The Phoenix Suns look like they turned a corner after the road loss last week to the Dallas Mavericks. The Suns played VERY well to blow out the Portland Trail Blazers and Milwaukee Bucks at home and then went into Los Angeles and played a pretty good game against the Lakers.
The Suns obviously lost in L.A. but looked much better than they did against the Mavericks and ultimately fell victim to this team's biggest flaw -- lack of late game scoring options.
We'll get into exactly what happened in those final few minutes when the Suns were thumped 16-1 in the final 6:27 of the game, but first let's recognize all the things that have improved in that last week:
- The offense has a MUCH better flow mostly because Steve Nash has returned from the (near) dead and Channing Frye has arrived for the season.
- Marcin Gortat's offensive game since having the splint removed from his thumb has been impressive and improved from last season. He's making great decisions with the ball and passing well when covered, and he's shooting 32-46 (.696) in his last four games after starting 20-38 (.526) in his first five.
- Gortat's shooting a career-high 85.7% at the rim but he's also at a career-high 86.5% assisted rate (percent of his shots that are assists for someone else).
- The lack of being able to create his own shot (a problem shared by the entire roster) is the Suns biggest offensive flaw BUT there have been a few signs that Marcin's post game might (MIGHT) be improved. Lets give it a few more games without the splint on his thumb and see.
- Defensively, the Suns did a very solid job against the Lakers not named Kobe and honestly, when Kobe is hitting shots like that you just tip your hat and pray that he will eventually shoot himself into a stupor. LA shot 48.8% from the field but only 42.9% when you remove Kobe's numbers.
- The rotations in the post against Bynum were very good. If the game plan was to hold Bynum and Gasol in check and pray that Kobe doesn't go off, it worked (except for the praying part).
- Bynum had 30 minutes but only 12 points and 8 rebounds, which is quite an accomplishment.
- What KILLED Bynum was his inability to defend the pick and roll. When he sagged off, Nash hit open shots. When he tried to hedge the screen, he was too slow and Nash was able to beat the trap.
- The bench played well with Hakim Warrick and Shannon Brown adding 19 points and Ronnie Price playing well; the Suns were +3 with him on the floor (and Nash on the bench) which is GREAT.
- Big props to Mike Brown (not a coach I am fond of) for benching Bynum and playing Luke Walton at the four. Walton and Gasol were able to effectively trap Nash on the pick and roll and the guys rotating behind them were good.
- The Suns weren't able to take advantage of Walton playing the four because Frye in the post is still Frye in the post. In the future, I would expect to see Markieff Morris in situations like this to prevent teams from going small to defend the pick and roll better. Morris, however, had a horrible game (0-4) and wasn't an option late, and Frye was shooting well. Morris has to become the guy here to relieve the pressure and score in the paint. He's the only guy on the roster that can do it.
- The Suns eventually decided to double Kobe but it was too late. That's a really tough call since he's such a good passer and the Lakers (like the Mavs with Dirk) make it hard to double him.
- Grant Hill was the guy the Lakers left open in their rotations defending the pick and roll and he simple didn't have the legs on his shot to make them pay. Grant was 1-12 in the game, which KILLED the Suns. Dudley wasn't much better (2-7) but it was just too much to ask Grant to chase Kobe around and still make the open shots the Lakers were giving him late in the game.
Phoenix Suns come undone in 4th against Los Angeles Lakeres - Arizona Republic
"I'm just tired a little bit out there," Hill said. "I still have a ways to go to get my conditioning. No excuses. I got good looks. I just have to make them. I didn't run until three days before camp so I'm still getting my legs. Obviously, it didn't help having to chase him around but I've done it before and been able to be more effective on the offensive end."