Preview: Phoenix Suns (8-8) at Denver Nuggets (9-6)


Denver Nuggets 138, Phoenix Suns 133

PHOENIX — The move has finally been made.

It’s been debated since the preseason and picked up a fevered pitch after Friday’s win over the Clippers when Hakim Warrick posted a Suns career high with 25 points and Hedo Turkoglu failed to score in 15 porous minutes.

And now Paul Coro has reported that the Phoenix Suns will insert Warrick into the starting lineup for Turkoglu at the power forward spot.

“It’s nothing against Hedo,” Gentry told Coro. “His attitude is tremendous. He’s down because he feels like he’s not doing enough to help. I just have to put him in a position so that he can feel like he’s helping our team. That might be some as a three (small forward) and more as a ball-handler and playmaker and things like that. He just wants to be a contributor. His attitude has been great.”

Gentry also said Turkoglu will sub in for Hill, interesting because that would put him in at his natural small forward position and create an even bigger glut at the wings than is already the case.

To many readers on this site, this move is a no-brainer and one that should have been made weeks ago, if nothing else once stretch five Channing Frye moved into the starting lineup for the injured Robin Lopez.

Warrick is unquestionably a much better fit with this starting unit, particularly with Frye out there. He’s the only ferocious roller on the team and playing with Nash and the Suns’ shooters has led to a parade to the free-throw line and a career-high 13.1 points per game on career-high 56.9 percent shooting.

“We’ve got shooters, the floor’s spaced, they try to double team me off the pick-and-roll, which leaves him open a lot,” Nash said why Warrick has been playing so well lately. “He’s been the beneficiary of playing with a lot of shooters, and he’s done a good job finishing.”

According to Basketball Value, the Suns have gained 10 points in 69 minutes with their new starting lineup on the floor, which has been their fourth-most used lineup behind their old starting unit with both Robin and Channing and their original all-bench unit with Channing.

As I noted yesterday, Warrick has all but been a starter lately since Gentry has substituted Turkoglu out early and found time for him with the reserves and Warrick with the starters. Now Warrick will get the opening minutes of each half with the starters as well, and I figure Gentry will go with the hot hand in crunch time.

At the same time, this move should help Turkoglu as well. He has become an overpaid spot-up shooter with the starting unit, doing a nice job by hitting a career-high 42.3 percent of his three-pointers but not really showing any semblance of being the second creator he was brought in to be.

The only time he has really facilitated came during the fourth quarter of the Suns’ 100-94 win over these same Denver Nuggets back on Nov. 15 in Phoenix when he scored eight points in the fourth and created enough plays to put the Suns in position for a victory from 15 points down.

“I had the ball in my hands and I was able to do the things that I was really good at so many years in the past,” Turkoglu said after the game. “Here I’m playing in a different role so you can’t expect the things I did in the past. It seems throughout the games sometimes coach Alvin has confidence. He gave me the ball in the fourth quarter and I was able to do the things that I’m good at.”

The hope here would be that this move frees Turkoglu up to do those things he’s done in the past. The Suns’ bench needs a spark after a couple of lackluster performances, and perhaps this move could not only bolster the starting unit but the bench as well.

The Suns tonight face a Denver team that they have enjoyed success against of late. They took three of four last season, including a blowout to ensure home-court advantage in their home finale last season.

The Nuggets, however, come in hot having won three in a row and four of five after Carmelo Anthony beat the Bulls at the buzzer on Friday.

The Suns finish their brutal November schedule tonight, entering with a mediocre 8-8 record that isn’t so bad when considering they have played the league’s seventh-toughest schedule.

But Steve Nash is none too pleased with some of the “slippage” he has seen on both sides of the ball from his basketball team, and he feels the Suns must “have more fight” considering some of their size issues if they want to become the quality team they were last season.

“We’ve got to feel like we can be a really good team, and we’ve got to prove it,” Nash said. “We can’t feel like we’re a contending team. We’ve got to go out and prove it, go on a run and put ourselves in a position where we say, ‘Look we’re consistently competing and wining games and we’re in a position where we go out on the court we feel like we can beat anybody.’”

The Suns have yet to do that this season with sparkling wins against the Lakers, Jazz and these same Nuggets but many more disappointing performances against upper echelon teams.

With Gentry committed to giving the new lineup a try, perhaps the Suns can finally find that consistency they’ve lacked all season and roll off the kind of run that has thus far escaped them.