PHOENIX — Fresh off the largest home comeback in team history, the Phoenix Suns are riding high into Salt Lake City Saturday as they get set to take on Tyrone Corbin and the Utah Jazz.
The Suns have no time to rest on their laurels, because although they finished ahead on the scoreboard Friday night, there was plenty to fix following their wild win over the Cavaliers.
On most nights, falling behind 18-2 four minutes into a contest would be insurmountable. On most nights, getting a combined 22 points from Jared Dudley, Michael Beasley and Luis Scola would be too tough to overcome. And on most nights, trailing by eight with just minutes to go would be too tall a task. For one night it was not for Alvin Gentry’s squad, but the mood in the locker room following Friday’s win over Cleveland was not euphoric.
Just six games into their season, the Suns understand it’s going to take a complete effort — from the first quarter to the fourth quarter — to win in 2012-13.
“We have to stop digging ourselves holes like that,” shooting guard Shannon Brown said. “We aren’t going to be able to some back from some of those games. And some of those may be crucial in deciding whether we make the playoffs or whether we don’t make the playoffs.”
Last year’s playoff chances were thwarted in the second to last game of the season in Utah following a 100-88 defeat. So if the Suns are still trying to find energy after Friday’s exhausting comeback effort, a quick look back at recent history should do the trick.
The Jazz have struggled mightily away from home this season (0-4) as highlighted by their 20-point drubbing at the hands of the Denver Nuggets Friday night. But home wins over Dallas and Los Angeles have Corbin’s squad believing they have what it takes to right the ship sooner rather than later.
Utah is by no means a world-beater on the offensive end, averaging just over 95 points per 100 possessions. Despite the offseason acquisitions of Mo Williams (team-leading 16.8 points per game), Randy Foye (13.5 points per game) and Marvin Williams (9.3 points per game), Corbin and Co.’s bread and butter still lies in the post with Al Jefferson (11.8 points and 10.2 rebounds per game), Paul Millsap (12.2 points and 8.8 rebounds per game), and Derrick Favors (team-leading 2.2 blocks per game).
In the early going it appears the Suns might have the man power to combat the physicality of the Jazz. Through six games, the Suns lead the league in blocks per game (8.5) and are fifth-best in rebounds per game (45.2) — both categories Utah has perennially been near the top in.
For the Suns, Luis Scola is coming off his worst game in a Phoenix uniform. The Argentine played a season-low 25 minutes and scored just five points to go along with six rebounds. Scola was lifted for second-year forward Markeiff Morris when it mattered most against Cleveland, but the former No. 13 overall pick had his own difficulties shooting the basketball, scoring four points on 0-of-9 shooting from the field.
Both will need to be fully engaged Saturday night if they want to continue their recent winning ways.
Another concern for the Suns coming out of Friday’s victory was the play of Jared Dudley. During his pre-game chat with the media, Gentry said that he was not worried about Dudley’s lack of contribution at the offensive end this season, believing that spacing and turnovers have contributed greatly to his number of touches.
However, Dudley didn’t do much to temper those concerns against the Cavaliers, scoring eight points on just four shots from the field. His backup, Shannon Brown, continues to look like a beneficiary, not a victim, of the Suns’ supposed “spacing issues.” Brown has scored 20 points in consecutive games for the first time in his career and has sparked the Suns’ previous two victories with consistent offensive play.
The decision to platoon the two — Dudley starts and Brown finishes — seems to be working for now, but if JD doesn’t start becoming a bigger factor offensively, how long can Gentry afford to keep going with him?
Sebastian Telfair may also have something to say about that. Playing with a capable point guard in Goran Dragic on Friday night, Telfair excelled at shooting guard in the second quarter, pacing the Suns with 10 points. GM Lance Blanks said before the season began that guys like Telfair and Dragic are more versatile than a typical one. That was put on display in a big way during Phoenix’s 107-105 victory.
- Although the Suns could definitely use the shot-blocking prowess of Jermaine O’Neal against a post-centric team like the Jazz, the 16-year veteran did not travel with the team to Utah. While O’Neal was back with the club Friday night, his personal issues have not been completely resolved. There is no timetable for his return.
- Gentry noted Friday that he has enough on his plate in Phoenix to keep him from meddling in the affairs of the Lakers, but he did have this to say about the sudden firing of Mike Brown: “He’s a good coach. You don’t get dumber as you get older. Obviously I’m a coach, so I don’t agree with it five games in to assess how the season is going to go. All I know is when a coach loses his job, especially a friend of yours, it doesn’t make you feel real good.”
- Marcin Gortat now has 26 blocks this season, the most by any Suns player ever in the first six games of a season. To put things in perspective, no Suns player had done that in a season since 2007-08 and Gortat has already achieved that in two weeks. Although he did accrue a combination of eight steals and blocks in the win over the Cavaliers, Gortat was a bit over-aggressive coming out of the gates Friday night. His two early fouls didn’t cost the team in the win-loss column, but against the Jazz he has to be on the court.