PHOENIX — The past must be an awfully scary place. After all it seems just about everyone these days — from political candidates to the Suns’ front office — is ready to move...

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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.

The Dragon:

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.

Quotables:

Alvin Gentry:

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.


Michael Beasley:

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.

Goran Dragic:

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.


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Martin Knezevic ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) provides his insight on the Suns and their competition in the West this season. He previously reviewed the Suns open scrimmage in early October for Bright Side, and has written articles on the NBA for years.

By: Martin Knezevic, BlogNBasketball.com

How do the Suns stack up out West?

{Warning: the words "Steve" & "Nash" will not be used in the following article}

The Phoenix Suns, for lack of a better phrase, are a poor man's Denver Nuggets. As bad as that sounds, it's actually a compliment. Few teams want to face a roster that's 10-deep and a bench that's arguably as talented as the starters. That kind of squad can force opponents to play a complete game and puts a lot of pressure on opposing reserves. This particular Suns roster reminds me a lot of the Minnesota Timberwolves of a few years ago: a deep group that threw waves of versatile wing players at you, though lacking a true superstar (which eventually became Kevin Love).

In Phoenix, I think head coach Alvin Gentry should abandon the D'Antoni-style rotation and play ten guys evenly this season. He should throw them out there in shorter spurts and ask them to go 'all out'. Hopefully, that will also allow him to keep a shorter leash on the enigmatic Michael Beasley.

Here's what Gentry appears to have settled in on as a rotation and depth chart heading into the season:

PG: Goran Dragic, Sebastian Telfair, Kendall Marshall

SG: Jared Dudley, Shannon Brown, Diante Garrett

SF: Michael Beasley, Wesley Johnson, P.J. Tucker

PF: Luis Scola, Markieff Morris

C: Marcin Gortat Jermaine O'neal, Luke Zeller (Channing Frye - out for season)

The first question you're probably asking yourself is, who leads this team in scoring? If you go by talent, it's undoubtedly 'Beez'. But we all know that it takes more than just talent to be a featured player over 82-games. This takes consistency and the discipline just ain't there for Michael. Goran Dragic will have the ball in his hands a lot this season. If he breaks the playbook and goes solo off of those pick n' rolls, he'll easily average 20. But will that translate into victories? Jared Dudley, meanwhile, has that leadership-vibe to him this year...and also a shiny new green light. He's worked on his playmaking skills and will be expected to do more than ever, offensively. But is that facet of his game good enough to consistently draw double-teams? Then there's the veteran Luis Scola, who would likely still be an MVP candidate in the Spanish League today. Gentry, however, doesn't appear to be featuring him in the post much. The Suns need to find a way to put opposing teams in the penalty and Scola's scoops in the lane would go a long way in that regard.

Heading into the regular season, you ideally want to look at how a team stacks up in their division before looking at the overall playoff picture. In the case of the 2012-13 Phoenix Suns, how the Pacific Division pans out will likely determine playoff hopes out in the desert.

The first thing Suns fans need to accept is that the division goes through Los Angeles these days. It's not personal, it's just the yin & yang of the league. Phoenix was on top for a handful of years, now it's L.A.'s turn. The Lakers and Clippers will undoubtedly be the top two teams in the Pac Div this season. The talent (LAL) and depth (LAC) is just too much over an 82-game season to bet against. Of course, you still go out and play the games and I'm sure the Suns will 'bring it' in those two matchups. But a team must set realistic, attainable goals first before striving for the top of the mountain. The goal for Phoenix should be to finish 3rd in the Pacific behind those Staples Center squads. Beating Golden State and Sacramento head-to-head should be an emphasis this year.

The Suns are in year one of a rebuild while the Kings & Warriors are already a couple of years decade into theirs. This doesn't bode well for Alvin Gentry's crew. But, if you dig a bit deeper, there are a lot of positives for Phoenix fans.

It's all about the letter "H" when discussing the bottom half of the Pacific Division.

For the Suns it's all about hunger. If this squad plays hungry every day, as a group and as individuals (battling in practice), they can have an edge here against their division rivals. The Suns have guys on their bench that can not only push the starters but even possibly replace them. Two guys in particular, Wesley Johnson and Markieff Morris, have the physical gifts to be stars in this league...they just need to lose the 'Joe Cool' act. The sooner they realize they have All-Star ability the faster the Suns will get to being playoff contenders.

