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Record: 8-7

Place In Standings: Third

Points Per Game: 83.9

Points Against: 85.8

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This season has been much like a game of basketball. It has had runs that go both ways as the Phoenix Mercury are struggling with consistency, hence their near .500 record. They started the season 0-3 before rattling off eight wins in nine games that has led into this current three game losing streak.

Injuries have played a part in the teams inconsistency as rookie Brittney Griner has been on-and-off the mend with minute restrictions, missed games, and struggling to stay on the court.

IT IS NOT MY CALL. IT IS NOT MY CALL... I WOULD LOVE FOR HER TO PLAY. -Coach Gaines on Griner's status

Add to that Penny Taylor coming back from injury and Candice Dupree having one game where she was suspended and this team has yet to get everyone on the court at the same time.

"If you are not healthy you are not winning any Championships," Diana Taurasi on the teams recent injuries. "We have to get healthy and go from there"

Getting the entire band back together has been a struggle the past few seasons with injuries and other short-comings. That will be the key to the team finding consistency because depending on the day of the week there is a different line-up, minute restrictions, or miscellaneous issues that limit the team as a whole. So far Taurasi and DeWanna Bonner have been the only constants this season, but that is not enough with the great teams around the league.

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Team Defense

Those injuries have played a major part in the teams defense this season as they are a more secure fortress with Griner inside and have become an open flood guide without her. Teams are attacking the rim and scoring with ease inside that has become a reoccurring theme game-in-and-game-out.

The team is giving up 44.5% shooting on two point shots and 37.5% shooting on three-point shooting. Teams are attacking the Mercury at the heart of the defense.

"You can say you want to work harder, but when someone is 6-5 it doesn't matter how hard you work," Taurasi on missing team height and size. "We have to find a way to cover that up and we haven't done a good job of that."

So far this season the Mercury have given up 59.3% of their points inside the three-point arc either at the rim or extended to the mid-range. Compare that to the amount of points scored from three (20.2%) and from the free-throw line (20.3%) and it is clear where the issues lie for the team defense. Inside and at the heart. They are not defending the rim.

What is the team missing?

"Obviously BG's (Griner) size, she is 6-8 and is able to come over and help," said Dupree after the loss to the Sparks. "She is hard for opponents to just drive around and she takes up a lot of space, in a good way, and right now that is what we are missing. In the past we have been without that and won games so we just have to get get back to that."

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...Speaking of that Defense

This season the Mercury are the last defensive points per game, a basement they are used to being in, and at the same time they are the second highest scoring team in the league. Those two facts were similar if not the same in 2007 and 2009 for Championships. There is a different feeling with this team though as they used to out score opponents in the past while this year the team is trying to score more that their opponents.

Over the past five years defense has ruled the WNBA Finals. In 2012 the Indiana Fever (72.3 points allowed, 2nd in the league) won the Championship behind great defense. The same thing happened in 2011 with the Minnesota Lynx (73.6, 2nd), in 2010 the Seattle Storm (73.8, 2nd), and in 2008 the Detroit Shock (74.1, 4th) all won the title behind defense.

Only the one team won a Championship without a Top 4 defense -- the 2009 Mercury with the worst defense in the league.

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Upcoming Schedule:

Wednesday @ Los Angeles Sparks at 7pm AZ Time

Sunday vs. Minnesota Lynx at 3:00pm AZ Time

20130713_153243

New Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough and head coach Jeff Hornacek have their first official (unofficial) game under their belts. The Suns 82-69 paddling of the Portland Trail Blazers has the tandem sporting an undefeated career record.

Obviously these games on the UNLV campus don't propitiate similar regular season success. The results may not even translate from one game to the next. Last night's game, though, did seem to be indicative of a fresh approach to the game and positive aura projecting from the team from the top to the bottom.

Goodwin stole the show, though, with about as impressive of a debut as anyone could have possibly hoped for.

After the game Suns owner Robert Sarver stood with McDonough and Hornacek outside the locker room exchanging quick smiles. Precocious rookie Archie Goodwin was the topic of whispered discussion. It was a cacophony of whispers over a rookie with unique talents that can't be taught. For one game, the attention was deserving.

This didn't feel like the funereal atmosphere that blanketed US Airways Center much of last season. First of all, McDonough took time to talk one-on-one with media members in a tunnel under the bleachers. Second, Hornacek was amiable and easy-going. Third, Sarver was smiling and looked excited.

