Phoenix Suns 96, Sacramento Kings 88 -- Getting on a roll


PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns have discovered a winning formula to open the second half of the season: fall behind by double digits early but hold the opposition below 40 percent shooting and win the rebounding battle to prevail in the end.

For the third straight game the Suns did just that in their 96-88 victory over the Sacramento Kings, a win that buoyed them to a three-game winning streak four days into the second half after doing that just once the entire inconsistent first half.

“We’ve still got a huge mountain to climb, but it’s a good start for us,” said head coach Alvin Gentry. “I thought we played really good basketball. I thought we played tough-minded basketball. Defensively that’s been kind of the difference.”

The Suns are still a long way from being back in the playoff race as they sit 3 1/2 games out in 12th place in the West, but they are finally taking care of home games, coming from behind and winning with defense and rebounding.

In fact they have now won five of six home games and are a Golden State toe stub away from a six-game winning streak and real momentum heading into the rest of this daunting schedule after entering this stretch with an awful 5-8 home mark.

Although the offense these past three games has looked “rusty” early on, as Steve Nash put it, the defense has allowed Phoenix to weather those droughts.

Tonight that meant holding Isaiah Thomas to eight points on 3-for-13 shooting as well as limiting Kings stars DeMarcus Cousins (16 on 7-for-20) and Tyreke Evans (17 on 8-for-18).

Gentry lauded the work his assistants did on that end during the practices after the break, saying they have done a nice job “of putting us in a situation where our guys believe in what we’re doing.”

In addition, the Suns feel the biggest key to their defensive success of late has come down to securing a healthy portion of defensive rebounds after being so porous in this area to start the season.

The Suns outrebounded Sacramento, 53-49, in tonight’s game as Cousins pulled down his usual 14 boards but everyone else was held in check. On the flip side, Marcin Gortat (17) and Channing Frye (10) cleaned the glass for Phoenix.

“Our defense has been pretty solid for most of the year, we just haven’t been able to come up with a good percentage of rebounding at the defensive end,” Nash said. “I feel like the last three games we’ve done a much better job rebounding and closing out possessions, and it gives us a good chance to win.”

Rebounding is an interesting topic to explore because it often comes down to positioning and effort, not to mention sheer size.

The Suns have been an abysmal rebounding team the last two seasons largely due to their lack of size, so I asked Nash why he thinks they have strung together three straight solid boarding efforts in a row.

“I don’t think it’s natural for our personnel so we have to make an extra effort,” Two Time said. “ Some nights we’re just going to lose that battle, but we’ve done a great job of trying to fight for it these last three games, and hopefully we keep that up.”

The Suns also continued their second-half prowess tonight, as Phoenix has outscored its opponents by 11.2 points the past three second halves while limiting their opponents to 36.2 percent shooting. Tonight the Kings hit just one-third of their second-half attempts while Phoenix used a 15-3 spurt to open the fourth quarter to win going away.

The Suns have now overcome double-digit deficits in three straight games for the first time since November 2002 and they’ve held three consecutive opponents under 40 percent shooting for the first time since January 2008.

“It feels good and definitely we made a plan, we said that we want to get those three wins and now we have them, so we have to keep going,” Gortat said. “We’ve got a great rhythm right now.”

Now the question is whether the Suns have finally turned the corner or whether they were able to get by without their fastball on offense because they faced two tired squads in Minnesota and the Clippers as well as bad team in Sacramento.

We will find out soon as after a trip to conference-leading Oklahoma City, the Suns play six of their next seven in Phoenix, with all but one of those games coming against a Western Conference playoff contender.

If the Suns can win, say, five of those six home games just as they won five of these previous six then all of a sudden they’re right around .500 and can at least start peering over at the playoff teams from their spot in the standings.

This run is also happening just as the Suns will have to make their final decision on whether or not to trade Steve Nash. All along I’ve felt like this only could happen if Phoenix was firmly out of the playoff discussion, at which time the front office could approach him about the possibility of seriously considering offers.

If the Suns start to finally click and move up the standings, I don’t see how that necessary change of events will occur.

But that’s not what the players and coaches are thinking about after this one. Instead they are celebrating really the first time all season that Phoenix can legitimately say it’s gotten on a roll behind a productive defense, solid rebounding and an offense that’s turned it on (relatively speaking) in the second halves of games.