The Warriors have an "H" word of their own to worry about...health. On paper, they have a great foundation. Few teams these days have All-Star talent at both PG & C. But with Stephen Curry's ankle and Andrew Bogut's...well...all of the above, the jury is still out on Golden State. Regardless of if Curry or Bogut are healthy, the constant this season will likely be young SG Klay Thompson. Versus Golden State, Phoenix must make him work on the defensive end in order to limit his energy for running off screens all night. Jared, Shannon, and Wesley need to be aggressive when they have the ball in their hands. Thompson is hardly a physical specimen on that end of the court. The Suns host Golden State in their home opener, on Halloween night. They don't play again till February, travelling to Oakland on the 2nd & 20th of the month. The fourth and final matchup will be at home on April 5th. It'll be a huge game if the Suns stay hungry all year and the Warriors stay healthy (a big "if").

Meanwhile, the Kings' concern this year is their heads. The team's best player, DeMarcus Cousins, has a little bit of Beasley in him...and not in a good way. He's a born leader but has yet to learn how to actually be one. He could as easily lead that young team into the cellar as he could the penthouse. I like how Marcin matches up against Cousins, head-to-head. Gortat plays hard on every possession and doesn't really get caught up in the officiating or the emotions of the game. He's the type of player that can drive DeMarcus nuts over the course of a game and get him to lose his cool (not a difficult trick). You also have to wonder what's going on in the head of Tyreke Evans this year, as the Kings have basically said they aren't committing to him long-term. The Suns' first game vs. Sacramento isn't until December 17th at home. The next matchup is January 23rd in Sactown. The final two contests are in March, on the 8th (road) & 28th (home)...the latter being the second of a back-to-back. All these games are pretty well spread out, a rarity between division foes. The Suns should try and give a new meaning to the cliche "one game at a time" in their 2012-13 season series against Sacramento.

It'll be a big week in late March, when the Suns travel to Sacramento on the 28th and then host Golden State just 7 days later. They'll need to play well in both of those games for the final week to even matter (finishing the season against Minnesota, Houston, & Denver).

The Suns also have to worry about the Utah Jazz this year if they have plans on getting that 8th spot. Unless Utah has a wave of injuries early and decides to let the young guys play, the combo of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap again be tough to stop down the stretch next season. The Suns' final meeting against Utah is a road game on March 27th, after three days off. If Marcin and Luis don't come to play for the Suns, the team could struggle mightily.

The Suns mirror the Atlanta Hawks out East. They're a team who let their franchise player move-on this past summer and now have a lot of equally-talented perimeter guys. Again, if Gortat and Scola get even close to resembling Josh Smith & Al Horford, Phoenix will be in great shape this season.

In the end, for the Suns to have a breakout season and make the playoffs, they'll need 2 or 3 guys to have career years. I think the likeliest one is lead-guard Goran Dragic. It's his show to run now in Phoenix. He has the talent and the experience to get it done. But the jury is still out on the rest of the roster. I predict that Alvin Gentry won't stay long with Beasley in the starting lineup. As talented as 'Beez' is, this team needs consistency. Michael would be better as a sixth man gunner than a featured player in the starting lineup. It's also a role that I think he can embrace quite naturally. I expect Wesley Johnson to be starting alongside Dudley before December hits. I also think Morris will emerge as a player the team will build around in the future. Whether he replaces Scola at PF or just plays the bulk of the minutes on the frontline, Markieff could be that guy by next Spring.

The 2012-13 season can go a lot of different ways for the Phoenix Suns. If they're healthy and hungry, that 8th spot out West is very attainable....if they're hurt and play half-hearted, it's back to the lottery.

Some think another lottery pick may be a good thing.

I think Phoenix has enough young talent.....they just have to grow it right.

Poll
How do you see the Suns finishing in the Pacific?

  106 votes | Results


The Phoenix Suns closed out the preseason with a low-scoring (88-72) win over the Denver Nuggets. The Suns end the preseason with a 4-3 record. Postgame video provided by Valley of the Suns.


PHOENIX — Michael Beasley still looks at him like he’s crazy when he says it, but tonight provided ample evidence as to why Alvin Gentry wants Beasley to take about 18-20 shots for every 30...

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