Marcin Gortat has gone from being the best backup center in the NBA to perhaps the best center not to make an All-Star Game in the 15 months since the Suns acquired him from Orlando in a six-player trade.
Gortat will return to the Magic Kingdom for the first time tonight as a member of the Suns as Phoenix seeks to prevent its first losing streak of more than one game since this 11-4 run began.
If they do so, Gortat will likely play a major role in the effort. He has developed into a reliable pick-and-roll partner for Nash who can knock down a mid-range jumper and crash the boards hard. Despite some recent down games, Gortat is still averaging 15.9 points and 10.0 boards per game while ranking fifth league-wide in shooting percentage at 56.2 percent.
Gortat is the biggest reason the Suns won that blockbuster in a landslide, as he has outperformed even Phoenix’s optimistic expectations (the other players the Suns acquired never made much of an impact). He was largely an unknown behind Howard, but now he is looked upon as a cornerstone player in Phoenix.
For those who think the Suns’ future seems bleak now, imagine how it would look with Hedo Turkoglu’s fat contract clogging their cap in place of The Polish Machine.
If showing his former home crowd how far he has come isn’t enough motivation, Gortat will surely be jacked to face his former practice tormentor, the inimitable Dwight Howard.
Before matching up last March in Phoenix, Gortat said of Superman, “Dwight is a earthquake, tsunami and thunderstorm in one thing. He’s a load. I was taking a lot of hits for three and a half years and I always thought one day there’s going to be a game where I’m going to face him in a game with real referees, and it’s going to be a different story. We’ll see tomorrow.
“Every day he would say something, I would say back, every day was a hit, every day was a fight, every day I bleed most of the time. It’s fun, I’m telling you, it’s fun. You’re getting really tougher playing against this guy for three and a half years. Later you’re stepping out on the court and trust me, there’s nobody else in the NBA that can hurt you. When you play against this guy every day there’s nobody else, nobody else.”
Gortat went on to say he feels he has an advantage over the rest of the NBA in defending Howard because he know his moves and what frustrates him, but in last year’s showdown Superman still poured in 26 points and 15 boards on 9-for-17 shooting while Gortat put up just 12 and four in a 23-point Magic win (albeit without Nash).
If Gortat can do a better job of neutralizing Superman, the Suns stand a solid chance of pulling the upset. The Magic have lost three of four, including a 85-59 shellacking at the hands of the Bulls on Monday, making Orlando the second team in the shot clock era to score fewer than 60 points twice in a season, according to Elias.
The Suns surely won’t defend Orlando that well, but if they stay with the Magic’s shooters (they make and attempt the most treys in the league) and keep Howard from going berserk, they can prevent a losing streak this road trip that would quell some of the momentum gained the past month at home.
ESPN’s David Thorpe did a mock redraft of last year’s draft and has the Suns taking Kemba Walker after he fell to No. 13. Markieff Morris went a few picks later at No. 16 to his hometown Philadelphia 76ers. … Nash missed both Orlando games last season due to injury and not surprisingly the Suns were blown out in both.