Now the question is whether the Suns are due for the letdown they have suffered after every previous mini-run.

“If we have any chance of getting back in the playoff picture we have to win these games and give ourselves a chance to get back in there and get to .500 and see what we can do from there,” Nash said. “Hopefully we can take care of the games we’re supposed to win and take care of home court and then try to steal a couple.”

And 1

  • Nash said he “felt a lot better” tonight after struggling through Friday’s game. “I think just the inactivity,” he said. “Going from my body’s used to playing and contact, but after the seven days off that first game back was a shock to the system and the next day I really felt it. The seven days off really messed me up.”
  • Gentry credited Shannon Brown for “giving us a little bit of separation” as he scored a bench-high 13 points, including seven during Phoenix’s late 15-3 run.
  • Gortat joked that he only played 30 minutes because Gentry “kind of sniffed out that I was getting close to our 20 boards and he didn’t really want me to shoot the three, so that’s why he put me on the bench.” Gortat has said Gentry will let him shoot a trey if he pulls down 20 boards in a game.
  • The Suns have now won three in a row when trailing at halftime and are 5-5 in their last 10 such games after dropping their first 12 when behind at the intermission. … The Suns have won their first three games after the break three times in Gentry’s four seasons, a feat only accomplished three times in the previous 18 years. …  After their power forwards combined to shoot 3-for-26 on Friday, Channing Frye and Markieff Morris made just 3-of-19 shots tonight, with Morris missing all seven of his attempts. … The Suns have won as many home games in their last six contests as they did in their first 13 home dates.

  • Scott

    If Gentry would let Lopez play C with Gortat at PF, Gortat could shoot the 3. :D

  • https://twitter.com/#!/True_Rys Rich Anthony, (KJL)

    And if that ever happens, everybody should be fired. the entire world should.

  • PennyAnd1

    @Scott

    I’m really curious to see Lopez & Gortat play together. Gentry should really give it a chance. Who knows it might be the answer to have to big guys in there.

    Solid win for the Suns. Keep the momentum rolling. Sarver bring back Aaron Brooks ASAP.

  • Serek

    I wonder if Gortat can shoot the 3 better than Frye and Morris are doing it recently. Reminds me of the game @ Boston from last year.

  • PennyAnd1

    what if Gentry Put in Lopez, Gortat, & Frye Plus Nash & G-Hill. I’d like to see these guys play together.

  • steve

    I’m definitely happy about the roll we’re on, but I don’t think this is in any way sustainable (I hate the overuse of that word, but I do think it’s very applicable here). The Suns are not going to keep their opponents to sub-40 shooting percentages on a regular basis. It’s just not possible. If these teams we have beaten in these past few games would have put up their average numbers, we wouldn’t be on a 3-game win streak right now.

    I’m happy about the win, but I’m thinking it’s all uphill from here. If the Suns can’t shoot, they’re not going to be winning these games for long.

  • Grover

    Not happy with what I’m seeing from Brown – can’t figure out why he’s getting more PT than Redd. Yes, he made two three pointers at a critical juncture, but his decision making was still horrid and he had two of the dumbest, most obvious offensive fouls I’ve seen in some time. He’s a turnover waiting to happen.

    Very rough game… Other than the fact it was two pathetic teams out there, it looked like playoff atmosphere. Fun to watch.

    Cousins will be a monster if he ever finds a good psychiatrist.

  • Serek

    A trip to OKC is next in the schedule, so this streak is very likely to end right here. I only hope it will not break the team down again, should they lose.

  • Tony

    Very nice for the Suns. The Kings are not a pathetic team, they just need a couple solid veteran players to lead that team. They have a ton of young talent, so although their record is pathetic, let’s not underestimate them as they do have a lot of talent.

    If only the Suns could get some consistent offense from Frye in particular! It’s all in his head and even though he claims he’s not worried about his poor shooting, he’s trying to lift his confidence by pretending he isn’t concerned about his poor shooting. Frye should just be honest with himself.

    @Grover,

    I disagree about Brown. I think he’s playing with a lot more confidence and is making better decisions. In last night’s game, there was only one bad shot in the 2nd half I saw him take. The two threes he hit were not bad shots they were tough shots but the offense was stagnant, largely a result of Telfair, and Brown really is the Suns best second unit isolation scorer.

