I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed watching a Suns game less than I did viewing their 107-92 defeat to Miami.
There was no flow to the Phoenix offense, and thus from the time the Suns trailed by 17 nine minutes into the game it never felt like they really had a chance.
The lead never dropped below nine, this against a Miami team that lost by 38 points two nights earlier to a Portland club the Suns have twice beaten this season.
“We just have to go back to the drawing board,” Suns head coach Terry Porter told Suns.com. “We just didn’t do a good job of doing what we wanted to get executed at both ends of the floor. Like I said, from start to finish it was probably the worst game of the year.”
I certainly won’t argue with the coach on that statement, although there was nothing pretty about that Chicago game either.
The Suns’ problems started when Steve Nash suited up but could not play due to a thigh contusion suffered Wednesday in Minnesota. When Nash missed a game in Sacramento earlier in the year, the Suns pounded the ball inside and Shaq delivered with a 29-13-6 before Amare Stoudemire took over in overtime of that victory.
This time around, the Heat – who surely know a thing or two about how to defend the Daddy after watching him firsthand the last few years – tried the unusual strategy of fronting the post, an all or nothing defense against Shaq because if he gets the ball off the front he’s going to score or at the worst go to the line.
The Suns tried to establish Shaq down low from the tip off, but without Nash, they failed to even get the ball to him despite an obvious mismatch against 6-foot-9, 245-pound Joel Anthony, who did a great job in his fronting defense, as the Suns turned it over on three of their first four possessions trying to feed Shaq.
As much as I’ve talked about how improperly Nash is used just passing it down low to Shaq, at least the two-time MVP knows how to get the ball inside.
From there, the Suns stopped trying to go inside as much, and Shaq ended up with just 12 points on 6-for-8 shooting on a night the Heat shouldn’t have been able to contain him. Somehow the Heat didn’t even send him to the line a single time despite the mismatch.
Although nobody seems to want Shaq to be the focal point of the offense night in and night out, tonight clearly was a night where that would have been acceptable.
Without Shaq doing much damage and Nash sitting out, this would seem to be a perfect time for Amare to explode, but the 6-foot-10 forward scored just 14 points on 6-for-10 shooting as the Suns failed to regularly get him the ball as well.
That meant Leandro Barbosa took the majority of the Suns’ shots, hitting nine of the 20 he jacked up for a team-high 20 points. That’s what will happen when Barbosa is entrusted with the responsibility to run the offense, something that hasn’t been the case since his first few years when the Suns thought he could be a point guard as opposed to a scoring combo guard.
Playing a team-high 37 minutes, Barbosa dished five assists but did nothing to bring a flow to the offense. That’s understandable since Barbosa played his game and frankly did a nice job at that, scoring on a variety of drives and long-range shots. When Leandro Barbosa is running your offense, that’s what’s going to happen.
Sean Singletary started the game, but played just 11 minutes, sitting out the entirety of the second and third quarters. He hit a few shots and scored six points, but Porter clearly doesn’t have much faith in him.
But that’s still more faith than the head coach has in Goran Dragic, who missed a pair of shots in his six minutes. When I saw Nash would be out, my first thought was this could be the game Dragic re-establishes himself kind of like what Singletary did in the Sacramento game, but instead it only reinforced that he’s on the outside looking in.
When the Suns inevitably (and that may be a lot sooner rather than later) go to an eight-man rotation, I think Barbosa as the “point guard” with Hill on the floor as well as a creator could work if the Suns put a bigger emphasis on making sure Shaq and Amare get touches with Nash off the floor.
The Suns’ defense struggled to slow down Dwyane Wade at all, as the superstar scored 43 on 15-for-24 shooting, but the other main issue for the Suns revolved around turnovers.
Predictably the Suns turned the ball over 19 times to Miami’s eight, as Phoenix leads the league in turnovers and is second worst in turnovers forced, whereas the Heat are the best in the league in both categories. That was the major difference in a game in which both teams shot about the same percentage.
“We’re still having this turnover problem and once we get rid of that and learn how to stop some people and do that on a consistent basis, then we’ll be on our way,” Shaq told Suns.com.
The Matrix returns
The Heat won because of the Dwyane Wade Show, but the Matrix filled the box score in his return to Phoenix with a 10-9-6 line.
He finished off a fast break in the first quarter in typical Matrix style and punctuated his return with an alley-oop slam toward the end, plays the Phoenix crowd has seen time and time again from Marion.
Still, he never really made much of a dent on the game, as Miami’s new No. 7 hardly seemed to resemble the No. 31 we used to know so well.
Marion will inevitably move on after the season, and possibly during the year, to a system that better utilizes his talents.
As for the crowd reaction, Marion received a nice ovation when he was introduced in Miami’s starting lineup.
“I gave my heart and soul to this city and that team over there, I think they knew that and they felt that and they gave me a standing ovation,” Matrix told Suns.com. “I love Phoenix, I had a great time here.”