PHOENIX — The Suns may be entering a new era, yet the positives and negatives of Friday’s 104-93 home-opening win over the Portland Trail Blazers sure seem awfully familiar.
Phoenix shot its way to victory by drilling 10-of-20 treys and shooting 51.2 percent overall, thanks in large part to the open shots created by point guard Goran Dragic’s dribble penetration and solid spacing while the starters were in.
On the flip side, the Suns yielded 17 offensive rebounds (when has that not been a problem?) and did not defend Portland’s penetration as well as head coach Alvin Gentry would have liked them to (again, another common Gentry gripe through the years).
In all the Suns jumped out to an early 23-10 lead during a first quarter in which the squad scorched the nets for 5-of-7 treys and 61.1 percent shooting overall and cruised to the first win of the new era.
“It was just a good win, preseason game, but a good win,” Gentry said. “I think for us we’re trying to create a winning environment here, so first and foremost I think you’ve got to do it at home. Typical preseason game, but I thought a lot of good things, and then obviously there are some areas that we still have to work on. … Overall a good effort for the second preseason game. We have to continue to try to get better.”
Aside from the Suns’ point guards, who clanked their four long balls, it was a total team effort from behind the arc. Beasley hit a pair while Dudley, Morris, Brown (who made his debut after receiving seven stitches around his eye), Luke Zeller and even Luis freaking Scola, who nailed as many treys tonight as he did the past five years in Houston in 17 attempts, made one.
“When guys take open shots, don’t force any, there’s no reason we shouldn’t knock down eight, nine threes a game,” Beasley said.
Wesley Johnson, who shot 31.4 percent from distance last season in Minnesota, unleashed a 3-for-4 shooting night from 3-point range and looked great doing it. The form has always been there and even on the one he missed his jumper seemed to be oozing with confidence.
“He’s a good player,” Gentry said. “I think with him the whole thing was just confidence. He needed confidence, and that’s not unusual for a young player, so hopefully we’re going to try to instill that in him. His overall game is better than we anticipated. He puts the ball down, he’s a long guy, pretty good defender, gets out and runs. We’ll just continue to try to work with him to get him to the point where he’s a very consistent and very confident player.”
In all five Suns scored in double figures led by Morris’ 14 in 16:36 (he also committed four fouls in 3:47 in the first half) and three more tallied at least eight.
Goran Dragic scored just eight points in his 30 minutes but he also dished nine assists and snatched five rebounds while really opening up the floor for his teammates with his dribble drives. The Suns were a game-high plus 24 with Dragon on the floor, the kind on contribution the team often used to get out of the point guard whose former locker now belongs to Dragic.
The Suns did not run many pick and rolls because Dragic said the team was trying to institute some new offensive sets yet with the Slovenian at the controls the starters scored with ease.
“I was playing like that the last 30 games in Houston,” Dragic said. “I tried to involve my teammates, and then if everybody’s dangerous for a basket it’s much easier for me. I’m going to get open shots, open lanes, just tried to get the ball to everybody. That’s how we’re going to beat some teams.”
Added Gentry, “Goran is in a really good place.”
The Suns won’t shoot the lights out from three every game and they will not often win when giving up 17 offensive boards. It’s understandable that it will take time for the bench to jell, especially in a situation like this with so many players shuttling in and out for the coaching staff to get a better hold of the roster, but the bench as a whole needs to provide more of a spark.
Still, there were enough positives for Gentry and staff to feel good about the progress this team has already made early in the season.
“We started really well, especially in offense and in defense, too,” Dragic said. “We were controlling the game, but we still have a long way to go. The second game was way better than the first game in Sac.”
The Suns received solid contributions from their three non-roster big men making a push for a roster spot if the team decides it needs another big to cover for the loss of Channing Frye.
Luke Zeller was not shy pulling the trigger on jumpers, finishing with five points on 2-for-5 shooting along with a pair of assists in 11:52.
Solomon Jones was active in scoring four points and grabbing a pair of boards in 7:48.
Ike Diogu controlled the boards with five caroms in 10:54 (three offensive) along with four points.
Based on his ability to rebound the basketball, Diogu figures to have an edge if the Suns opt to add another frontcourt player.
“I think they’ve done a good job in practice, and the thing that’s been discouraging is they’ve dominated practice,” said Gentry, meaning they have outplayed the Suns’ regulars. “I wanted to get them some minutes on the floor. They’re a good group of guys, and I think everybody pulls for each other. They did a good job. They executed pretty well when they were out there. You take advantage of the minutes that you get.”