  • Grover

    Tony –
    When Brown is playing with confidence is exactly when I get worried. He’s the type of player that makes a couple shots and thinks he can make anything, then starts making even worse choices.

    His two charges last night were decisions you’d expect from a dumb rookie, not a veteran. Even on one of his made threes, Brown was advancing the ball out of control rather than find his PG and fill his lane like he’s supposed to. He scares me when he’s on the floor. I do agree he benefits more than most with playing alongside Nash instead of Telfair as Nash has the leadership necessary to keep Brown in his place. A few games ago I recall Brown made a horrible choice and you could see Nash freezing him out the rest of his time on the court.

  • Scott

    @Penny -

    The problem with putting 3 7-footers on the floor at once is that none of them is capable of guarding the SF position. If one of them was rail thin and quick, like Kirilenko, then you could do it, but of the 3 you mentioned, Gortat is the lightest and quickest.

    @Tony -

    Has Frye ever provided consistent offense when playing at the 4? Portland used to play him at 4, and he really wasn’t that good.

    I appreciate Frye’s defense, which has been excellent at times this year and in previous years, however it seems to me he plays his best game at both ends when he’s at center, and preferably at 2nd unit center.

    @Grover -

    The value of Brown’s performance is a relative thing. Just like I don’t think Dudley would be a starter for a team that had stars at SG/SF, Brown’s difficulties (poor vision / decision making) ought to keep him nailed to the bench.

    However, when focused, and when used strictly to finish plays, Brown’s athleticism, scoring, and energy is actually helping the Suns stay in games. No other Suns bench player (Childress, Warrick, Price) is able to do what he’s doing.

    In other words, the rest of the Suns players (esp. Nash and Hill) are better able to compensate for Brown’s shortcomings when he’s playing at his best. They can’t, however, make up for Childress’s lack of scoring, Warrick’s defensive woes and lack of a 3 pt shot, or Price’s lack of height, advanced playmaking skills, and inability to score.

    To get back to Dudley for a moment … it’s not that he’s bad. His game is reminiscent of Scola’s. If Dudley was a few inches taller and heavier, he’d BE Scola, or maybe even better. But at SG or SF … his lack of athleticism makes him about as good as you can be without being a star.

  • Zak

    Frye’s not actually playing at that much of a lower level than last year. His PPG average is down 3 pts per game but otherwise he hasn’t changed from last year. His 3 pt percentage is down from .390 to .340 but his overall FG percentage is down from .432 to .387… and his 3 point attempts are actually down from last year. Maybe that’s the real problem with his scoring. Last year he attempted 5.7 3′s a game and this year he has attempted only 4.1 3′s per game. Maybe he should be shooting the 3 MORE instead of less. Like the stats say, he’s averaging only 3 PPG less than his scoring average last year but taking 1.6 fewer 3 pt shots per game this year. Every other one of Frye’s stats are virtually equal to last year.

    As I’ve said before, I really don’t think that Frye is an NBA caliber starter at PF. He is a great back up who can give good mins at either PF or C. But let’s not put too much blame on the Suns’ problems this season on Frye.

  • PennyAnd1

    @Scott

    Exactly. Brown can be good if playing with the right teammates, especially Nash. That’s why Monte Ellis would benefit playing with Nash. They must get Monte Ellis.

  • steve

    Monta is nothing but a chucker. Even in this SG-starved league, I wouldn’t want Ellis on my team.

    Curry would be a far better take from GSW (I know he’s not an SG, but this is just to highlight my distaste for Monta).

  • Tony

    @Scott,

    it’s not just that Frye is having trouble with matchups, he’s getting wide open shots that he used to make but now misses. With the way Lopez has played since the all-star break, moving Frye to C would reduce Lopez’s minutes. I know you have been advocating for Gentry to play Gortat and Lopez at the same time, something I think you’re overestimating as to it’s potential effectiveness, so I am assuming you would like Gentry to play them together and use Frye as a backup center right?

    Frye just has to maintain his focus on the defensive-end, which by doing so he’ll hopefully forget about his offensive struggles.

    Regardless though, it doesn’t matter where Gentry puts Frye because the problem is all in his head.

    @Grover,

    the one thing you have to remember about Brown is that he really hasn’t had an opportunity, prior to playing for the Suns, to play in a less-structured more free-flowing offense and so, it’s just taking him some time to gain his confidence. Watching him play last night, it was the first time I’ve seen him play with true confidence on the Suns. By gaining confidence, he’s also less prone to making stupid decisions and I think he’s already improved in that regard.

