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How is it that the Suns keep digging these holes, time after time? For the 16th time in only 20 games, the Suns found themselves in a double-digit deficit.

"It's always the same story," Goran Dragic said after the game.

How does this happen? How does a team good enough to fight back from 15-points down play poorly enough to put themselves in that situation almost every single time?

Head coach Alvin Gentry doesn't have the answer. "I don't know. If I had the answer it would never happen again."

Gentry's first answer was to change the starting lineup three weeks ago, by benching his veterans and most-professional personalities Luis Scola and Jared Dudley in favor of Markieff Morris and Shannon Brown. That did not work. The Suns are still creating big holes with their starting unit.

When asked about the rough patches that keep happening whether he's playing with the other starters or not, Scola replied, "I don't know. It's been happening quite often. I can't say I'm surprised."

Scola has been saying this since game two of the season. Every post game, saying the Suns cannot be successful pulling back out of those deficits.

"We are going to lose the majority of the games we put ourselves in that situation," he said last night, quite possibly by only moving his mouth while playing back a recording from a prior postgame interview.

And for the 12th time in those 16, they couldn't climb back out. Yet when you watch the team in those ruts, you don't see panic or anger or frustration. You see a team just waiting until the tide turns. Sometimes, the same unit eventually turns the tide. Sometimes, its only after massive substitutions.

Asked if the team, collectively, feels they can come back from any deficit, Scola responded, "I don't think nobody thinks that way, but we're definitely playing that way."

Despite benching Scola and Dudley, nothing has changed. The urgency is still missing from a starting unit that continues to allow big deficits. And the second unit is still the sparkplug that restarts a sputtering engine. So, those two were not the problem.

Are Markieff Morris and/or Shannon Brown the problem? Nope. These guys were part of that uber-effective second unit and have provided energy on the starting unit since being elevated. And neither is a go-to player that can make or break momentum.

Nay, that's up to the starting point guard (Goran Dragic), small forward (Michael Beasley) and center (Marcin Gortat).

Arguably, the three most talented players on the team are the very players that have participated in all 16 double-digit deficits in their first 20 games of playing together.

With Alvin Gentry promising yet another starting-lineup change (otherwise known as a "shell game"), let's take a closer look at the three candidates for benching.

Goran Dragic

We all love Gogi's effort and his basketball skills. No one this team can get their own shot like Dragic can, and no one can create shots for others like he can. But that doesn't make him a #1 option. Goran has never run a team full-time from the starting gate, and he is going through a painful learning curve.

"We are still a work in progress," Gentry replied, when asked about Dragic's command of the team. "He's trying hard to do everything we ask him to do. He has good moments and he struggles some, but so does everybody else."

I don't believe it's a confidence thing with Goran anymore. The problem now seems to be experience, and learning how to make his own job easier by getting the other guys engaged. When asked about the team's struggles and overall lack of energy at certain times, Dragic clearly takes on the responsibility to put the team on his shoulders and carry them.

"They get the lead by 15 points," he said, regarding these games, "We battle back to the game but in the end we don't have enough strength to finish those games."

'Energy' came up several times in the short interview. You can tell that Goran is trying to facilitate first, rather than hog the ball. He runs the offense, makes nice passes and hopes the team will make their jumpers and layups. Deficits happen when those guys miss those shots, over and over and way too often. Clanking bunny after clanking bunny.

And you can tell when Goran decides it's time to take over. He fights for steals and fast-break layups. He puts his head down and drives to the basket, rather than passing the ball to an open man who's been missing all night. Throwing up dagger threes.

But he can't put out this much effort for too long a period of time.

"When you're down so many points and you're battling," he said. "Your energy is going away and you don't have enough to finish. We missed a lot of layups."

He was referring to the team's energy after a big comeback, but he was also talking about himself. Earlier this season, he said he was close to vomiting right there on the court after one of his furious offense/defense firestorms.

"I felt great," he said about the start of the game. "But then when you're trying to come back the energy goes away really quick."

He said his legs were tired in those last few minutes, but that it was no excuse. It was his job to make that layup after creating the open shot for himself. He just missed it.

Do you bench Dragic or play him fewer minutes? No. He's got to learn, no matter how painful it is. And he's got to figure out how to control a game without becoming the whirling dervish.

Dragic is a starter from here on out.

