PHOENIX — The first substitutions of the Phoenix Suns’ first two games coincided with large runs by the other team. The Golden State Warriors and the Detroit Pistons each used spurts that began toward the end of the first quarter to create large deficits that Phoenix had to make up.
The good news? In both cases, Phoenix used bursts of its own to get back into the game.
The bad? It’s not a formula to success moving forward, especially when the Suns face playoff-level teams.
The Suns face the Orlando Magic at 4 p.m. MST at Amway Center on Sunday, and they’ll play their third game — luckily for them, against another team without a star player — with a chance to fix the slips in focus.
“You can’t just let this happen, two times in a row at home,” said forward Luis Scola after Phoenix eked out a 92-89 win against the Pistons. “We have to find a way to start games better and not let teams go ahead on the scoreboard. We proved we can come back, we can play hard … I think that’s a good thing. But we all want not to put ourselves in that situation.”
The solution might be more simple than might be expected. Goran Dragic, who has experience as both a starter and a bench player, said focus is key. Especially when bench players have no time to feel out the opposition, coming out sharply is even more important.
“We got 14, 15 players and everybody has to be ready,” the point guard said. “For us, we are a young team. We need every minute to be played hard as possible … if they are up 10 or like the first game 15 points, it’s hard to come back.”
Rebounding was key in the comeback on Friday night. Phoenix also took relatively good care of the ball, something guard Jared Dudley said was paramount entering the road trip.
“Now we go to Orlando, Miami, Charlotte, this road trip,” Dudley said. “It’s going to be big for us to rebound and keep our turnovers down.”
Beasley’s up-and-down start
Where Michael Beasley’s first-game benching might have appeared as a motivational tactic by Alvin Gentry, the head coach said prior to the Detroit contest that it was simply about P.J. Tucker’s energy. Nothing more.
“What we’re trying to convince (Beasley) of, is if you miss a couple of shots early, you’ve got to try to get to the basket, create contact and maybe get yourself to the line,” Gentry said. “And as I said, it’s all part of the maturation process. We’re asking him to do something that no team he’s been on in the NBA has asked him to do.”
That said, Beasley’s struggles on defense have been more of an issue toward turning him into, as Gentry has said, “the man.” Against Detroit, a late first-quarter series had Gentry going berserk on the sidelines after his small forward left Tayshaun Prince wide open for a layup. Gentry slapped Beasley on the bum — and hard — while chirping at him as the Suns ran back the other way, but Beasley followed that up with two overzealous fouls on Prince.
“We’ve got to get him to the point where even if he’s not going good offensively, he can stay on the floor defensively,” Gentry said. “He’s going to guard a lot of good guys at that position in this league.”
Phoenix still learning to space the floor
The Suns aren’t so much working through learning sets offensively. Players will figure out how to play with one another through time, but spacing was the issue before and after the Detroit victory.
Gentry said that it’s not a personnel issue so much as making players aware of where they are on the court at all times.
“I think the misconception is that that guy has to be a three-point shooter,” Gentry said, referring to Scola’s role at the power forward spot previously occupied by the three-point shooting Channing Frye. “He doesn’t have to be a three-point shooter, he just has to space the floor. And spacing the floor may be a 20-foot jump shot, which I think Scola is very capable of making.”
3 keys for a Phoenix victory
Small ball. Playing the Magic might give Phoenix the first opportunity to give Michael Beasley time at the power forward slot, though his questionable defense could be a problem. The large-but-elusive Glen Davis scored 29 points in Orlando’s season opener, a surprising 102-89 victory against the Denver Nuggets on Friday.
Chase the Magic off the three-point line — but recover. Dwight Howard is no longer sucking in defenses by drawing double teams. But the Magic still have a wealth of three-point shooters on the roster with J.J. Redick, Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo. The Magic only went 5-of-15 from the three-point line against Denver, and somehow managed 60 points in the paint. That is a bit odd, but the roster makeup should give Phoenix the idea that Orlando will, like the Suns, stretch the floor in order to get easy inside buckets from big guys like Davis and penetration by guards.
Don’t take Orlando for granted. Yeah, it’s only one game into Orlando’s season, but some of their young guns on a roster than appeared weak played well in the opener. Rookie big man Andrew Nicholson of St. Bonaventure saw 11 minutes of action, and former Celtic E’Twaun Moore had 13 points, five boards and three assists in 25 bench minutes. While Davis took 25 shots and is the team’s focal point, this team has more talent than we’d like to admit after the Howard trade that stripped them of what seemed like everything.