Chemistry propelling Phoenix Suns into Western Conference playoff race


The Suns have recaptured the chemistry that characterized them for so many years. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX — Through 31 games the Phoenix Suns appeared destined for the doldrums of the Western Conference.

At 12-19 there was minimal light at the end of the tunnel and a second consecutive year without a playoff berth seemed imminent.

Fast forward 14 games and the Suns are one of the hottest teams in the NBA. They’re 11-3 during that stretch and only the Bulls have a better record over the course of the last 14 games.

So what’s changed? This team seemed to lack the necessary talent to make any type of legitimate playoff push.

Aside from Steve Nash, Grant Hill and Marcin Gortat, the Suns appeared too undermanned offensively and too inconsistent defensively to surge up the Western Conference totem pole.

How could the Suns possibly be in the heat of the playoff race? How could they possibly be half a game back of the No. 8 seed and only 3 1/2 games out of the No. 4 spot?

One word: chemistry.

“It’s phenomenal. Everybody genuinely likes each other,” said veteran guard Michael Redd. “It’s just been fun, man. It’s a fun atmosphere. Alvin’s the same every day and everybody’s been great. Steve and Grant obviously set the tone so it’s been a great locker room. I’ve been on some great teams as far as guys liking each other. Twelve years, so I’ve seen some bad ones, too, but this is right up there, no question.”

As has been the case for the majority of the Steve Nash era, the Suns are gelling on and off the court. As Redd said, players and coaches genuinely enjoy being around one another. After playing rotation roulette for the first half of the season, everyone finally know their roles and the locker room is upbeat.

They even held a team-wide gathering at Redd’s house the night before Sunday’s game against the Houston Rockets. Is it a coincidence that 10 different players scored at least four points in a thrashing of the Rockets less than 24 hours later? Hardly.

Phoenix has proven in the past that chemistry can overcome limited talent and deficiencies, and that’s exactly what’s happening day in and day out in US Airways Center.

“I just think the chemistry has been much better. Technically we haven’t changed what we’re doing, but just the overall chemistry is better,” Alvin Gentry said before the Rockets game. “The second team has had great chemistry. I think Shannon Brown is starting to play better for us. We’ve gotten good minutes out of Michael Redd. Just the whole overall chemistry of the team I think is better right now.”

Whether it’s Redd’s 25-point outburst against the Rockets, Channing Frye’s 26-point effort against the Jazz or Shannon Brown’s 21-point night against the Clippers, Phoenix is getting contributions from different players every night.

Seven different players have led the Suns in scoring over the course of Phoenix’s last 11 games following the All-Star break, something few other NBA teams can say. That type of balanced scoring on a nightly basis is a direct product of good chemistry.

Players feel comfortable around one another. They’re loose, Gentry gives different guys the minutes to rise to the occasion, and each player feels the support of his teammates as he takes the floor night in and night out. For a team lacking in the talent department, that type of chemistry is invaluable.

“I think staying together is the key, through good times, through bad times and the team has stayed together, off the court most importantly,” Redd said. “We still go out to dinner, we hang out, we support each other.”

Such is the standard of a Nash-led team. A season ago, however, the Suns never had the opportunity to build that chemistry and overcome expectations. Two major midseason trades robbed Phoenix of the chance to gel and grow together as a unit.

The Suns made no such trades this time around, and their patience is being rewarded by way of big wins, and even national recognition from analysts like ESPN’s John Hollinger. That chemistry that was missing a season ago has arrived, and Phoenix Suns victories have followed suit.

“I think people are feeling more comfortable with their roles,” Nash said. “I think we’re more cohesive so chemistry has improved and it’s definitely another reason why we’re playing better.”

If there’s one intangible that can carry the Suns through an upcoming stretch that features 12 road games in 15 contests, it’s chemistry. If there’s anything that can catapult Phoenix over the Heat, Magic or Pacers, it’s chemistry. And with growing confidence from their recent stretch, the Suns are expecting that will be the case.

“Chemistry is just outstanding right now,” said Suns center Marcin Gortat. “Everybody feels good and we’re going to get a couple wins on the road right now.”

Tags: Chemistry

  • Kenton

    Go Suns!

  • GoSuns

    Indeed, Go Suns!

  • Troy Baker

    Yeah I too started to think when should we trade Nash, Hill, even Lopez. But this team has a spirit. Many didnt get to play much togehter w the work stoppage. So the process was slow. Hence the bad start. But as soon as you think Draft lottery here they go again. Stringing wins together. But more importantly being competitive even against the best teams in the league. Wont see Phoenix score 59 like the Magic or give up 140 like Golden St. DEFENSE is much better. We seem to live and die with Frye. I like how Redd has stepped up. All of the Suns have contibuted big and small. LET’s GO’ SUNS!

