Let's recap what we've learned since the All-Star break:
- The players seem to like Alvin Gentry better than Terry Porter
- That led to three 140-point wins over two sub-13-win teams
- Amare should wear goggles
- Without Amare, going even smaller has been a ... challenge
- The Suns have beat 1 playoff team and lost to 8 of them, exposing the first three 140 pt wins as "fool's gold"
- The team has looked good at times without Shaq on the floor
- The team looked good at times without Nash on the floor
- With Shaq and Nash on the floor the defense is exposed, leaving the pressure on the offense to produce huge numbers to get wins
- Steve Nash had decided to be aggressive, resulting in his career high streak of games with 20 points (7)
- Since Nash has returned from his three-game ankle injury, Shaq has not been effective and may or may not be frustrated and ready to leave Phoenix
- The only possible cure for all that ails the Suns? A easier stretch of four games against the Thunder, Warriors, 76ers and Wizards
- The problem is that the Thunder have won 5 of their last 7 (without Durant) and the Suns have already lost to the Warriors and 76ers this season
The good news is the team has played hard over the 6-game losing stretch (with some exceptions for lapses in concentration according to Nash) and the report from the locker room is that team is unified, if not happy.
I've all but given up on my weeks long goal of trying to find out of Nash and Shaq can co-exist. A question that I had thought would be important going into next season but in reality isn't likely to matter.
On the radio yesterday, KTAR host John Gambadoro, who is an experienced, cautious and well-connected journalist said, "trust me, Steve Nash will not be a Sun next season."
I don't know if that is the case, but I have no doubt that this summer ALL options will be on the table. We will have plenty of time to explore and discuss those options in a few weeks.
In the meantime, look for more rookie play. Here's what Alvin Gentry said on that subject:
I was really happy with the way Goran came into the game. That was the most aggressive that I've seen him and the most confident I've seen him play. I thought Robin did a good job. Robin went in and really played with a lot of confidence.
Hopefully, we can use those guys a little bit more as the season winds down and get them quality time against first-line, front-line players.
At this point everyone (who's free to speak freely that is) realizes that the season is over. The playoffs aren't going to happen for the Suns this year. That doesn't mean there's nothing to play for and it certainly doesn't mean we can't enjoy the game of basketball.
Frankly, I am pretty tired of talking about the mistakes the team made, the off-the-court drama and playing the "what if" game.
Tonight is the first game of the rest of the season and I intend to sit back, enjoy the athleticism, skill, and beauty that is professional basketball.
[Note by Phoenix Stan, 03/14/09 3:35 PM MST ]
Here's some quick hits from yesterday's practice in which the veteran players were excused and from today's shoot around. Audio provided by Sports 620 KTAR.
When the Suns played the Thunder a few weeks ago, it was a fairly close and highly explosive game until the fourth quarter when the Suns went on a run to build a 20 point lead. Leandro Barbosa was brilliant in that game, scoring 41 along with 7 rebounds, 7 assists and 6 steals. His 5 points in the final 2 minutes (when the game was already decided) gave the Suns their 140 point total.
Tonight, we can probably expect more of the same. Kevin Durant is listed as probable after missing seven games with an ankle injury and the Suns aren't likely to have any answers for rookie Russel Westbrook.
Here's a bit of interesting insight from Thunder blog Welcome To Loud City:
They key for the Thunder tonight, is not to get caught up in that run and gun style of offense the Suns have returned to. We all can see quite clearly that the reason this team has gone 5-2 over their last 7 games (outside of an easy schedule), has been the teams stellar defensive play.
Tonight they will need to take their time on offense, and keep the Suns from pushing the ball up court and taking quick shots as much as possible. If they can clamp down defensively and disrupt the run and gun, there is no reason to think they can't head back home having won 6 of their last 8 games.
The approach to beating the Suns is sound. Unfortunately, I don't think a team as young as the Thunder will be able to avoid being sucked into a high-paced game. They likely won't have the discipline of a Cavs or Mavs team that were able to use the pace (and lack of Suns D) to get their own offenses going but then still put the defensive clamps on the Suns for a long enough stretch to pull away.
On the X's and O's front, it will be interesting to see if the Suns take advantage of Shaq against Kristic and that emo dude Robert Swift. I am not sure if Nick Collison will play in this game. For the Suns' sake, I hope not.
The last couple of games, teams have been doubling Shaq effectively and it will be interesting (but not all that important) to see how the Suns respond. So far, the team has not looked sharp playing off the mismatches that Shaq is creating.
If you can't play for the playoffs at least play for the fun of the game. I will happy with any result as long as we see that kind of effort, even if it means more bench and less Nash, JRich and Shaq.