The Suns host the Mavs Thursday night in what used to be headlined as the Nash & Nowitzki Reunion Show.
Tonight's game looks more like the Shawn Marion Bowl...hardly the same effect.
Tonight, these two former powers in the Western Conference are playing in a super star's league without one of their own (Dirk Nowitzki is still out following knee surgery). I can only imagine how difficult it is for Alvin Gentry and Rick Carlisle find consistency without a marquee name in the lineup.
In Phoenix's heartbreak loss at Memphis Tuesday night, there was one play in the 2nd quarter that spoke volumes. Markieff Morris was smothered on a turnaround shot in the post. As he looked to the referee in shock, P.J. Tucker got the rebound and put up a shot of his own. Tucker, too thought he got mauled inside. While the Griz quickly headed downcourt following two misses, Markieff and P.J. were both still beside themselves in the backcourt looking at the refs. That pretty much sums up the task of trying to win in the NBA without a super star player.
Nash and Nowitzki used to do more than lead their teams to victory, their mere presence allowed role players to get All-Star respect. Even their supporting casts fed off of that referee respect.
This season, the Suns and Mavs are both in the bottom half in free throws attempted. They also give up more than they shoot, averaging in the bottom third. Phoenix has shot 390 free throws while their opponents have gotten 442. Dallas, meanwhile, have totaled 378 while giving up 475 (only one team gives up more).
Winning consistently in the NBA is hard enough without this 'charity discrepancy'. So, as the Suns host the Mavs in a nationally televised game, anticipate a very competitive contest.
But don't expect to hear "and one" very often.
The Phoenix Suns are coming off a disastrous road trip in each they dropped five of six games and now sit in 13th place in the Western Conference after only 19 games, primed for the number seven pick in the draft if the season ended today.
But the season does not end today. There are 63 games - more than 75% of the season - left to play. The Suns had the same record a year ago, even getting as bad as seven games under before rallying to a 33-30 record (a 26-18 run) and the edge of the playoffs before dropping their final three.
The year before, they started 15-21 before rallying to a high water mark of 33-30 (a 18-9 run) before fading to 40-42.
The year before that, they started hot-hot-hot at 14-3 before drooping to 26-21 (a 12-18 run) and then killing it over the last two months by finishing on an amazing 28-7 run and a third appearance in the Conference Finals.
The moral of this story is that just because the Suns have started 7-12 doesn't mean that Alvin Gentry won't be able to find the right mix and guide these guys to a very competitive season. Is that a playoff appearance? Probably not, but who knows.
Sure, Dave, but there's a big difference between this team and prior teams. You Know Who was running the point, and now he's gone!
I argue against that because historically Alvin Gentry has gotten more out of his team in the second half of each season, just when Nash would start winding down. I recall a Nash who struggled to shoot as the season wore on, and struggled to stay loose as each individual game wore on as well.
I would cringe if Nash had to be brought back in a tight game at any point in the fourth. You bring him back early - at the 9-minute mark or so - and he'd start well but become a non-factor beyond passing before the two-minute mark. You bring him back at the 6-minute mark or 4-minute mark and he'd come in cold, unable to loosen up enough to make a difference. I did not envy Alvin Gentry's job.
So to me, there's no reason to equate Steve Nash with late-season success any more than Alvin Gentry. And until I see otherwise, I will expect the team to improve (incrementally) each month of the season.
Even to pull a bit of Bright Side out of the 1-5 road trip, the Suns were within one score of winning or tying the game in the final seconds of three of those losses (two of which were against winning teams).
These guys are competitive, with only one really bad loss on the entire season so far. They have won 7 and come within a possession of winning 5 more. And this with no big-time scorer or go-to guy, and half the rotation not playing up to par yet.
Keep the faith, Suns fans. Don't give up hope.
Starting with Satisfaction Guaranteed Night on Thursday December 6 against the Dallas Mavericks, these Suns might just surprise you.
You (or at least I) always hate to blame the outcome of a game on a single play. After 47.5 minutes and like 90 different possessions which all count for the same amount on the scoreboard, it's a mistake to focus on a single attempt.
Let's focus on the Suns final attempt to win Tuesday's game in Memphis...and ignore the inability to defend Zach Randolph, the coaching decision not to double-team Z-bo, the inability to rebound (-18), and the lack of talent.
Before we get into the play itself, remind yourself that the Suns don't have a LeBron James (who failed in crunch time to beat the Wizards last night) or a Kobe Bryant (who's team got beat in the fourth quarter by Craig Smith and Toney Douglas).
In other words, winning on the final possession is always a crap shoot (horse dead and beaten) and for the Suns with this roster, the odds are never going to favorable.
Here's the play. When you watch it a few dozen times, it's pretty clear that getting O'Neal the ball for a fadeaway over Gasol wasn't the plan...at least we can hope it wasn't.
You can see here the Suns appear to be setting up for a high screen and roll but with a double screen using the combined beef of Jermaine O'Neal and Luis Scola to try and create some space for Goran to work.
On the execution front, the bigs probably set up for the double screen too soon which made the play too easy to read.
Mike Conley, a good defender who's 4th in the league in steals, reads the play (it wasn't exactly rocket science to see what's coming here) and hedges over to deny Dragic the opportunity to use the screens.
At this point, the play is now broken and we are in improv mode.
Goran takes the path open to him and drives down the sideline which forces Darrell Arthur to help off Scola and deny Dragic a path to the rim.
O' Neal reads the play and being the unguarded dude, breaks towards the rim.
Marc Gasol is forced to switch on to O'Neal and retreat down the lane. Scola, you can see below, sets up to rescreen Conley but Mike is quicker than Goran and cuts off that angle brilliantly and forces Dragic back.
By this point, Scola has flared off and pulled his man (Arthur) with him b/c he's still a threat to shoot and can't be ignored. Goran has Conley isolated but instead of trying to beat him, delivers the ball to O'Neal in the post with about four seconds on the clock.
At this point, J.O. is matched up with a big, strong and very good defender and has no real option other than the prayer he threw up.
One thing that jumps out when you watch all that was just described is how badly Dragic got stuffed by Conley. We have to give Mike credit, but you also would hope Goran would have found a way to be more aggressive and made something else happen.
You can just imagine the voice in his head saying "DONT TURN THE BALL OVER" and knowing Conley's reputation as a thief being afraid to try anything too fancy.
Maybe after more experience in these kinds of situations he'll learn what he can and can't do or simply have the confidence to try and do what he is able to but in this case, didn't attempt. Or maybe, this is just his ceiling.
Before dumping all the blame on Goran, let's also take our eyes off the action near the ball and look at the weak side where Dudley and Beasley were about as helpful as you and I on the play.
When you go back and watch the action on the far side, what stands out is Dudley doing nothing. Beasley, when he sees Goran get denied the chance to use the screens and start moving baseline, at least takes a few steps and looks like might have wanted to screen Dudley's man.
Dudley, however, doesn't move an inch and Beasley gives up on the screen (if he ever really intended to set one).
In an alternate universe, Beasley sets a hard screen on Dudley's man and Jared flares to the open spot at the top of the key where he potentially could have received the pass from Goran and got off a better shot.
Or maybe, Beasley's man switches on to Dudley and denies that but then Beasley is able to cut baseline and get open for a quick pass from O'Neal.
Or maybe none of that works, but regardless, have some weak side action that at least opens the door to a different outcome once Goran is stuffed twice by Conley and denied the opportunity to run off those screens.
Have a nice day.