    I agree that playing with Nash may help keep Brown in control and not try to do too much.

  • Scott

    @Tony -

    Gentry has options. He likes to play Frye as a starter probably because Frye is the best, most experienced, all-around player of the Frye / Morris / Lopez group.

    Gentry probably also likes to play Gortat at starting C because he’s the best defending / rebounding C, and he has decent aggression on offense.

    So Gortat at C and Frye at PF.

    I can understand that reasoning. However, it seems possible to me that Gentry may be overlooking other player / game characteristics.

    It might be that Lopez at C and Gortat at PF is better defensively than Gortat + Frye. Since for many teams the PF scores more than the C does, Gortat might benefit the team more if he was shutting down PFs (assuming he can do that). And Lopez, the biggest guy on the team, can be a good paint defender; he just doesn’t want to be “THE MAN” on the team, and he wants to play cooperatively or even defer to another more aggressive front court partner, as he did with his brother. So I think he can play defensively with Gortat; Gortat may even be the best pairing for him.

    If these two bigs can play together on offense, it could also be better for near the hoop action – and drawing fouls – than what you get from spreading the floor on offense using Frye (especially if Frye’s scoring is down when he’s at PF, which appears to be the case). IIRC, the Suns are 28th in the league at getting to the line.

    Part of the dynamic here is that Gortat avoids contact when scoring (as does Frye), yet Lopez is as likely to get contact as not. So if the two are working together, with some short shots / rebounds, then Lopez might start making more trips to the line.

    Also, while Lopez has nearly the same type of offense as Gortat, it’s apparently harder for him to be used for offense on the 2nd unit due to the lower capabilities of the 2nd unit PG and/or the lack of attention by the coach to plays for the 2nd unit. So moving Lopez from the 2nd unit to the first may improve his scoring.

    Frye, on the other hand, can line up at the arc like any perimeter shooter, and passing to a trailing tall perimeter shooter has got to be about the easiest thing for any PG. I believe moving Frye to 2nd unit C would actually unleash his scoring, because he’d be a frequent target of passes there, and he’d make the 2nd unit potent again. Additionally, playing defense on the 2nd unit is less taxing, as the opponent’s talent level is lower, so he’d have more energy and focus to devote toward offense.

    I think Morris would be more productive offensively if he spent most of his minutes with the starters. That’s because the 2nd unit as presently composed has too many newbies. Typically, at any time you’ve got 4 players in off the bench who haven’t played for the Suns before this season (and a season with a super-short training camp as well).

    If you actually do have both Frye and Dudley playing with the 2nd unit, then it might be okay to keep Morris there, as he’d probably be more open on offense.

    Anyway, I just have some alternative views of how the bigs can be used. I understand Gentry wants to be consistent and conservative with his lineups, but I’m also concerned he might be missing out on significant improvements in team scoring because he may be misinterpreting the dynamics of his players.

    Lopez + Gortat might score more, and score inside more, drawing fouls. Frye + Dudley on the 2nd unit might score more, and anchor the defense. Morris might score more if he was playing with veterans familiar with the system, and not a bunch of other newbs.

    The Suns should try these ideas out in practice and see how it goes. They shouldn’t commit to this or anything else without testing.

  • Grover

    If it were me, I’d give most of Brown’s minutes to Redd. Redd’s skill set is a better fit, he’s smarter, and has a higher chance of being part of the Suns future than Brown. The only time I’d play Brown is when matchups require athleticism that Redd just can’t provide (and never could even pre-injury).

  • PennyAnd1

    @Steve

    I would want Curry too but let’s talk for real here..The likelihood of Monte coming to Phoenix is for certain if Sarver wants to.

    What’s not to like about Ellis? His FG% & 3pt % is above average..way better than Brown. You saw Brown’s game. One-on-one shooting bricks after bricks, not utilizing the slashing game. Imagine Ellis’ numbers if he were to play alongside Nash, plus Ellis likes to drive to that rim (which is what the Suns desparately needs). Nash & the Suns makes each teammate feel like they are an important piece. If Ellis is motivated..trust me, we will have our next J-Rich in him. I’ve never been wrong before, and I ain’t going to be wrong now.