That brings us down to two guys - and these happen to be the two guys with the worst plus/minus on the team and the two guys who have regressed the most from last season.

Marcin Gortat

I shake my head at this guy. He pays a lot of lip service but does not deliver. Coming into the season, he wanted to be a go-to guy on offense. His boasts quickly turned into complaints and sulking.

He wanted to add more offense to his game, but for some reason he left his defense and rebounding in Poland. When he mentioned frustration over being asked to always do the dirty work, I did not realize that meant he would sulk and refuse to said dirty work unless he got all the touches he wanted.

Gortat refused to speak to the media after the last two home games, not coincidentally games he was benched in favor of Jermaine O'Neal and Markieff Morris.

Even last night, after O'Neal got hurt (eye poke), Gortat did not finish out the game. Instead, Gentry played Morris and Scola together. Morris had nine rebounds in the first quarter alone, and 17 for the game to go along with 15 points that included a crowd-raising three from the top of the key during their late rally to tie. Scola hustled to provide 13 points and 9 rebounds of his own.

"Those guys (Morris and Scola) were going good," Gentry said. "High energy. They did a better job, and that's why they played."

While Scola and Morris played well, Gortat once again did not. He made only 1 of 8 shots (nearly all of them at the rim) and pulled down six defensive rebounds (no offensive) in just under 26 minutes of playing time. Gortat hardly played during the comeback.

Dude, if you want to get more touches, then work your butt off like the rest of your teammates! And if you want to be traded, work your butt off to show the rest of the league you're worth acquiring!

Geez.

Will Gortat be benched on Saturday night against the Clippers? Probably not. Jermaine O'Neal left the game after only 10 minutes when he was poked in the eye. Who knows how much time O'Neal will miss, and without O'Neal there's no other real option at C than Gortat.

Michael Beasley

This is the easy one, on paper. If you asked a random observer and a lifelong team fan who still remembers Connie Hawkins and Kyle Macy's career stats, both would say that Beasley is the most likely culprit that's sucking the life out of the starting unit.

After another failed game (9 points on 3-12 shooting to go with 0 rebounds in 21 minutes), Beasley knew it as well as the rest of us. He just isn't living up to anyone's expectations, including his own.

"Of course I'm frustrated," he said last night (notably, ALWAYS willing to talk and be candid to the media despite his struggles).

The next words out of his mouth were heartbreaking to hear, but nothing compared to what Beasley must have been feeling when he said it.

"I visualize myself as...as something...I'm not, I guess," he said quietly. "Not to say I can't be, but as of right now I'm just not playing as well as I want to play, as well as the team needs. I'm frustrated."

I'll say again that Beasley has always been genuine and willing to be hard on himself. My guess is that he's too much in his own head right now. He can't trust his own instincts because they are generally wrong. He realizes that smart basketball players make better plays than he attempts to make. Yet, he doesn't know any other way so he's going through steps. Like a person learning new dance moves. It takes time to make them instinctive.

The writing is on the wall. In ink.

"More than likely," Gentry said when asked about Beasley moving to the bench. "Could possibly be. We just need more production out of that spot."

Final Prediction

Leave Dragic and Gortat alone because there's no better option on the team.

Leave Morris in the starting lineup, with Scola sharing minutes. "Markieff doing a good job," Gentry said, brushing off any notion of changes at PF. "I don't think Scolas minutes are affected very much coming off the bench. I think he's becoming very acceptant of the role that we're giving him and the minutes are there and he's going to play."

That leaves us with one change, and one change only: Bench Beasley in favor of Jared Dudley.

Dudley started at small forward last spring along with Shannon Brown and Marcin Gortat. He fit in well next to the athletic Brown as the guy who would roam the perimeter and drop dagger threes. It's good smart-guy pairing with the athletic, attacking Brown.

Dudley's shot has returned in a big way, just as many predicted it would. He's now shooting his career norms and would seem a good fit on the starting unit.

The remaining question is what to do with Beasley now?

Certainly, you start out by giving him normal backup minutes, especially with P.J. Tucker sidelined with a sprained MCL. The Suns won't want to completely write off Beasley at the moment. They will want to see how he responds to a bench role.

With Tucker likely out in the near term, maybe Diante Garrett gets some shooting guard minutes. Or maybe Dudley and Brown play more than their usual number of minutes.

