The Suns ended practice today with Alvin Gentry challenging his players to hit three 3-pointers in a row. It took nearly 20 seconds for Steve Nash, Leandro Barbosa, and Jared Dudley to swish their shots from the top off the key.
Yet the end of the practice, the half court meeting, left this correspondent confused and slightly frightened. Dan Majerle, he of the Incredible Hulk-esque practice shirt, was grabbed by a scrum of players until the shirt was shredded from his torso. This was both amusing and scary at the same time. Dan seemed to enjoy it. Further observations:
- Leandro Barbosa seems to be shooting pain-free and accurately. The next challenge, of course, is finding the Blur some playing time behind the recently torrid Jason Richardson, strong Goran Dragic, and, of course, very necessary Stevie Nash. As Alvin Gentry said, "It's easy to play 3 guys, but tough to play 4, but we have to find minutes for LB because he's been a factor for us and won games for us when he's been out there."
- Robin Lopez sat (straight up) for all of the practice I could see and didn't do a whole lot. There is no talk of an injury and no one - not Robin or Alvin Gentry - appear too concerned.
- The overall consensus about the upcoming Knickerbocker/D'Antoni matchup is that it's just another game the Suns must win. D'Antoni is simply another coach on an opposing team. Sure.
- Steve Nash was asked what Star Wars jedi power he would enjoy possessing if he could have any of them. Nash lacked a response and mentioned something about Wayne Gretzky.
Asked about what's changed throughout the course of the season and the current state of play:
"I think we're focused and we're taking care of our responsibilities, not giving away leads like we were. We are improving, our defense is improving and offensively Amare has been terrific. He's given us a new direction going to him on the block or on the post. He's unstoppable down there."
More on Amare:
"I think he's really improved his understanding and feel for the game. He's taken an incredible step forward. He feels more comfortable in these situations on the defensive end and getting the ball to the hoop. I give him credit, he's turned the corner as far as his feeling and understanding..."
On the difference in this season's team as compared to other playoff contending Suns squads:
"We're more versatile, size, depth, we're able to play a little bit different than we have in the past. We ran the ball more and relied on our shooting in the past. We have more size and depth that allows us to play a little bit more defense and score better in the half court."
On clutch time options (referring to Amare):
"A big guy should be the number one option down the stretch. We have more options now and obviously his ability has allowed that."
About expectations, his satisfaction thus far with this season and beyond:
"We have a lot to be proud of, to have a chance at 50 wins or more is something to be proud of, but now that we're here it's not like we're going to throw a party and go home. We want to try to see how good we can be and try to win as many games this season and try to beat someone in the playoffs."
On Robin Lopez's back situation:
"He's fine, just a little tweak on his back. We didn't do a whole lot today to give him an opportunity to give him some additional treatment. We'll have a hard practice tomorrow and he'll be ready to go."
Regarding facing Mike D'Antoni's Knicks Friday:
"The only special meaning it has is that Mike and I are tight and friends like that. From a basketball standpoint, I don't think it has anything to do with it because at this stage we have to win games and a check mark by our names that says 'clinch a playoff spot'..."
On keeping players fresh:
"On thing we do - and it was Mike's Philosophy - we always thought we'd much rather have our legs for the game...we got a 37 year old guy, a 35-36 year old guy and run their legs off in practice and have them struggle in games. We've taken that from Mike and I think it's really helped us from an energy standpoint, especially these last 11 games."
Thoughts on working LB into the rotation:
"We trying to figure out how to work that in. The problem that we have is that J-Rich has played so well that he's getting the minutes. Grant's sorta been solid out there and Goran's been solid. It's pretty easy to play 3 guys, its pretty hard to play 4. We have to try to find minutes for LB because he's been a factor for us and won games for us when he was here."
On His Preference of Opponent in the Playoffs:
"Nah every team in the western conference is almost equally matched where almost anyone can win. All the teams are playing great. Either way it's going to be a tough match whether you're the first seed or the 8th seed..."
On How he stays focused at the end of a grueling year:
"Ah man you gotta get your proper rest. You gotta eat right. Especially this time of year. And then you go to the playoffs, which is another season pretty much, so you gotta keep yourself in top shape, eat well, take care of your body.
Asked about if there's anything "spiritual" he does to stay in shape mentally:
"Always reading. It's always a relaxing thing for me. There's a lot of stuff you can do to relax, get massages, take baths..."
- An after practice 3 on 3 matchup consisting of Dragon, Lou, and Jarron versus Earl, T-Griffs and LB. T-Griffs backed Collins down in the paint and then made a move, dunking the ball which hit the back of the rim and flew off. It was pretty amazing to see Griff get up like that. Clark was aggressive, driving to the rim and jumping up to the ceiling for boards.
- After the game, as I was talking to Steve Kerr, an exuberant Clark came over to give some love to Kerr and myself. Kerr thanked him for calling Nick Nurse after his last game in Iowa. As Clark hit the showers, Kerr looked off into the distance and stated, (not really to anyone), "that's a special kid." My recorder was off and it wasn't the typical quote designed to defend a controversial draft pick. Regardless of the future, it appears Steve Kerr really does believe Earl Clark will be a quality player in the NBA and Grant Hill's heir-apparent for the Suns.