The result of the game didn't hurt. After struggling in the first half, the Suns used a 28 point third quarter to seize the momentum in the game and coast to a win.

"We want to push the ball," said Hornacek. "We want our point guards to get the ball on the outlet pass and take off with it. Put some pressure on the defense and get everybody back in the lane and if we have shooters kick it back out."

The Suns were able to implement that strategy successfully in the second half thanks to defensive adjustments and increased intensity. One player's performance which was very reflective of the overall flow of the game was Archie Goodwin, who scored 13 points in his professional debut.

"As an 18 year old rookie I think the game was moving a little fast for him in the first half. I thought it slowed down as the game went on," critiqued McDonough. "He played pretty effectively in the second half. Our coaches did a good job with the halftime adjustments because McCollum was killing us in the first half."

C.J. McCollum had in fact scored 15 points for Portland in the first half and was the main reason the Blazers led by three going into halftime against a Suns team that was having difficulty scraping together buckets. Things weren't quite as easy for McCollum after the intermission.

"They used doubles to try to get the ball out of his hands and make other guys beat us," said McDonough. "I was really impressed with the defensive effort and energy, not just of Archie, but of Arinze Onuaku and our group as a whole."

Onuaku, who pulled down a game high 11 rebounds to go along with seven points, caught the attention of coach Hornacek as well.

"We saw it in practice (Onuaku's intensity). A couple of the guys said they got hit in the chest by him," said Jeff. "He's a big strong kid and he did a nice job for us getting those boards."

The game wasn't just about the new kids, though. "Veterans" Markieff and Marcus Morris also worked through their first half malaise and joined in the second half resurgence. The Suns new coach felt that it was just a matter of letting the game come to them and playing in rhythm.

"When you try to force something yourself it usually doesn't turn out well. In the second half they did a great job of rolling to the open spot and guys hit them with passes and they knocked down shots," said Hornacek.

Goodwin stole the show, though, with about as impressive of a debut as anyone could have possibly hoped for. At times he looked overmatched against the Blazers C.J. McCollum, but let's not forget that C.J. is three years older than Archie and was just drafted #10 overall in the lottery. Let's also not forget that Goodwin held his own in the second half, showing all of us hints at what McDonough saw in him going into the draft.

"Archie didn't shoot the ball very well (in college), that's an area he absolutely has to improve on, but he really knows how to get in the paint," commented McDonough. "He knows how to break down defenses and get to the basket."

This was clearly evident in the game. Goodwin attempted a game high six free throws, making four, while displaying a mesmerizing combination of quickness and fluidity. Maybe graceful would be a fitting adjective? Coming into this job many had emphasized McDonough's analytical background in his scouting process. His first three major additions, Alex Len, Eric Bledsoe and Goodwin, however, are not guys that analytics really love.

"Analytics are important, but I think also that the projection of upside and potential is important," explained Ryan. "You have to factor in the analytics along with what your eyes and traditional scouting tell you."

The Summer League not only serves as a chance to get roster players game experience, but is also a proving ground for athletes trying to carve out a niche for themselves by making a team. The Suns already have 15 players under contract, but that doesn't necessarily preclude the chance of someone from the Summer League team sticking.

"You can bring up to 20 guys to camp. I don't know that we'll bring that many, but we'll probably bring more than 15," said McDonough. "As Jeff and I told these guys when we got hired here it's an open competition. Whoever the best players are will be the ones that play."

Three guys that I will be keeping an eye on for the remainder of the Summer League slate are Phoenix's second round pick Alex Oriakhi, Arinze Onuaku and... Dwayne Collins, who was selected by the Suns with the 60th pick in the 2010 draft. Collins wasn't even listed on the Suns Summer League roster in their media publication. I didn't even realize it was Collins until after he threw down a put-back dunk. Collins donned the #60 on his jersey.

"Dwayne Collins had a knee injury that was pretty bad and took him a few years to recover from. We got a call from his agent a few months ago who said Dwayne is doing better and would like to come in and work out," said McDonough. "He's been working with our coaches on the floor. He's been working with our strength and conditioning coach and our trainers. He's finally getting to where his body and knee feels good. When he's healthy he's pretty explosive around the basket. He's just getting back into game shape now, but physically there's a lot of stuff to work with."

Oriakhi, Onuaku and Collins could be competing for one roster spot. It would be hard to imagine the Suns keeping more than one of them since they duplicate each other's skill sets. With no assurances that the set of bigs currently on the roster will be intact on opening night it leads me to believe there is at least a possible opening here.