Either way, I think the Suns are marginally better off with Dudley for Beasley.

But it's still just shifting the deck chairs.

Poll
What should the Suns do?

  294 votes | Results

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One of the lasting impressions from the Mavericks game, other than Craig Sager following the Suns dancers around all night, was Michael Beasley playfully racing one of the ushers back to the locker room after pregame warm-ups.

The problem is, it was the most effort 'Beez' showed all night.

After trading San Diego-related barbs with Jared Dudley and Serbian jokes with Coach Igor [Kokoskov], I made it to my seat on press row. John Gambadoro was my seating partner who, as you know, is hardly a fan of Michael Beasley's. He quickly predicted that Michael would be benched by the Suns' next game.

Whether it's the 4 minutes he played in the second half or the quiet pow-wow Gambo had with Alvin Gentry after the game, something tells me he's right. When pushed on the topic postgame, Gentry pretty much confirmed that a lineup change was coming. However, when asked if Beasley was hurting the team, coach said "I wouldn't go that far."

I did notice that Alvin gave Beasley dap every time he walked over to the bench. Maybe it's time coach use some tough love with Mr. Beasley. Overall, the southwestern matchup vs the Dallas Mavericks reminded me of an old western.

The Good

Luis Scola was the best Phoenix Sun out there. He did all of the little and big things. The problem is, Luis can't be the best player on an NBA team. There are just too many athletes and high-flyers...this ain't the Euroleague. Scola's high IQ and solid play is wasted by a bonehead play or two (see Michael Beasley). He's tailormade for a veteran team that's playoff-bound.

The Bad

Michael Beasley decided to go with a headband to start the second half.....maybe he shouldn't have. The Suns had a late start to the 3rd quarter, like 6 minutes late. It wasn't until Beasley and Brown went out for Tucker and Dudley that things started to get better. In the end, that 3rd quarter malaise was what cost the Suns the game.

The Ugly

Does Rick Carlisle owe Vince Carter money? Despite a hot O.J. Mayo on the outside and productive Brandan Wright on the inside, the Mavs' coach kept calling plays for VC down the stretch. The result was a nearly-blown game.

If not for the aforementioned Mayo hitting a huge step-through jumper to regain the lead, this one wreaked of overtime (which usually favors the home team). On the play in question, Vince actually looked over to Carlisle on the way downcourt. Rick held up a 5, which turned out to be a high pick n' roll for Collison. To be honest, it looked like coach was telling Carter to just go stand in the corner and not do anything. Either way, Dallas was able to get the momentum back and hold on for the win.

Equally ugly was the rash of 2nd half injuries...Jermaine O'neal poked his eye, Shawn Marion pulled his groin, and P.J. Tucker sprained his MCL. I have a bad feeling that P.J. won't be heard from this weekend.

Lastly

The Phoenix fans really disappointed me tonight. With the Suns down 5 and 4:36 left in the game, a lot of them headed for the exits. That may be acceptable at a Laker game, but not in the Valley of the Sun. Sure, their team sleepwalked in the 3rd quarter and then let Brandan Wright terrorize them inside late, but four minutes is like four hours in an NBA game. If the fans are giving up in December, what'll happen in March or April?

But then again, they probably just wanted to get their money back before the Suns made a run. Don't blame them, blame the economy.

*Follow me at www.Twitter.com/@NBAKnez

For more of my stuff, checkout www.BlogNBAsketball.com

Postgame video featuring Alvin Gentry, Markieff Morris and Luis Scola following the Suns Thursday night loss to the Dallas Mavericks.
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Suns fans, this one hurts. Read this report from the Arizona Republic's Paul Coro and tell me how much faith you have right now in the front office's ability to lead this team out of the basketball desert it's current stuck in. The details are many and shocking and kind of depressing.

azcentral.com staff blogs - Coro's Orange Slices blog - PaulCoro - O.J. Mayo haunts Suns in person

Mayo returned to US Airways Center on Thursday night for the first time since he came to Phoenix in July hoping to sign with the Suns. He left that meeting without a deal after being told he would not start and that he was not the caliber of Eric Gordon. Mayo would not acknowledge that his friends and background had been questioned in the meeting but members of his new team affirmed that the questioning struck him strangely.

