minutes have dwindled. But if memory serves me correctly, he’s had the Suns’ number and presents another matchup problem when on the court with Nowitzki.

  • Mel.

    No, no, Kevin. You’re forgetting the facts: Lamar’s only “got(ten) lucky” against us, in the past.

    Too soon?

    Anyway, my inner Roman has some awful, gladiator-style thirst for seeing Keef get thrown into the ring of fire against Dirk, especially if Grant’s a (semi)-healthy scratch. It isn’t like Channing’s a better defensive option, and Das Nowitzki’s going to shoot holes in whoever winds up guarding him, so… why not? Bring on the baptismal of blood! Ave! Ave!

  • Serek


    I’d like to see that as well. It seems to be a good option on the defensive end, and on the offensive I’m not sure if Frye is able to get his groove back with those skinny German arms in his face. And if he does get in foul trouble, then he takes that experience to the bench. Worth taking a shot, especially if Hill is still ailing.

  • Zak

    The only one who can shut down Nowitzki is Nowitzki. Morris should get some minutes against him and if he does well – without too many fouls – great. I thing the game may depend more on how the second squads match up tonight. If Marion isn’t able to play, Odom will start at the 3 which give the Mavs a very large front line that can play both inside and out. But it gives the Phoenix reserves a better chance to win their battle against the Dallas reserves.

    And as odd as it might sound, Phoenix should NOT disregard VC when he comes in. Dallas is making much better use of VC than the Suns did last year. They’ve been posting him up against opposing SGs and even playing him at the 3 at times… and it has been pretty successful. Dallas seems to have put more thought into how to utilize VC’s remaining skills than Gentry did last year.

    I’m beginning to have doubts about Gentry. I’m just not sure if he’s creative enough to make the best use of the talent he has. At some point during the season, he should at least try playing Gortat at the 4 with Lopez at the 5. To me that lineup would make the most sense against the Lakers and, as they sub in, then you bring in Morris and Frye against their subs. But that’s another topic for another time. I’m looking forward to tonight’s game… go Suns!

  • Scott

    I’m not sure Morris is the right choice for defending Dirk. He’s a rookie going up against a former MVP; he’ll get called for fouls left and right, most likely.

    It’s probably a better plan to have Hill and Childress on Dirk. Childress needs some play time, and IIRC he’s good at isolation defense.

  • steve

    I doubt Childress will get a shot tonight, and really I can’t blame Gentry for that at all. Childress has been nothing short of a major disappointment so far in a Suns uni. However, you’re right that Childress might deserve a shot at defending Dirk. I was at one of the Mavs/Suns games at USAirways last year, and Chilly really seemed to frustrate Dirk that night. Dirk was hitting everything when Childress wasn’t guarding him, but he’d suddenly go cold when Childress was in the game. It could have just been coincidence, but Chilly really went after Dirk with some tenacity and it seemed to throw Dirk off his game.

    Anyway, Childress has been a huge letdown. I wish it could have worked out, but he really seems disinterested at this point. Hopefully I’m wrong.

  • Scott

    @steve -

    If Childress can earn himself a role as a defensive stopper, that would be a big help for getting him onto the court. Not only would he and the coaches understand his role, but the other players would understand why they need to make room for him on occasion.

  • steve

    Hakim is 100% USELESS as a rebounder or defender. Good thing for him he can score, otherwise he’d be looking for a different job. He is KILLING us tonight.

  • steve

    Also, Dudley has been pathetic this year. Sheesh, why does Gentry have such a pathetic lineup in to close ot thwarting third.

  • steve

    The last play of the third is why I can’t watch the Suns without fear of breaking something nearby. I also can’t watch them with children. They have never heard half of the words i use to express my distaste for our pathetic brand of basketball. This game has been immensely frustrating. Turning it off before I break my TV.

  • Marley

    What did I tell you all last year?! LMAO

    You all are now regretting to ever think Dudley could be a legitimate starter!

    HAHAH! Suckers!

    And look at VC go in Dallas! Gentry is one dumb coach!

  • Scott

    I thought the Suns came out at a slow pace and never really pushed it, though they were probably playing faster toward the end of the game than they were in the first half. It seemed to me they let the Mavs dictate the tempo.

    On the plus side, Frye shot the ball well. Warrick hit a three like he knew what he was doing. Both of those are encouraging signs. Also, Gortat scored more than 20 pts.

    As for Brown, he didn’t come out with a focus, and didn’t develop one, I thought. And Childress spent the game on the bench.

    The dagger thrower in the game, as usual, was Jason Terry, who got wide open 3s and hit them. That’s one guy the Suns always struggle to defend.

  • sun also rises

    Look at VC go where? 3-12 shooting? Oh, if we had only kept him on the roster! Wah!

    Waiting for the end of the season when Vince turns invisible again, the Mavs get dropped by the Lakers or Thunder (or the Blazers, who have kryptonite written all over them) and Marley comes back here to apologize for being his e-tard self.

    Oh right, crazy people don’t know that they’re crazy. When Vince packs it in you can always start cheering for Agent Zero, since they’re pretty much the same guy.