Phoenix Suns Practice Report: Lopez Sits Again and Coach Mike's Return

With the return of Mike D'Antoni's New York Knicks coming to town and the playoffs just on the horizon, today's practice was a bit more intense than usual.  Practice ran about thirty minutes later than it normally does, so you knew Gentry was pushing them.  However, once we got in and were watching the end of practice, it was clear that the guys were still very lighthearted and having a good time.  A few notable things from practice:

  • Robin Lopez sat out for practice again.  When asked about Robin's status, Coach Gentry said, "He's doing well.  He had a little tweak in the back, so we just had him sit out today.  I think he'll be fine to go tomorrow, but we just didn't want to risk anything.  [The team] had a really good practice today, a really good, hard practice, so I was happy with the way we practiced, but I didn't see any reason to put him out there and risk anything."  I think at this point, it's safe to say he's questionable, leaning toward the "hopeful" side for tomorrow's game.
  • Earl Clark got some pretty good run during practice and looked pretty good.  At one point during one of the scrimmages, Gentry stopped the play because Clark was where LB was supposed to be and vice versa.  Aside from that, he was looking loose and comfortable out there, even if he doesn't show a lot of emotion and kind of looks a little lost.
  • Barbosa's shooting touch was back.  He was hitting shots from all over the floor, driving toward the rim and making plays in the paint, and though he looked like he was shying away from contact on his right wrist, he was still being the LB we know.
  • It's still unsure as to what LB's role is going to be on the team once he fully recuperates.  Gentry had a lot of good things to say about him, but still remained unsure: "I think he's beginning to get his legs under him again and feel a little more confident on getting hit on that hand, driving into the basket, and becoming the guy that he was.  Obviously, we've got to find a way to get him more time on the floor, and we'll try to do that in the next five, six games and see where he is for when the playoffs start."I think he's fine, all he wants to do is win.  He understands that we feel like he's a really important part that's got to be worked back into the system.  That'll get done, I'm not worried about that.  We'll find a way to get that done."

 

At the end of practice today, the Suns ran two scrimmages with a 6:00 game clock.  The team ahead at the end of "regulation", well, they were the winners.  As far as I could tell, there was no incentive for who won or lost.  Or maybe it was a win-win situation, because everyone is still on an NBA team.  I'd consider that a win in my books.  Here were the teams:

Black: Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, Grant Hill, Channing Frye, Leandro Barbosa, Jason Richardson, Jarron Collins

White: Goran Dragic, Leandro Barbosa, Jared Dudley, Lou Amundson, Earl Clark, Taylor Griffin, Robin Lopez (DNP)

For the first scrimmage, the black team was down by 3 with 1.1 seconds left on the clock.  Coach Gentry drew up a play that was obviously intended for Nash to get a 3 at the top of the arc, but Lou broke it up.  Somehow, instead of time winding off the clock, the clock was back at 1.4.  I don't think anyone really cared.  They finally get the ball inbounds to Nash, Dudley closes out on him, and his shot clangs off the back of the rim.  Game over.

For the second scrimmage, Coach Gentry was having each team run a play called something involving the words "double fists" when they brought the ball up the court.  The white team led for almost the whole game, with LB hitting two threes to start the game and getting a nice drive and dish to Lou for the finish.  Amare and Nash then start hooking up for some easy points, and with around 8 seconds left on the clock, the black team is down three.  They inbound the ball to JRich, swing it to Frye, who then swings it to a wide open Steve Nash.  Boom.  Game tied with 1.8 seconds left.

The white team then draws up a play with Coach Gentry, and before the play starts, Grant Hill yelled "Watch out for a Dudley lob!"  Everyone laughed.  The white team then inbounds the ball to Dragic, who hands it off to Dudley, who I believe was supposed to hand it back off to Goran.  The pass back to Goran was fumbled, and time expired, but Gentry and Dan Majerle called a (ghost) foul on Jason Richardson that put Goran at the line.  He hit the free throw, but Jared Dudley came swooping in and faked like he jammed it home, and everyone called offensive basket interference as Dudley ran down the sidelines giving high fives.   They said the basket didn't count, but it didn't matter.  They gathered up at half court, had a few words, and ended with a "1, 2, 3...SUNS".

The Return of the D'Antoni and His Knicks

A lot of the questions today were revolving around Mike D'Antoni's return to the desert (as it always was, and probably will be for the next few years).  There were a lot of questions about Gentry's style vs. D'Antoni's style, if the Suns could better prepare defensively for the Knicks due to the style similarities and vice versa, etc.  So, here are some of the notable quotes from today:

Steve Nash

When asked if the Suns could do things defensively to disrupt the Knicks, due to the similarities of the systems and the fact that he played with D'Antoni for so long:

Well, I think that's overblown.  No matter how well you know something, there are always ways to read, react and counter, so I don't think that's a big factor.