A couple of points that jump out:

- The Suns didn't trust Mayo's character and basically insulted him with their questioning. He's had a few public issues in Memphis including a fight with a teammate and a suspension for taking the wrong energy drink, but he's never struck me as a "problem child".

- The Suns were concerned about taking Mayo giving his potential "character issues" when they already had Beasley with his checkered past. There's an old saying about living with one bad apple, but you can't have two in the locker room. This is sound thinking, but you wonder about the Suns' ability to pick good fruit from bad.

- Mayo wanted to be a starter but the Suns told him that job was Jared Dudley's (although Gentry wasn't involved in the meetings and Dudley is now coming off the bench in favor of Brown).

- For the record, I had advocated for signing Beasley and still don't regret it. As poorly as he's played, it was a risk the Suns had to take. The sainted Daryl Morey talks about needing to gamble some times and Beasley was a good gamble. However, I don't agree with passing on Mayo just because you also had Michael.

Adding these sage words from Jim (via the comments below):

Just because we look atrociously incompetent right now doesn't mean that 20 games is the omega of the discussion.

At this point it appears the Suns may have made an egregious mistake in both talent evaluation and diplomacy, but it doesn't mean that a deviation in the current trajectory is impossible. There are always instances where situations that initially appear bleak reverse course and end up refulgent and resplendent.

Is Beasley woefully pathetic right now? Yes. Is Mayo playing like an all-star and making us look like fatuous buffoons? Yes. Do these 20 games absolutely define the remainder of these player's careers or their time with their current teams? No.

No reason to get defeatist and disconsolate or throw in the towel. Things aren't that bad. If you think we look stupid now, I would offer that we still have a chance to look much stupider in the coming days.


FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
2012 - O.J. Mayo 19 34.8 6.9 14.7 47.3 2.7 5.4 51.0 3.2 3.8 83.6 0.6 3.0 3.6 3.5 2.6 0.8 0.3 2.4 19.8


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On the NBA's first ever "Satisfaction Guaranteed" Night, where the Suns will refund the ticket price to anyone who was not satisfied, the Phoenix Suns fell to an equally-in-transition Dallas Maverick team looking for an identity.

The Phoenix Suns will give you your money back if you don't enjoy this game tonight. All you need to do is fill out something online and ask. That's it. Boom. Free NBA game, if that's what you're angling for.

Me, I'd rather enjoy a fun game and go home happy. So yeah, let's do this Suns! Gimme a fun game!

As I looked through the stats to preview Suns vs. Mavericks, I was shocked by the similarities between these teams. Dallas' big advantage is that they do have a star, but he's been sidelined all season. Without Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks and Suns are pretty much evenly matched.

Given evenly matched teams, the advantage goes to the home team. And lucky for Suns fans, for the first time in almost two weeks they are the home team.

Be happy the Suns are at home

Below average teams are terrible on the road. The Phoenix Suns are 5-3 at home, but only 2-9 on the road. Of the Suns five home wins, four of them were come-from-behind variety.

Dallas is 6-3 at home, but only 2-7 on the road. They just lost by 19 last night to the Clippers, a game that was never in doubt after the first quarter.

Don't get whiplash!

Both teams play really fast, likely a product of their lack of overall talent. Dallas is 4th in the league in pace at 94.2, while the Suns are 8th. Expect that ball to move quickly up and down the court.

Hope the Suns to score 100+ points

Both teams are good when they score 100 points - Dallas is 6-1 while the Suns are 5-3. But neither team wants the other to score 100 points, but their opponents almost always do it anyway - Dallas is 3-9 in those situations, while the Suns are 4-9.

But don't expect a pretty game

Neither team is very good at offense, but the Suns are slightly better. Dallas is 18th in offensive rating, while the Suns are 14th.

However, not surprisingly, the Mavericks are a little better on the defensive end - ranking 19th overall in defensive rating, while the Suns are a lowly 29th there.

Dallas can defend, but they can't pull down the rebound.

Especially from the starters

The three Suns who have been starters all season long - Michael Beasley, Marcin Gortat and Goran Dragic - have the team's worst +/- on the season (-7 and -5 and -3 per game, respectively). By far. The question is whether all three guys are really that bad, or whether one guy is bringing the others down. Buy contrast, the team's second unit is a net positive.