Despite the levity surrounding a Summer League romp, it is just that.. a Summer League romp. These proceedings need to be put in perspective. That being said, it just felt different to me than the last time I was around the team in this type of setting.

Many of us (Jim raises hand) at least somewhat bought into the false hope that the organization was selling heading into last season. Maybe this season the team will just let the results speak for themselves instead of making lofty, unrealistic propositions. Not to say the results will be lots of wins (because they won't), but a plan to build around a young core looking to the future would be refreshing.

It's been difficult to watch the Suns these past three seasons because there didn't seem to be a clear strategy. There wasn't something concrete to point to as the foundation for a new successful era. Last season was especially painful. It's one thing to watch young kids with potential take their lumps as they grow as players. It's a completely different, and unsavory, scenario to watch veterans who have already hit their ceiling get pummeled on a nightly basis. Last season the savage beatings piled up like circling vultures around a purple and orange carcass.

It didn't feel like I was watching a dying team last night. It felt like I was watching a growing team.

More from Bright Side Of The Sun:

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NBA Basketball is back! Well, sort of. The 2013 Las Vegas Summer League is underway and will continue through July 22nd. The Suns played their first game yesterday (check out the recap here) and will play again on Monday and Tuesday. After that, the seeds will be set and tournament play will begin on Wednesday and run through the following Monday. Check out the complete Summer League Schedule here. We'll have plenty of Suns Summer League coverage throughout this week here on Bright Side of the Sun.

Meanwhile, NBA free agency will also be continuing. Although almost all of the big-name free agents have signed with teams already, there are several lower tier guys still being pursued by various teams - players such as Nate Robinson, Tyler Hansbrough, and Leandro Barbosa. The fates of a few RFAs such as Brandon Jennings and Nikola Peckovic are also yet to be decided.

Discuss any and all NBA news, rumors, and thoughts (Summer League, Free Agency, etc.) on this thread throughout the week. Let's go Suns!

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Oh, how the mighty have fallen. I'm not talking merely about the Lakers, who recently lost Dwight Howard to Houston and were last seen signing the likes of Chris Kaman, Nick Young, Jordan Farmar, and of course, Wes Johnson. I'm also talking about Wes himself, who was a #4 overall draft pick just THREE years ago and can now fetch only a one year minimum deal for $1 million.

Lakers agreed to terms with SG Wesley Johnson...1-yr deal for vet's min of $1 mill. Was 4th pick in 2010 draft, played last season for PHX.

— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) July 14, 2013

In all fairness, this is actually a good deal for the Lakers, as long as their expectations of Johnson are tempered to the relative range of the salary he will be making (tempered expectations - a reasonable thing to ask of Lakers fans, no?). Having signed Nick Young, they can expect Johnson to play a few minutes at the backup 2 and 3 spots per game, along with several DNPs (especially as long as Mike D'Antoni's their coach).

The Lakers are severely restricted in terms of financial flexibility so the deals they're making are great for them in a fiscal sense, although I'm really unsure of the final product of all of their separate deals. Chris Kaman, Nick Young, and Wes Johnson came at extremely reasonable prices, but they all have serious flaws that will continue to be exposed (and scrutinized to a greater extent in LA than with their past teams), especially in D'Antoni's system. Regardless, $1 million is a great price for Wes Johnson.

So let's go ahead and let Lakers fans enjoy this moment. Let's let them drool over Wesley's age (25), the high draft pick (4) with which he was chosen, as well as his prototypical NBA body and picturesque shooting form. Let's let them discuss his immense "talent" over the next few months so they ponder how it's even possible for a guy like him to be an unsuccessful NBA player. Most of all, let's let them enjoy the brightness of his amazing smile. Really, the guy literally has a million dollar smile - he'll be making exactly $1 million in LA.

In any case, I wish Wes the best of luck (for himself, not his new team). Even though he was a mere stopgap option for a 25 win team that was only acquired in order to receive a future draft pick, he was by all accounts a great teammate and never once complained when he was buried at the end of the bench for the first half of last season. He even relished his increased playing time during the second half of the year and really showed...something.

Suns fans can at least remember him for providing the best highlight of the team's 2012-13 season:


Phoenix Suns free agent Wesley Johnson has agreed to a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers where he’ll receive the veteran’s minimum worth around $1 million, according to the Los...

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