  • PennyAnd1

    @Troy Baker

    To hell with you and your idea or trading Nash & Hill. It would complete destroy the Suns franchise. With the cap space available for next season to get at least two max players, why in the hell would you trade the best PG in the league & the best defender that can stop all positions? It doesn’t make sense?!

    I for one am happy Lopez wasn’t traded. With him in the Suns, the Suns have 3 big solid centers in Frye, Gortat, & Lopez.

  • steve

    @PennyAnd1 – He was saying he doesn’t want to trade them any more…

    Btw, the “cap space” the Suns have next season will only be there if we don’t retain the contracts coming off the books… Nash, Hill, Lopez, Brown, Redd, Price, Telfair…

    Retaining Nash would take up a huge chunk of that cap space, then finding equal talent to fill the gaps that Brown, Telfair, Redd, and Price fill for less money is going to be nearly impossible. THEN, finding a 7-footer to replace Robin for less money is going to be even more difficult. This “cap space” we keep hearing about doesn’t mean the Suns are going to get to keep all the good players they currently have and then go lure LeBron away from Miami. It means the Suns are probably going to be a completely different team for 2012-2013 than they are right now (and “different” doesn’t necessarily mean “better”).

  • Jason A.

    Here’s my plan: re-sign Nash to 2 years/$18 million. Sign Kevin Garnett as a free agent 2 years/$16 million. Sign Ray Allen as a free agent 2 years/$16 million. Let Lopez go. Let Brooks go. Amnesty Childress (sorry bro, you’re a good team guy tho). Sign Hickson to a 4 year/$20 million deal. Re-sign Brown if it can be done cheaply. Trade Morris and/or Warrick if possible for future picks.

    So starting 5:

    Nash
    Allen
    Hill
    Garnett
    Gortat

    Bench:

    Telfair/Price
    Redd/Brown
    Dudley
    Hickson/Morris
    Frye

    We’d have a two year window. Look up Garnett’s and Allen’s stats. If they could just maintain those numbers we’d win a ring. With this training staff…come to the desert!

  • steve

    Haha, I like the thinking, Jason A., but that starting five would CRUSH the record for oldest starting five of all time, I’m sure.

  • Jason A.

    Steve, no doubt we’d be the oldest starting 5 in NBA history. But we would dominate and have a deep bench. Besides, with Nash and Hill only around for a few more years our window is already set.

  • Tony

    Jason,

    I would love to see Ray Allen as a Sun because he is probably the best shooter coming off screens and spotting up in the game. Even though people have always talked about the Suns great offense since Nash, the team really hasn’t had a “great” shooter a long long time (besides Nash of course). Watching the Knicks and Novak light up 3s, if the Suns FO plan on retaining Nash, they need to sign a shooter similar to Novak. Allen would be a perfect fit to fill that role plus he’s a very good defender and just an all-around great player.

    Nash never ceases to amaze me. He’s able to get the most production out of the least capable and unlike other “star” players, he builds their confidence up rather than tearing it down when they struggle. I’ll never forget the Suns-Mavs series in 2005 or 2006, in which Nash was encouraging his teammates even when they made a stupid play or missed a shot but at the opposite end, Dirk was yelling at his teammates for making bad plays. It was a true example of what makes Nash such a great teammate. To be fair to Dirk, ever since that particular series, he’s seemed to learn to be a better leader but even still, it was amazing to see such a contrast in leadership styles between Nash and Dirk at that time.

    On another note, anybody hearing anything about Hickson being signed by the Suns? I know he has a positive relationship with Blanks from their Cavs days, so I wonder if the Suns will acquire him? I always thought he would turn out to be a very good player but he might another headcase as the Cavs eventually couldn’t get rid of him soon enough and now it appears the Kings have done the same.

  • Suns Critic

    I wouldn’t mind seeing that old man lineup together. However, I don’t think the Suns Brass would do that as they’ve stated all along that they are trying to be competitive while still building for the future and that lineup wouldn’t do much for building.

  • Jason A.

    SC, maybe not so much for grooming young talent, but it would give more experience to Dudley, Morris, Telfair, and others without putting too much pressure on them. Plus it gives us massive cap space in 2015 to rebuild post Nash.

  • Scott

    Before signing Ray Allen or someone else, I’d like to give Redd more of a chance to prove himself.

    Even so, I don’t want to sign him to a huge contract. Hill had to play for several years at a minimum before he got a bigger contract, and I wouldn’t want to do something terribly different for a guy with an injury history like Redd’s.

