The Suns ended the preseason with an upswing last night after defeating the young and talented Denver Nuggets at home. The Suns were led by the incredibly hot shooting of Michael Beasley who scored 29 points in his 33 minutes of play, going 13-21 from the field and also grabbing 10 rebounds as well.
Denver out-rebounded the Suns 54-41, and also dominated the Suns with scoring inside the paint to the tune of 52-26. However, the Suns won the turnover battle 15-27 (yikes), and also shot a better percentage than Denver at 41%-37%...including, and most importantly, from downtown where the Suns shot nearly 40% making 9-23 compared to Denvers' paltry 18% going 2-11.
The Suns' starting unit was too much for Denver to handle last night, and although the Nuggets would close the gap nearly every time the Suns' bench would come in (except late in the fourth quarter), the Suns were able to outlast and outscore the Nuggets and hold onto their lead.
Keys to the Victory:
Beasley, B-Easy, The Beas Knees:
Michael Beasley did his best impersonation of Denzel Washington in "Man On Fire" last night as he hit shot after shot on his way to 29 points in 33 minutes, including some baskets that didn't look like they had a chance. However, as the old basketball adage states, it's only a bad shot if you miss...right?
Not only that, but Beasley was aggressive and effective on the boards pulling down 10 rebounds to surpass Gorat and Scola, who each had eight a piece, as the leading rebounder.
I realize it's only the pre-season...but does anyone honestly still miss that other guy right now? Dragic scored 13 points on 4-9 shooting in his 25 minutes, and still managed to dish out 6 assists even with Beasley taking the game over and creating most of his own shots.
The way Dragic is able to be ultra-aggressive in attacking the basket, and still deliver amazing passes when the shot is there for one of his teammates just goes to show what a great point guard Goran has turned into.
Morris and Brown:
Though nearly invisible through most of the second quarter when the bench replaced the starters, both Morris and Brown stepped up big in the fourth quarter to secure the lead and carry the Suns to a victory. Morris scored six of his eight points in the fourth on three thunderous dunks, as well as grabbing three of his four rebounds. Brown pitched in with six of his 10 points in the fourth quarter as well.
Though the bench as a whole was still disappointing overall, Markieff Morris and Shannon Brown both came through when it mattered most and helped contribute to the win.
The offensive rebounding was a little bit of a factor in the first half...It's not because we're not boxing out, but we're boxing out way, way, way too far under the basket. We've got to create some space and some separation so we're not trying to box out directly under the basket.
I find this hard to believe, but evidently the same problem I have when coaching 7th and 8th graders still applies to professional basketball players. Let's hope the Suns get this fundamental error worked out quickly.
When Gentry was asked if he thought the current Suns team matched up better with a (young & athletic) team like Denver better than they did a year ago, Gentry responded:
Well I think we have more options. We have more options...as far as being able to put more athletic guys out there.
I think this is code for the Suns being a younger and faster team without Grant Hill and that other point guard the Suns had last year. B.D. (Before Dragic), the Suns relied almost exclusively on the pick-and-roll to create their offense, and the other players were mostly used when that option was well defended.
But now, the Suns are using a completely different offensive strategy with Dragic and Beasley as the main play-makers, but they still have the ability to run the pick and roll with Gortat and Scola, or use Scola as a distributor/scorer in the post as well. This has opened up many more options as Gentry refers to here...and the one-dimensional Suns of yesterday are now a thing of the past.
Beasley, when asked what's been different about his time in Phoenix so far:
The fact that they're telling me to shoot, and get mad when I don't shoot. So. I'm still adjusting a bit (to that).
Although many Suns' fans initially cringed when they first heard that Beasley was being encouraged to take more, not less shots in the Suns offense, it now appears that Gentry may be right. On a team without a true superstar, Beasley is being asked to fill in as that role...something he has never really been asked to do before. Ultimately it's too early to tell if this is the right plan of action, but if the Suns can get anything close to this type of result on a semi-consistent basis from the Beas...then he deserves to be the main focus of our offense.
On where his points will come from when his shots aren't falling from outside had this to say:
It never ends...I didn't shoot one free-throw today. So, I gotta get to the basket a lot. My goal is to shoot 3-4 free throws per quarter...So I got a long ways to go.
This is the one area of Beasley's game that was noticeably absent last night, and its nice to know that he also recognized it. Time will tell if Beasley will be able to be more effective near the basket, but it's hard to complain when the shots are falling like they were last night.
On what he sees his role in the offense as:
Everything...From a play-maker, to a rebounder, to a scorer.
Beasley seems to be embracing his role as the main focus of not only the offense, but the team. His effort on the glass last night only further accentuated his outstanding offensive display, and it's this type of all-around effort that could take him to that next level as a player.
Dragic was asked how he felt about getting a win against Denver and the preseason as a whole...He had this to say:
The good thing is we won the last game. (But) their best players didn't play a lot. Still, we didn't play very well on defense and they got too many offensive rebounds. We have to work on those things, but Wednesday is the first regular season game and I'm really excited.
Dragic is obviously just being modest here. The Nuggets did play Ty Lawson, Javale McGee, and Kenneth Faried over 20 minutes each last night. Of course, the Denver Nuggets were without Danillo Gallinari and Andre Iguodala, but then again, the Suns were missing Jermaine O'Neal and PJ Tucker...so yeah, we'll call that even.
When asked about how to defend dribble penetration better...He had this to say:
When they play pick and roll we defend that well, but when they pass the ball out we have to rotate, and when we rotate (and) they penetrate again, we have to stay in front of those guys...we have to improve those things.
The lack of consistent defense has been a carry over throughout nearly all of the preseason games. Fortunately, the starting five seems capable of outscoring many of their opponents even when they can't stop them. But this is a dangerous game to play against the more talented teams in the league, and this is an area you can expect the Suns to continue working on.
The Bottom Line:
This was a good win for the Suns to give them a confidence boost in entering the regular season with a winning record. The Suns haven't had much success in the preseason in recent years, so maybe this is a sign of good things to come.
The Suns' starting unit was once again very effective and efficient...hopefully giving Suns' fans a glimpse of what they can expect to see this season. The bench, however, has been nothing if not in-consistent without a true go-to scorer. Hopefully Morris, Brown, or Wesley Johnson will emerge from the shadows to become that guy. If not, the Suns will need to find the hot hand on a nightly basis and go with whatever seems to be working best.