On whether or not the team would have to key in on Gallinari and Douglas, who essentially won the Knicks the game against Denver:

Well, we have to really play well as a unit, defensively.  If we stick to our game plan, and we play with energy and intelligence, we feel like we can beat anybody.  But, if we don't do that, we can get beat by anybody.  New York has got a bunch of guys who are capable, as they proved when we played them in the Garden.

More on Alvin's system vs. D'Antoni's system:

Alvin's a confident guy, and he doesn't need to be insecure about it.  He liked the way we played under Mike and he wants us to keep playing that way.  He's got the confidence enough to admit that, and I think that shows the sign of a good coach.  He doesn't have to claim that he's reinvented the wheel.  I mean, the personnel is different, so you can't do some of the same things with different people, but I think he's found a nice balance.  It's really suiting us.

Alvin Gentry

On the general state of the Knicks:

They're a real dangerous team because they have the capability of beating anyone.  They're playing so loose right now that you've got to do a good job, and they just kind of mess with the game, and do a lot of things that aren't conventional, but you've got to be able to handle all of that stuff.

His take on his system vs. D'Antoni's system and what he's taken from Mike:

Just the style of play that we have now.  I mean, he's the one that kind of initiated this whole thing here, and as long as we have Steve Nash and Amare and guys like that in the program, we'll continue to play that way.  It's what we've had the most success with.  We took about 80 or 90% of it and we added a couple things here and there, but for the most part, it's what we've been doing here for the last 5 or 6 years.

When asked what the other 10% he's added is:

Well, we run a lot more continuity stuff, some stuff we didn't have when Mike was here.  You know, just to give us a little more ball movement and stuff like that, trying to relieve some of the pressure on Steve, the guy making the play every single time.  We did that to help Steve more than anything else.  And then, you know, we try to do a couple of things defensively a little differently.  We try to simplify everything and see if we can be consistent on what we do on that end, but other than that, we play just like we played 5 years ago.

Grant Hill

On Amare's continued domination:

We all get excited and enjoy going to Amare.  We played Portland the other day, and in the 3rd and 4th quarter, they were really doing a good job of trying to prevent him from getting the ball.  They were double teaming him, and just making it really difficult.  But it was like, every time he got the ball, we were excited, 'cause we knew we were going to score or get the foul.  So it was almost like, 'Let's get him the ball!'  And no one was like, 'What about me?' or 'What about my shots?'.  It was just just what was working and what they were having a difficult time stopping, so we went with it, and he came through like he's been doing.  So that's kind of the mindset of the team.

On the playoff picture and who he'd like to see the Suns matched up with:

I would say Minnesota, but we've got to play them, so I don't want to get them mad.  Or Golden State, but...they're tough. (Laughs) But you know, we're not thinking about that.  We're just thinking about getting better, continuing to play well, and trying to get home court.  So, until we have that star next to our name and we're locked up, but it's a lot of work to do.  So that's our mindset.  Alvin's kind of emphasized that it's not about anybody else.  Last year, we were all 'We hope this team loses' or 'We hope that team does this', but what we really realized from that was hey, let's just focus on us.  We control our destiny, so forget about all that and take care of business and whatever happens, happens.

Links

Stinkface Chronicles: Amar'e-geddon -- NBA FanHouse

Why hasn't anyone else used Amar'e-geddon yet?  That's just awesome.

NBA Power Rankings (March 24): Cavs, Lakers Riding Hot Streaks | Bleacher Report

The Suns made the jump from 11th to 5th in this week's Power Rankings.  "Phoenix is surging, and are just two games behind the Nuggets and Mavericks for the No. 2 seed in the West. Amar'e Stoudemire has been going off during the Suns' five-game winning streak, averaging 32 points and 9 rebounds on ridiculous 52-78 shooting."  'Nuff said.

SUNS: Analyze This: Kerr Using Science to Gain Edge in Front Office
Where athletes meet mathletes, the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston, Mass. is fast-becoming a can’t-miss on the schedule of professional sports executives. After attending for the first time this year, Suns President of Basketball Operations and GM Steve Kerr is one such executive.

Through NBA Eyes: Round 3 of the NCAA Tourney - Golden State Of Mind
NBA draft prospecting in the NCAA Tourney, Round 3. Heavyweight bout: Omar Samhan vs Ekpe Udoh. Recommended Sweet Sixteen games Through NBA Eyes.

Rick Reilly: George vs. The Dragon - ESPN
Rick Reilly spent 24 hours with Nuggets coach George Karl at the hospital as he continues to fight cancer. Rick Reilly details Coach Karl's fight with The Dragon.

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