  • PennyAnd1

    AND 1 –> Ellis is cheap too.

  • Evnerl

    As much as I would like to see Nash have the chance to win a championship, and have the Suns re-build so that we have an opportunity to be decent sometime before 2020, the fact is that Nash is a living Suns legend, he is even at 38 one of the best point guards in the league, and is leading the league in assists, he is one of the best shooters in the history of the NBA. This team needs to respect the man. He says he wonts to stay, then he stays, so lets try to pull off a trade to get someone who he can feed the ball to.

  • Cam

    The problem with Ellis is attitude. If/when the Suns lose their veterans (Nash and Hill) who will keep Monte in check, not Gentry. I think a player like Jerryd Bayless would fit better for the Suns. If the Suns use the majority of their cap space this offseason on Nash and get someone like Jerryd Bayless to back him up they would be better all around. The Suns are most likely going to be in line to draft a shooting guard who can start right away and add some scoring for the 1st team. Bayless wants to be seen as a point guard, and the Suns need scoring off their bench. I would much rather see Bayless, an Arizona native, in Phoenix than Monte Ellis, or Aaron Brooks for that matter. I think Bayless is good enough to take over once Nash retires/is traded. Couple that with another pick up this offseason, like Batum, and save the rest of the cap space for the next offseason. Go Suns.

  • Scott

    @Grover -

    I agree that I’d rather see Redd play over Brown, but Redd needs to start, and show he can play when started. When he’s coming off the bench his play is not so good.

    @Penny -

    Character-wise, Ellis doesn’t appear to be a Suns-type player. He’s more resilient and a better scorer than Curry, but Curry has a character that would fit Phoenix better.

    @Cam -

    Actually, what I’ve heard is that Bayless can be as difficult to coach as Ellis. Also, last I heard, the Raptors – while not entirely happy with him – are looking to keep Bayless.

    Of the choices at PG (not many), I would not mind taking Bayless for a spin if he’s available and cheap.

  • PennyAnd1

    @Cam

    Bayless? Are you serious? We will forget that guy in 2 years or so..he’s just as good as Telfair. There is no way to replace Nash.

    As far as wanting to be champs…if the Suns are really serious about winning the big one..and if Sarver says we have cap space for next season..then I don’t see why everyone wants to trade Nash.???

    Nash makes everyone better and always finds a way to utilize his teammates great strength, something not many premiere point guards are doing these days, including the likes of CP3s.

    From what I hear Blake Griffin might be in the market next year. I say try to grab that man, and a scorer, and you have a Suns team that will play at that elite level again, assuming we have a better PG backing up Nash next year as well.. I say get JJ Barea to back Nash up.

  • steve

    If it’s Ellis vs. Brown, I’d take Ellis any day of the week if I don’t have to think about money. However, Monta makes $11M annually. I think there are better ways to spend $11M than paying a chucker who might have some character issues. I don’t mean to say Monta is an awful player. He’s not. I just don’t think he’s worth the hype he gets.

  • Cam

    @PennyAnd1
    I think Bayless would be better than telfair and he’s cheaper than Ellis. That’s why I would take him over Monte. I think, just as Steve stated, that the Suns would be better served spending their money elsewhere. This morning on the Dan Patrick show Grant Hill said he thinks Nash will be in Phoenix for 2 more years. That gives the suns time to sign a halfway decent backup, Bayless, and address other needs through the draft and free agency. From what it sounds like, Golden State isn’t giving Monte away for pennies on the dollar so this line of thought is a moot point anyway. Go Suns.

  • And1

    @Cam

    Backing up Nash? Yeah I wouldn’t mind having Bayless do that job..but then, I wouldn’t mind having Barea do that job too. Aaron Brooks really would fit backing up Nash because of his speed. But in the long run, I don’t think Brooks would want to come off the bench either.

    I was thinking Monte Ellis work alongside Nash as a shooter, just like Nash would always set-up J-Rich. He’s just as deadly and a streaky shooter/slasher like J-Rich.

    Playing with a positive point guard to who takes each game seriously in Nash can change a players mentality like Ellis.

  • Scott

    @Cam -

    I agree that Bayless is better than Telfair. Telfair did a decent job of scoring in the last game, but that was unusual for him in his history in the league, while Bayless was able to do that from day 1.

    However, Calderon’s deal expires after next year and the Raps have said they intend to re-sign Bayless.