PHOENIX – Suns forward Michael Beasley is a noticeably new man since Lindsey Hunter’s appointment as interim head coach. Whether that is just coincidence could be hard to prove without any blunt admission from Beasley.
“Honestly, man, I’m just being aggressive,” Beasley said. “I’m trying to turn over a new leaf. No more nonchalant Beas, back to the Beast.”
Is it that simple? Nothing with Beasley ever is, whether it’s his attitude or his individual play. He’s under the microscope, always. And nobody knows just how long this recent string of solid outings will last. Asked what triggered his recent surge, Beasley paused, either thinking about whether to keep it politically correct or just because …
“I don’t know,” he finally admitted.
Hunter said that positive reinforcement is something he’s focused on, not just with Beasley, but with the entire Suns team. He’s given his players like Beasley and point guard Goran Dragic more freedom, and that appears to have their focus for the time being.
“I encourage him,” Hunter said after Beasley’s 27-point outburst against the Lakers on Wednesday. “And I think Mike is a unique kid. He’s a people pleaser. He wants to do the right thing.”
That’s easy to believe. Hunter added that Beasley has done everything asked of him across the board, even things the coach deemed “out of his character.” Commitment hasn’t been an issue based on how often Beasley’s teammates and coaches speak highly of him. And Beasley has never wanted the attention about his own talent — not on media day, not after his big game that ruined Steve Nash’s return to Phoenix.
“There’s nothing to talk about individually,” Beasley said. “We’re coming together. We’re coming up with a plan and we’re executing it. Not just one person; it’s defense on a string. No one person is by themselves out there.”
Beasley is shooting 53 percent in five games under the new regime and averaging 18.2 points a night, well above his 10.5-point, 40 percent averages for the season. Sure, there are the plays that make you grab your chair, as if expecting bad things to happen. A four-on-one fastbreak where the ball slipped from Beasley’s hand for a turnover in the first half against the Lakers comes to mind. So does Beasley staring at the videoboard to look at a replay while the Lakers imbounded the ball for a layup.
While the Lakers did themselves no favors, any positive steps are huge for Beasley.
Meanwhile, Phoenix is 3-2 during this recent span. Hunter repeated that there’s much work to do, but any progress is a good thing. Lottery outlook aside, there’s no doubt the Suns would like to use this time to put Beasley in position to make that $18 million contract worth-while.
The Suns’ 92-86 win against the Lakers Wednesday saw Beasley play inspired defense and abusive offense. He had five steals, many coming simply by being in the right place at the right time.
“More than for myself, I do it for my team, for the city,” Beasley said. “We definitely have not had a great season so far so we want to make these last 30 games memorable for the fans, you know, leading into next year. For ourselves, our pride, we want to walk around here with our heads up.”
P.J. Tucker talks defense
P.J. Tucker talked to a few reporters after the Suns’ 92-86 victory against the Los Angeles Lakers about how he plays Kobe Bryant and his improvements this season.
Were you guys (Tucker and Bryant) jawing back and forth?
“You don’t need to aggravate him. We talked a little bit. He’s one of the best scorers ever. He doesn’t have to say a lot to me to have my attention so not much jawing going on to say the least.”
What was your thought process on that play where he drove by you and missed that layup at the end? Just kind of get a body on him?
“Yep. Just try to get a shoulder in front, try to make him make a tough shot. I knew he was going left, I mean he can make a shot with both hands, it’s better than going right. I knew he was going left it was just make him shoot over the top of me. He just missed the shot.”
Did you play him different in how much he was passing?
“No matter what he’s doing, at any time he can still attack you. He’s banging like he’s going to pass and he can still make room to get to the basket. It doesn’t matter either way.”
Who is harder to guard: LeBron or Kobe?
“(LeBron is) more physical. Pushing at you … cutting to the basket. More of a bang-bang. Kobe you gotta have to move your feet, stay in front, really try to contest his shots because he’s going to shoot from everywhere on the court. Completely different player.”
Where do you think you’ve improved just this half of the season?
“Picking and choosing my spots. Offensively, to make cuts, when to get out on the break. On defense, just get familiar with guys, make guys take tough shots, put them in bad positions. Put teams in bad positions, you know, by denying. Getting better each game.”
How good did that airball feel that (Kobe) put up there?
“Uh, you know what, it feels good now. But then, during that time there was too much time on the clocks, and I’ve seen that man make more game-winners, game-tiers than anybody.”
Did you think you bothered him enough on that last shot?
“I thought I did, but I didn’t know because, like I said, he makes so many tough shots because you never know until it comes off. And when I seen him miss it, really happy, obviously. But just try to make a play to make him have to shoot it over me.”
(On how the Suns played well down the stretch, something they’ve struggled with this season.)
“It’s the defense, man, it’s the defense. Our defense is triggering us to run, and once we start running, teams crossmatch so they don’t know who has who. Beas made some great plays, but it all started with our defense.”