On Tap: The Phoenix Suns

Kurt —  November 3, 2005

The rumors of the Sun’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

At least that’s what I came away with after watching the second half of their opening night game against Dallas. Yes the Suns lost (in double OT), but they looked good doing so (well, except for the last 8 minutes) against a team I like. This is not the same team without Amare Stoudemire, but they’re not bad either.

Tonight they get a Laker team that is playing its second game in as many nights and had to go to OT on the front end. But oh, what a game! Certainly not in terms of execution as both teams were sloppy (the Lakers turned the ball over on 20.5% of their possessions, as did Denver) but it was entertaining at the end nonetheless.

One of my first thoughts of the end of the game, both regulation and overtime, is how much this reminded me of Phil Jackson’s previous teams. Those teams were always killers at the end — yes they had MJ to take those crucial shots in Chicago (and Kobe in LA), but it was always a team thing with key stops and clutch shooting. Kerr hit some. Paxson hit some. Pippen hit some. If you left the door open just a crack they were going to bust through it. Denver left the door open just a crack and the Lakers acted like winners.

A few other quick thoughts from Denver before the focus shifts to Phoenix:

• That Kobe guy is pretty good. We should keep him on the roster.

• Great debut from Smush Parker, especially on offense. Early in the game Denver didn’t rotate out to him quickly, they dared him to shoot from the outside. He responds by shooting 79% (eFG%) on the night and scoring 20. He gets a dunk over Miller (a move I bet he picked up at the cage) that ended up all over ESPN highlights. He struggled some defensively, but Andre Miller and Earl Boykins give a lot of guys trouble. Bottom line, he played 40.5 minutes and was +9.

• Devean George was also +9 for the night and had some tough minutes trying to guard Carmelo as Jackson tried to send Chris Mihm a message. George did a good job pestering ‘Melo. (By the way, all four of Mihm’s five fouls were on the offensive end.) We’ve all got concerns about the Laker bench but if George can continue to play like that it will be a big boost.

• The triangle was in about third gear most of the night and often players were breaking out of it for isolation. Odom does not look comfortable running it yet.

• What’s bugging me about Kwame Brown is his instincts don’t appear to be very aggressive. He pulled down three offensive boards but each time (as I recall), rather than go right back up he looked to kick out. When he is aggressive to the basket, whether on rebounds or in the offense, he is effective, he just needs to do that consistently. To his credit, when he missed the game winner in OT he hustled and got his own rebound, then found Kobe. One game’s worth of +/- doesn’t mean much, so take it with a lot of salt, but he was last on the team (-11), while Chris Mihm was first (+11).

• Good to see Andrew Bynum get in the game, and he acquitted himself fairly well. He made some nice defensive and rebounding plays, and he learned that Kenyon Martin has hops.

One thing that was very weak for the Lakers last night was transition defense, which they had better fix tonight against Phoenix if they want to be close enough for last-second heroics.

With Amare out Steve Nash appears to be taking on more off the offense (good news for you Nash fantasy owners), taking 25 shots against the Mavericks and having 9 assists. Backing up Nash is Leandro Barbosa, who struggled so much running the point last season that when Nash was down everyone would say, “look how bad they are without Nash.” I’m not sure a guy should get the MVP because his backup sucks, but that’s a debate for another day. It should be noted, however, that Barbosa is 23 and has the potential to be better — he had eight points in 17 minutes and led the Suns with a +/- of +11 against Dallas.

Shawn Marrion had great season last year — he can run floor and hit threes, and while at it grabbed 11.6 rebounds per 40. However, with Amare out Marrion may spend more time at the three than the four (where nobody could match his quickness) and that may hurt his productivity.

Just like last season, Phoenix’s starting five is very good, but the bench is suspect — in a double-overtime game only Jim Jackson and Boris Diaw saw significant minutes.

The Lakers need to control the tempo tonight, not let Phoenix turn the game into a track meet because the Lakers have just run an event (last night). How good is Phoenix without its real MVP? Good question, but they won’t be a gimme and the Lakers need to move on from last night’s win quickly. No matter how much fun it was.