Just when you think that's bad, the Mavericks are led in net +/- by none other than Derek Fisher, who has only played a grand total of two games after getting signed last week off the street. The rest of the Mavericks +/- resembles the Suns' - their starters being the worst on the team, with Collison, Mayo and Marion at the bottom of their list.

Adventures in rebounding

When a shot clangs off the rim, adventure begins. Neither team is good at rebounding, but the Suns are much better than the Mavericks.

When the Suns miss: The Phoenix Suns are 15th in the NBA in offensive rebound % (the percent of the time that the Suns pull down their own misses, as compared to the rest of the league), while the Mavericks are a lowly 28th in defensive rebound %.

When Dallas misses: The Phoenix Suns are not bad on the defensive glass, ranking 20th in the NBA in defensive rebound %, while the Mavericks are once again woeful at 29th in offensive rebound %.

Did I mention these teams are not world-beaters?

The Phoenix Suns have not beaten a team that is currently over .500. Dallas has only done it once (Knicks - 114-111). If you look at it in terms of playing teams that were above .500 at the time they played, the Suns are 3-8 in that situation and Dallas is 4-6.

But let's not waste any more time on that stat, since neither team is over .500 in this game.

Battle of top offseason signings

Dallas' top offseason signing was O.J. Mayo, while Phoenix's was Goran Dragic. Mayo scores more, while Dragic passes more. Dragic has more "win shares" on the season (2.0 vs. 1.7), both leading their respective teams.

Both are down a bit after hot starts. Dragic is only averaging 15 and 6 lately, while Mayo's 3-point shooting has cooled off from a blistering start.

Battle of incumbent shooting guards to compliment the top offseason signing

Will Vince Carter go off on us, thanks to Scott Howard's fan club? Carter is the Mavericks best offensive weapon after O.J. Mayo, to the tune of 13.1 PPG (20 points/36 min) and 42% on three-pointers.

On the Suns side, Shannon Brown is doing okay this year but was more stat-filling and impactful off the bench.

We don't need no stinkin' third (or even second) option!

Neither teams boasts a great third option, even if you consider Carter/Brown as valid second options. Neither team has a second or third leading scorer getting more than 13 points per game.

Battle of the new point guards

Darren Collison was acquired to take over for Jason Kidd, but has not played well - only 11 and 6 in 31 minutes. For this reason, reason Derek Fisher was signed off the street last week.

"We need help at point guard," coach Rick Carlisle said in The Dallas Morning News after the team's loss in Chicago last week. "We feel [Fisher] can help us. It's not a cure-all to all of our team challenges, but his expertise and experience will help."

This, of course, was largely due to the suspect play of offseason pickup Darren Collison, who was benched last week after playing inconsistently on offense and poorly on defense throughout November. Replacing him with younger, less experienced players on the roster like Dominique Jones or Rodrigue Beaubois clearly wasn't the answer -- and it only took two straight losses for Dallas to come to that conclusion.

Battle of the Amnesty Claims

Elton Brand basically out of the rotation in favor of Troy "statue" Murphy, while fellow amnesty claim Luis Scola lost his to an inconsistent second-year player. Both began the season in the starting lineup, and now both come off the bench - an unfamiliar role. Brand has an injury history, so he's used to missing time. But he'd nearly always been a starter, just like Scola.

Battle of the Earth-Bound, Bald-Pated Centers

At center, you've got two similarly profiled guys - Chris Kaman vs. Marvin Marcin Gortat. Even their hair is the same this season. They both bring similarities on the court as well. They can rebound, block a few shots and act big around the basket. And they both produce about the same numbers, when it's all said and done.

Battle of the Underwhelming Small Forward Who Fits Best At Undersized Power Forward

Former Sun Shawn Marion faces off against uninspiring Michael Beasley. Marion is now 3,000 years old and showing it, while Michael Beasley only moves like he's that old. Both are their team's worst +/- player on the season.

Unlike other matchups, Suns fans probably wouldn't mind if this one goes Dallas' way.

And it's all about Satisfaction, right?

Hit these other links on the game, too

Mavericks vs Suns coverage

Mavs Moneyball

See the Future: Dallas at Phoenix, Game 19 - Mavs Moneyball
Right now, at this very moment, Dallas is horrible. Truly horrible. And they aren't going to magically improve over night. I don't really see how they improve at all. We're a quarter of the way through the season and they've not corrected any of the problems they've displayed over the past few weeks.

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