  • And1

    If Lopez continue to improve throughout the season, it’d be hard to not to try and get him back. And I think Nash has stated that he’d take a lesser paycheck just to be with Suns next year.

  • Zak

    The word on Hickson is that he’s signing with the Warriors tomorrow. I’m certainly not against offering Ray Allen a contract next year but not Garnett, at least not a 2 year contract at $16 mil. Garnett would just be too much of a risk at that price in my opinion… unless you could/would limit his minutes on the court. Athletic bigs tend to be much more injury prone as they age and I’d hate to be paying him $16 mil to spend most of the season just being worked on by the Suns’ warlocks instead of playing.

  • Scott

    @And1 -

    It’s my opinion that Lopez is not so much improving as actually getting used.

    Fans are also starting to realize there’s some holes in Gortat’s game. The way I see it, Gortat and Lopez have very similar skills.

  • Jason A.

    @ Scott, with all due respect to Redd, Allen is a huge upgrade.

    @ Zak, Garnett is reasonably healthy, would get more healthy here, and he’d be a perfect fit for our system. Gortat could do the pick and roll banging and Garnett could hang back to rebound and pop 10-15 footers.

    Perhaps my salary numbers are a bit generous for the old guys but even better! Here’s a timely article on ESPN Insider that just got posted:

    “Trailing by just two wins overall, Boston still has a chance to salvage a top-4 seed and offer fans one last glimpse of one of the toughest playoff teams in recent memory. To do so will require Allen and Garnett to play their best basketball at least a few times each week, hopefully on the same nights.

    Like Nash, Allen keeps himself in phenomenal shape and still shows frequent signs of being the better athlete than his opponent on some nights. He’s not scoring as much as he did to start the season, but in March alone he has six games of 15 or more points, resulting in four wins. Allen remains among the top shooters in basketball.

    It seems likely Allen will continue to have his ups and downs, though likely more good games than bad in the regular season. It should be enough to help Boston stay close to Philadelphia, but not overtake it. Unfortunately, this likely means a seventh seed and a rematch with Miami. Considering Miami’s fast-break pace this season, the Heat could be the worst possible team for the Celtics to play.

    Certainly, like Allen, Garnett is not the athlete he once was, but his intensity and will to win is still at an elite level. Garnett has bounced back after the All-Star break, averaging almost 2.5 more points per game with more rebounds and steals, too. It almost seems as if he was patiently waiting for March before giving all he had. He’ll float outside on offense more and rarely tries to make a play for himself now, allowing Rondo or Paul Pierce to create good shots for him.

    And it’s working, as he’s been shooting well most nights. Garnett also remains arguably the best help defender in basketball, both with his voice and his body. If anyone in the East can put together a dominating performance for a seven-game series that surpasses anything he’d done in the regular season, Garnett is that guy.”

  • Zak

    @Jason A. – “Garnett is reasonably healthy…” I agree. He’s also playing at a slightly higher level than he did in the last two seasons. That he “… would get more healthy here…” is just an opinion.

    The Suns’ warlocks do wonderful things but that’s no guarantee that they will be able to revive/extend everyone’s NBA career. Even Allen is a reach at this point in his career. To sign both of them to two year contracts might actually bring a championship to Phoenix but in two years the Suns would probably loose at least 3 – and maybe 4 – of 5 starters to retirement. And EVERYONE would know it was coming so what incentive would that be to try to attract other star players? Getting either Allen or Garnett would be good in the short term but not in the long term in my opinion.

    In the short term, having them both might be great but it think it could actually hurt the Suns in the long run.

  • Jason A.

    @Zak, I once debated with my step brother how important a Suns championship would be to us and what we would do for one. Celibacy for a year in exchange for a ring was agreed upon to be an easy call. Other hardships were debated, and we barely drew the line at trading a finger (pinky only).

    If getting the old men gave us a ring in the short term any suffering long term would be worth it.

  • Zak

    @Jason A. – The key word in your argument is “if”. If I knew it would work then I would be all for it… but it’s still an “if” and not a sure thing. I’m not saying that it wouldn’t be worth the gamble… just that it would be a gamble.

    And as much as I love the Suns, celibacy for a year isn’t something I would even contemplate in exchange for a championship! My wife – who is also a big Suns fan – just wouldn’t accept that a Suns’ championship was more important than her… and quite frankly, it’s not.

  • Jason A.

    @ Zak, everything is a gamble when you’re going for a ring. As to celibacy for a championship, the title debate was back in the 90′s when my step brother and I were single.