PHOENIX — After the Phoenix Suns started off the season losing three of their first four games, there wasn’t a whole lot of panic coming out of the locker room. Even the shortened season is a long one they said, and the team followed up a 1-3 start in December with a 3-1 record in January so far.
The players’ attitudes haven’t wavered as they’ve begun to find their mojo.
“To be honest, I don’t think we’re getting ahead of ourselves,” point guard Steve Nash said on Monday. “We’re just trying to execute the gameplan and so far we’ve had some success. But we have a long way to go.
“We’re going to face some better teams, and we’re going to have to do a better job of rebounding, and being sharp on our rotations and keeping people out of the paint.”
Phoenix appears to be back on track, especially in the past two games. Blowing out the Portland Trail Blazers and Milwaukee Bucks at home, the Suns realize that it’s about wins period, not necessarily who they’re winning against.
Then again, they know they’ve got to take advantage against tired teams at home. The now 6-2 Blazers lost to Phoenix in the second game of a back-to-back. The 2-6 Bucks were also in a back-to-back situation, not to mention that they were playing their last game of a five-game road trip. Milwaukee didn’t win one of those games.
Simply put, the Suns know home games against tired teams are must-wins. The blowouts were the icing on the cake.
“That’s the games you have to take advantage of and you have to close those out,” head coach Alvin Gentry said. “Steve and those guys, they haven’t played in the fourth quarter the last two games and obviously any rest they get is a big plus.”
No, the Suns haven’t proven that a defensive rating that stands at 100.6 points allowed per 100 possessions — that’s good enough for 12th in the league — combined with a suddenly good-looking offense can thrust them into the playoff picture. But as of now, they probably have proven they can take care of the teams that most other decent NBA teams should have no business losing to.
With the Los Angeles Lakers on deck Tuesday, Phoenix won’t put too much pressure on themselves to beat a difficult opponent, but it might be the first opportunity to determine how close this squad is to competing against upper-tier Western Conference playoff teams.
“It’ll give us some idea where we are,” Gentry said.
Hill finding his legs
Forward Grant Hill hasn’t been his old self this season. His usually-automatic, mid-range jump shot hasn’t connected with consistency, and Gentry said Monday that Hill is working to get his legs back under him. He’s shooting 37.5 percent from the field and has hit only 1-of-11 three-pointers.
But Hill’s defense hasn’t needed to find itself.
“He was ecstatic that he made the corner three last night,” Gentry said of Hill’s first three-pointer of the season. “On some of his drives and some of his finishes, he’s just not quite there yet. Defensively, I think he’s done a great job. The job he’s done on Monta Ellis, you go back, the job he did on Dirk (Nowitzki) … Stephen Jackson is a guy that has given us a ton of trouble over the years. I think we did a good job.”
Hill tied for the highest plus/minus on the Suns last night with a +28 and held Jackson to only eight points. Earlier this season, the Suns’ starting small forward held Ellis to 6-for-16 from the field and held Nowitzki to 7-for-17.
Morris had a good word put in for him
In all circles of life, they say it’s who you know that will get you places, not necessarily how good you are.
For Phoenix rookie Markieff Morris, a good word put in by his former coach, Danny Manning, may have helped urge the Suns to pick him 13th overall.
“Obviously we spent time visiting with Danny about him,” Gentry said when asked whether Morris’ three-point range was surprising. “He said he thought he could be a trail guy on the break and make three-point shots. He proved he could do that.
“I think he’s been a little better defensively than we anticipated from the standpoint of playing and not getting himself in foul trouble lately,” Gentry added.
Gentry and Manning, Morris’ assistant at Kansas, go way back and were both with the Jayhawks when they won the 1988 NCAA championship. Gentry was an assistant under then-head coach Larry Brown and Manning was the star forward for Kansas.
Gentry still loves Tebow; Nelson … not so much
Following Gentry’s glowing speech about Denver Broncos’ quarterback Tim Tebow, the Suns’ head coach was back at it after Monday’s practice, wearing a worn Broncos baseball cap that was complete with a “Tim Tebow #15″ signature on the brim.
It wasn’t authentic.
Meanwhile, Nash said athletic trainer Aaron Nelson, a diehard Steelers’ fan, hadn’t shown much emotion after the Broncos beat Pittsburgh in overtime.
“Yeah, he’s pretending it doesn’t bother him,” Nash joked. “It’s the first sign of a meltdown.”