PHOENIX — The third quarter of the Suns’ loss to the Dallas Mavericks Thursday could arguably have been one of the more abysmal stretches for the Phoenix offense this season. The 1-for-14 shooting to begin the third was the tipping point to what could be the second change to the starting lineup of the year.
Head coach Alvin Gentry said Friday that any changes would be finalized Saturday morning before Phoenix faces the Los Angeles Clippers, but it’s clear that Michael Beasley is the most likely candidate to find himself on the bench.
“I’m contemplating a lot of situations there. That’s one of them,” Gentry said. “Maybe him coming in with the second unit and having a little bit more freedom might help, too.”
It’s hard to say if that move will be the only one, and with P.J. Tucker’s injury, it’s possible that move doesn’t happen just yet. Though it’s certainly fair to criticize him on both sides of the floor, Beasley is taking the blame for a team-wide problem on offense.
Like last year, there isn’t much room for error when there’s no go-to scorer. And it’s not about just Beasley after his 3-for-12 shooting night. Holding the ball and pulling up with his toe on the three-point line despite having a mismatch, his frustrating offensive possessions spread like a virus in the third quarter against the Mavericks.
Goran Dragic was 1-for-4 in the quarter, Marcin Gortat was 0-of-3 and Beasley went 1-of-3.
Ball movement was the reason.
“We’re not a hold-it, ISO team,” Gentry said. “When we passed the ball in the first half more than three times, we shot 68 percent. 68.8 to be exact. And when we passed it less than twice and shot it, we were 5-for-15. It’s pretty obvious in the stats that we need ball movement and we need to move the basketball.”
In somewhat of a football analogy, the Suns were going three-and-out often. Quick shots were taken often during the dry spell, and the resulting long rebounds gave the Mavericks nine fastbreak points in the third alone.
Gentry said that transition opportunities can be taken away even “by shooting poorly, but you also have to have court balance.”
And with so many games coming down to the wire for Phoenix, without the “Kobes, LeBrons, or even O.J. Mayo’s” as Gentry frighteningly put it — those who pushed for the Mayo signing may wince now — the Suns have a complicated time scoring. While Gentry said he was happy with Dragic’s look at a layup Thursday, and Beasley’s missed layup against the Philadelphia 76ers, ball movement is still something much needed in the starting lineup and in the clutch.
Gortat’s affinity to prove he’s a post scorer may also be hurting the starting lineup. Whereas Luis Scola and Jermaine O’Neal are only so threatening in the post, their willingness to pass out when the help comes could be one of several reasons that Gortat isn’t finishing games — and defense might be another.
“All we’re trying to create is a situation in a post-up where they may help like they did in Cleveland and we’re able to swing the ball and Goran gets two open threes,” Gentry said. “So you know, it’s a little more than what you usually do in a (clutch) situation because you usually have that guy where you go, ‘Here you go. Go make a basket and make a play.’”
In the end, poor shooting for Phoenix — in the clutch or otherwise — all comes back to the same problem, one that has led to Beasley’s offensive ineptitude.
“We’re not a hold-the-ball, ISO team,” Gentry said. “That’s not who we are. We’ve got to get away from that.”
P.J. Tucker day-to-day, Jermaine O’Neal’s status unknown
Reserve wing P.J. Tucker left Thursday’s game with an MCL sprain, but he was at Friday’s light walk-through with a brace on his knee shooting free throws, a good sign the injury isn’t too significant. Gentry said he was day-to-day.
Meanwhile, Jermaine O’Neal was visiting with team doctors after getting poked in the eye and didn’t participate in practice. Gentry said he wasn’t sure of the center’s status.
Gentry on the Suns playing every possession: “I told them we lead the league in ‘my bads,’ where I’ll forget to rotate, … I’m a step late or something like that.”