Amare ‘ahead of schedule’ after preseason victory


PHOENIX — Suns fans got their first taste of 2009-10 Phoenix Suns basketball, and all in all Phoenix’s 111-80 victory over Belgrade Partizan was a rusty performance that had its moments.

Considering Steve Nash missed the game with a chest cold, the offense’s occasional sputtering was understandable, especially because the team exploded for 71 points in the middle two quarters but scored just 20 each in the first and the fourth.

The defense looked active at times, but when a bunch of Belgrade stiffs are scoring at will inside, you’ve got to be more than mildly concerned about how the Suns will cope with practically no post depth.

Many players put in a solid day’s work, but nothing was important than Amare Stoudemire’s return to action.

Stoudemire went for 12 points and five boards in just over 17 minutes of play, having no problem scoring inside and out against Partizan. Suns head coach Alvin Gentry even called Amare “engaged” defensively, and when’s the last time you heard a Suns coach say something like that?

“To take seven months off not to have any activity, to jump right into training camp and two-a-days and then to play my first game here tonight, I feel great,” Amare said. “I feel like I’m ahead of schedule as far as my cardio and my legs. I felt horrible day one of training camp, but I feel great now. We just started preseason. I have the rest of the month to get myself totally together. “

Added Gentry, “I think he looked OK, but he’s not anywhere close to where he’s gonna be. Conditioning-wise he’s still a ways away, but he’s a lot farther right now than he was last week, so that’s a positive.”

Amare’s weight is down around his regular playing weight of 250 with 7 percent body fat after he went into training camp weighing 264 with 9.5 percent body fat. Now he just wants to maintain that weight and improve his cardio.

As for other developments from the game:

Dragic looks solid

The biggest question with Goran Dragic always has been his aggressiveness. He showed that oft-missing tenacity in the exhibition opener with the Suns missing Nash.

Dragic scored a team-high 16 points and hit all eight of his foul shots, often barreling down the lane to draw a foul or score a deuce.

“He had a little trouble with his knee and he was a little bit rusty (during training camp), so I tried to keep him out a few extra minutes,” Gentry said of Dragic, who played a team-high 28 minutes. “I thought the longer he was out there the more confidence he played with, and I thought he did a good job.”

Of course, Dragic has never had an issue being aggressive against European teams. We’ll see what happens when the NBA teams come to town.

Dudley impresses as usual

Dragic’s performance withstanding, if I had to pick a game MVP from this one I’d go with forward Jared Dudley.

Dudley hounded Partizan’s perimeter player all night on his way to three steals while scoring 14 points off 5-for-8 shooting (including a pair of threes).

“He’s done a good job of being a guy who can stretch the floor for us, but he just does all the little bitty things also,” Gentry said. “Comes up with a rebound when he shouldn’t even be in the play. Makes the extra pass or in the right spot defensively, so he’s just a real solid guy. He’s the guy that coaches love coaching. They love coaching him because he always seems to do the right thing.”

Frye hits a pair from deep

Channing Frye hit his first two threes as a member of the Phoenix Suns in four attempts, the first of which he had enough time to walk to his alma mater St. Mary’s High School and back before a defender started closing out.

Steve Kerr thinks Channing can hit 100 threes this year, and he just might if opposing bigs keep giving him those kind of looks.

Lou’s new stroke

Much has been made about Lou Amundson’s work at the free throw line, and so far so good after he hit 4 of 5 foul shots tonight. His stroke is much improved, and you can see he’s confident at the line, unlike last year.

Lou even had the audacity to take — and hit — a short jumper. This would be a nice addition to his repertoire, especially being that Gentry praised his work at the other end in this contest.


The Suns turned the ball over 20 times, but that doesn’t compare to the 34 times that Belgrade Partizan coughed it up.

Phoenix committed just five turnovers combined during its stellar second and third quarters, and although Gentry listed “being solid with the ball” as a need for improvement, he knows that will happen automatically when Nash recovers from his chest cold.

As for the other thing the Suns must improve upon ……


Say what you want about Partizan being taller than the Suns, but this scrubby team outrebounded your hometown heroes, 35-34.

Rebounding will continue to be the Suns’ No. 1 issue all season, and it doesn’t help when you go so small for extended periods with Earl Clark as your five.

Clark played a good portion of the second half at the center spot and did a solid job with five rebounds, including one Marion-esque skying board, but he’s as far away from being a prototypical five as it gets.

Just like the Suns like it.

Go Twins

I watched part of the epic Twins-Tigers one-game playoff in Gentry’s office. Gentry didn’t really care either way, but he has a cousin set to start working as a scout in the Twins organization after finishing a Minor League career in the organization.

Coincidentally, he attended the Suns’ preseason opener moments after his team reached October baseball.

Gentry said he has no rooting interest in the baseball playoffs but does enjoy watching the games.

Closing Word

Courtesy of Gentry: “I thought we made baby steps in the right direction as far as being consistent in what we’re trying to do defensively. I think that was the big thing. Offensively I think we’ll get there. That’s not too much of a concern right now.”