PHOENIX – Alvin Gentry’s patience is being tested.
He admitted as much before Wednesday’s win against the Philadelphia 76ers, and at the forefront of his problems has been – and might always be – how he handles his lineups. With this particular roster, change might no longer consist of combination alterations. Some parts of the equation might be negated altogether.
“Maybe we can’t sub in a whole second unit,” Gentry said. “Maybe we’re going to have to put in a few guys here and there, and not sub in an entire unit. We’ve played that way forever, but this may be a situation where we can’t because we’ve gotten ourselves in a lot of trouble.”
Gentry’s bench units have been a staple in the past. In 2010, Dragic and Dudley were part of the energetic bench that injected a new feel into the game (here is where you might point out the lack of talent on the roster). Last season even, Phoenix’s bench came with a different feel than the starting unit.
Gentry hasn’t been known to have knee-jerk reactions as a coach, and any complaints about him could be the opposite; he sticks with his guns too long. Michael Beasley starting perhaps went on a few games longer than most Suns fans would have liked, and Beasley is still trying not to be phased out completely.
But slowly and surely, it’s become more clear that the Phoenix bench unit just doesn’t have it, especially if this new starting lineup with P.J. Tucker continues to look solid in its chemistry.
The shortening of the bench has slowly become apparent in the past three games. Beasley didn’t play in the second half three games ago against Minnesota, didn’t play at all against Oklahoma City and was again phased out in the second half against Philadelphia. In those three games, Scola, Tucker, Dudley and Dragic have played at least 40 minutes per game once.
Sebastian Telfair’s sore knee added to the heavy minutes for Dragic on Wednesday, and that combined with Beasley’s absence saw the Suns take a lead quickly after they trailed by one – they never relinquished it.
Against Philadelphia, it was clear the bench wasn’t close in replicating the success of the starters. Out of those starters, the worst plus-minus was Tucker’s plus-9. Markieff Morris had the best plus-minus of the bench players with minus-8.
“It’s something we’ll look at and have to decide,” Gentry said of shortening the bench.
P.J. Tucker makes a case to remain with starters
After the win, Gentry didn’t reveal what he’d like to do with the starting lineup moving forward.
Asked if he liked the lineup tonight, he said, “tonight. Tonight. We’ll see (moving forward). I do like P.J. in there because he gives us a defensive presence and an energy level the other guys feed off of.”
As much as an offensive liability Tucker might be, he still had 10 points, six rebounds and won the 50-50 balls that Gentry said were more like 20-80 balls in past games. The ball moved crisply overall, and Tucker had much to do with that. Scola again reaped the benefits.
“I think we moved the ball better,” Scola said. “I think we’ve learned to play with each other a little bit more. It took us some time to click, but we’re getting better. The other guys kind of know what I’m doing, what I’m going to do. That gives me a chance to make a pass, make a play. I know what they’re going to do.”
Of course, Scola warned, now the challenge is putting together another game.
Suns emphasize gang rebounding
Phoenix has compounded turnovers, missed shots and perimeter defense problems by being overly aggressive. The Suns’ goal on Wednesday was to stay in front of their men and the basket – no going for steals that would risk blow-bys and shots at the rim. And when the shots went up, the Suns emphasized rebounding from the guards rather than leaking out to start a fastbreak.
Said Gentry: “We have a tendency sometimes to leak out, and sometimes what happens is they have an offensive rebound and they end up hitting a guy for an open three-pointer.”
Gentry on the 1,200-plus Kansas State fans booing Markieff Morris (a former Kansas Jayhawk): “I told Markieff that Big 12 stuff runs deep. I think that’s the first time he’s been booed when he checked into the game.”