PHOENIX — There’s not much time to put filmwork into footwork this lockout-shortened season. Rest is more important than continuity in a way, and because of it a struggling team like the Phoenix Suns has little time to rework problems big or small.
They can only look at themselves in a mirror.
“I’m going to tell you, we have to find some ways to win some games,” Marcin Gortat said after the Suns got throttled by Dallas two days ago. “I’m not going to blame anybody. I’m looking at myself right now.”
Phoenix can bury the 23-point loss to the Mavericks in the depths of their memories with a road win tonight against the lowly New Orleans Hornets, and should Steve Nash be ready to go, this could be the game where he breaks the team’s all-time assist mark.
In what’s already been a season full of tipping points, this one could be a sign of how the Suns react to frustration. Acting as a catalyst, that frustration could lead to Phoenix playing with a redefined effort or a resigned attitude of failure. How long it will take to reach one of those points though, is hard to judge.
“I’m just going to say we got to play better,” Gortat said, “because honestly I don’t want to say anything else. I might get in trouble.”
The Suns center then went out of his way to say that this team would win if it had 12 copies of Josh Childress, who has found himself with increasing rotation time in the past three games. It was, indeed, a telling sign that the man who couldn’t fit into head coach Alvin Gentry’s plans — seemingly for the second year in the row — was playing faster and harder than some of his teammates.
That all comes down to identity. Childress has one with his old-school hair cut and his rugged style of play that might indeed have fit in the NBA of the late 1980s and early 1990s, where players had to give their opponents more than a tap on the back to get called for a foul.
And when identity is what we’re talking about, maybe the Suns as a team still lack one.
They’ve admitted that this isn’t the offensive juggernaut of the past, but at the same time, the Suns aren’t consistent enough to say they’re a hard-nosed defensive squad either. The 122-99 loss to the Mavericks on Monday was evidence of such, but even when they’re winning games in the 80s as they did the game prior, how many guys on the team could be labeled as tough guys?
“We have to really focus on, ‘What makes us better?’ and not worry about other teams,” Childress said, “What makes us good? When are we good? What are we doing when we’re at our best?
“When we start doing that a little more, things will be more positive.”
Three keys for Phoenix
1) Protect the paint. The Hornets are not good at offense, coming in 25th in the league in offensive rating and second-to-last in pace. That all stems from having wings who aren’t efficient. Starters Marco Belinelli and Trevor Ariza have respective 45.7 and 41.4 effective field goal percentages, and the Hornets as a team shoot 27.7 percent from the three-point line. For the Suns, that means keeping tabs on every rebound and keying in on stopping buckets in the paint.
2) Give it to Gortat — a lot. At 15 points per game, Marcin Gortat sure doesn’t get a whole lot of touches. Aside from a poor shooting game against Portland last week, he’s a sure-fire 20-point scorer when he gets 15 or more shot attempts per game. The Suns need a solid Plan B when their offense isn’t clicking, plus it’s probably a good idea to force opponents to, you know, make a mid-game strategic change every once in a while should Gortat get on a roll.
3) Beware of Jarrett. Eric Gordon hit the game-winning shot against Phoenix in the season opener, but he’s been sidelined for all but two games this season with a right knee injury. Taking over the lead guard responsibilities in his place, Jarrett Jack is quietly putting up 16.1 points and 6.9 assists. The Suns would be wise to hedge heavily on the point guard off screens, and maybe even give Grant Hill a look on defense.