Today was a very interesting scene at the Suns practice facility. Aside from being the team's first exposure to the local media after a devastating 0-3 road trip, there was a special appearance that seemed to set a tone that I can't quite describe.
Channel 12 News' Bruce Cooper was on hand for the first time since the devastating loss of his son Marquis in a tragic boating accident off the coast of Florida. I don't know Bruce and only briefly shook his hand today so I won't speculate on how he's dealing with this unbelievable loss.
I can tell you he was greeted warmly by the media and team including Coach Gentry and as you will hear in the audio was a true professional today back doing the job he is so good at. As a father of four myself I don't know how I would go on after something like this but Bruce is doing just that. Best to Bruce and his family.
In Phoenix Suns business there was no shortage of interesting subjects to explore:
Most news worthy news is the the update on Leandro Barbosa. He practiced a bit today and Coach Gentry said he did well, and is listed by his coach as "hour by hour" and might play limited minutes as soon as Wednesday's game against the Rockets. My sense is that might be a bit optimistic based on some other things I heard today. It all seems to depend on how he responds to today's limited scrimmage activities.
The Suns are never lacking in humor and their approach the final eight games is no exception. Coach Gentry in describing the team's chances followed up the cliche, "It's not over till it's over" with "I think it was Thunder (Dan) that said, we should put Julia Roberts and Lyle Lovett's picture up there and know that anything is possible."
He went on to say in response to a question from Bruce Cooper about staying optimistic, "We are. What we decided and we talked about it today is we are going to have an eight game season and we have four games at home and four on the road. What we need to do is be the first team to go undefeated in a season."
(actually this was very first question ask but I've taken editorial license to rearrange the quotes because I wanted to tell the Thunder story first and explain the picture of Lyle and Julia you've been wondering about),
Yesterday, Coach Gentry twittered about the mental toll the loss in Utah took on the team. This jumped out at me because I have been critical of the mental make up of this team for over a year now so I asked Coach Gentry to explain this more.
"We had fought so hard to get back in that game. It is really really tough. When you are 21 points down you usually don't get back in the game and we did a great job fighting all the way back and then we get seven points up and two and half minutes in the game and you just have to be able to win those games. Especially when you are fighting for your life like we are. Then we had a tough turn over at the end of the game and I just think to mentally go into overtime and lose that game it took a lot out of us I thought."
I wanted to hear a bit more on this topic so I ask him what teams can do to overcome that and come back that next game.
"You've got to shake it off but it's not easy to do. There's not a lot of teams that are going to shake that off especially when you are in a position where you are fighting for your life. It was a tough pill to swallow because we had done everything we had to do to win that game and we made a couple of bad decisions at the end and it cost us."
Pressing my luck, I asked Coach Gentry if he thought it was normal in that kind of situation to see teams have that kind of hangover from one game to the next.
"Not always, but you know in that situation it was tough and then on top of that it was a back to back game and we were playing our fourth game in five nights and that is a factor, guys. That is a huge factor with a team that is an older team. If you've got a good young team that's got a lot of bounce in their step then that's fine but when you are playing with guys that are playing 30 to 35 minutes a night and they are 35 years old it can take it's toll."
There you have it. The Suns are an older team that wasn't able to mentally bounce back. There's not much else to add to that.
Shaq vs Robin
The interesting side story of the day seemed to be the "discussion" between Shaq and Robin on the bench during the fourth quarter of the Blazers game. AOL Fanhouse had the scoop on what Shaq actually said:
"Do something. Either block it or lay them on their back. Period. That's what you've got to do as a big man. Don't flop. Lay them on their (expletive) back. That's what I was taught and that's what I'm trying to teach him, instead of being out there like a (expletive) loose tree, blowing in the wind."
Coach Gentry seemed amused by all the fuss. He didn't quite understand why we would be interested in a perfectly normal thing but he did feel it shouldn't have been so public.
"First of all, it shouldn't have ever been public...If Robin wants to learn and he does, you are talking about a guy talking to him that's the best low post player ever to play the game. Robin accepted that. I don't have a problem with that."
I didn't have a problem with it either and judging by your comments no one did but I was curious what he meant about about it not being public. So I asked.
"I don't know if a camera should have been there. I think he could use a little discretion too but that's ok. I think everybody is making a really big deal out of small thing. Its no different then sometimes I yell at guys and they yell back. To me it's no big deal. Sometimes guys get on guys. That's what team mates do. People are trying to generate a story out of it and I don't see where the story is."
And then in typical Gentry fashion he closed the matter with this
'First of all, Robin can't beat him up so he can't say anything back anyway so that's the end of it right there. He's forced to listen."
There you have. One old-school coach supporting his old school player talking about laying guys on their ass instead of giving up open layups and getting laughed at. Nothing to see here. Move along now...
Steve Nash later came out of the locker room and took some questions. He echoed the desire to try and win the rest of the games and expressed his bitter disappointment at losing the past few games.
Steve addressed my topic of the day, the team's mentality, "We've had a lot of adversity and for whatever reason we haven't capitalized."
He talked again about all the changes that have gone on this year and getting a "late start with all the moving parts". This seems to be a fairly constant theme for Nash when he talks about the Suns season. Looking back at all the changes is certainly one place to lay the blame.
I asked Steve about the mental toll of the game in Utah carrying over.
"There is no doubt that it was tough stretch of the season playing four game in five nights with a lot of travel and tough games but having said that I would like to see us come out Sunday night and overcome it. Sure we were tired physically, mentally and emotionally but you've got to find a way to give it everything you have and maybe we did but I like to think we could have given it a little bit more."
Nash also talked about the Suns environmental awareness projects in advance of the Planet Green promotion on April 1st.
- Shaq was asked if he was talking to day. "No". But he did seem to be a good mood hugging and even kissing Suns.com Stephan Swiat at one point. Fortunately for Stephan that was after he had showered
- Gentry on the Rockets: They've played extremely well. Scola has made the difference. Brooks is playing well and Lowrey off the bench. They are a solid team and are not going to beat themselves. They didn't miss a beat without Ttracy which Gentry went on to say was not to say they are a better team without him, "I don't know where anybody gets that idea from." Me either but maybe the good men over at The Dream Shake have some thoughts on that? Go ask them and while you are there tell them how great Houston is.
- Paul Coro asked if the team did some of the things defensively Gentry wanted in the fourth quarter against the Kings. "Like actually guarding people" He went on to had "ha ha" and laughs were had all around
- Gentry talked about the zone and that he doesn't know why its not working as well but he is disappointed that the zone which had been good up until last week wasn't (working well). He feels the team needs to do a better job containing ball on the perimeter in the zone.
- Needless to say, he wants the Suns to do better job keeping teams out of the paint on dribble penetration
- I asked if JRich is healthy. Gentry said he was. I failed to ask about his seeming to lack any lift in Utah where he only scored 4 points on 2 - 11 in the overtime game
- Alando Tucker stayed on the court working on corner three's. His arc which has looked flat in games was more pronounced in this practice session