After 20 games, the Phoenix Suns (11-9) are the 8th seed in the West, just ahead of Portland (9-11) - their opponent in tonight's game. Just as the Suns kicked off their 2010-2011 campaign, they get to kick off the second quarter of their season at the same venue. Let's hope the second quarter offers more wins than the first.
Take a look at what the Suns "accomplished" in the first 20 games...
1) Played one of the league's toughest schedules; only Chicago, New Orleans and Dallas had better results against tougher competition, over the first 20 games
2) Only the Rockets and Blazers have played fewer home games
3) Rank 30th overall in the following categories: defensive efficiency rating, defensive rebounds per game, opponent total rebounds per game, rebound differential, opponent points per game, opponent field goal percentage and opponent assists per game.
4) Bottom five in a host of other defensive categories
And yet, somehow the Suns are 11-9. How? Read on.
The same reason as prior years, of course: offense
Thanks to Steve Nash, the Suns once again have a devastating offense. They're second in efficiency and first in points. Those help to make up for an awful, awful
And thanks to Alvin Gentry. He played the right guys at the right time (as many as 12 a game) often enough to pull out more wins than losses.
Gone are the days where Hedo Turkoglu starts at PF. I have to admit (and you all know this, so give me credit for admitting it) I expected Hedo to handle this assignment better than he did. I gave him credit for being a smart, crafty veteran who would "make do" with playing against bigger guys. But he failed. Miserably.
Maybe it was the new position coupled with a new team that did him in. Maybe if they tried to play him at PF after he'd gotten comfortable with the team (ie. second half, or year two), he'd have done a tiny bit better. Who knows. But at least that experiment is over.
Not that the Suns are markedly better off. By playing Earl Barron, the Suns simply to increase the size of the front line at the expense of basketball talent. They are banking more on matchups than talent to win games. I would be willing to bet that, even now, Gentry does not see Barron as a long-term solution.
"The one thing I've come to a conclusion on is we're never going to have a set rotation," Gentry said. "On certain nights, guys are going to step up like Hakim (Warrick) did (against Washington). And they're going to play a lot of minutes.
"I anticipated playing Earl Clark some (against the Wizards), but the way the game went he didn't get in much. But the next game he might be the guy to play. Guys are going to have to understand that."
So are we, BSotS-ers. Get used to mixing and matching. Don't take any game's starting lineup as THE starting lineup for the future (at least until Robin Lopez returns to form).
"We'll continue to piece things together and try to figure out how we can get guys in the best position," Gentry said. "As coaches, our job is to get guys in the best position possible to help us win games and for them to be successful.
"We're still trying to plug in guys and figure that out."
I'd be willing to bet that Gentry loses sleep over playing Earl Barron big minutes. That doesn't jive with "playoff contender" in any direct correlative context.
But hey, at least we're not the Blazers....
Tonight's opponent - the Portland Trailblazers
These guys are so dysfunctional, we still don't even know if they're the Blazers or the Trailblazers. I mean, this is getting ridiculous isn't it?
Greg Oden is out for the year. Andre Miller is out for this game, after being suspended for an altercation in the prior game (their only win in 2 weeks!). Brandon Roy is playing on one leg and has no lift. After looking so good in the season's first week (including the opener against Phoenix), the Blazers are under .500 and currently out of the playoff picture.
Here's their stats:
Despite their tailspin, the Blazers might win tonight's game because their talent base remains high.
Batum and Matthews - hell, even Armon Johnson - have played well against the Suns. Rudy Fernandez could hit a boatload of 3s. Marcus Camby could pull down 25 rebounds. Dante Cunningham always hits 80% of his jumpers against the Suns.
They are playing at home, and probably still see the Suns as chop-licking opponent.
Yet, with Andre Miller out, the Blazers will have trouble running their offense. Roy shifts to point guard in most lineups, I'd guess. He's just not moving as well as he used to, possibly making the Blazers easier to defend. Possibly.
The Suns will have to scrap, claw and fight their way to a win, no matter what the supporting stat lines say. Alvin will have to use his magic wand to pick the right rotation and recognize the guys who are playing well.
"I'm not a baseball manager, but I never understood why you'd take a guy out with a one-hitter because he's thrown 112 pitches or whatever," Gentry said.
"If a guy is going good and hitting shots, I don't know why you'd take him out."
He added that he tells players he'll pull them only if they're tired or playing badly.
"If you get taken out of the game and you say you're not tired . . . see B," Gentry cracked.
Check out all the Miller love and Suns hate on Blazersedge