Everyday I'm hustlin'! (AP Photo/Paul Connors)

When Markieff Morris was picked at #13 overall in last June's draft, the collective moaning began. Conventional wisdom had him a worse player than several power forwards still on the board - including Kawhi Leonard, Kenneth Faried and twin brother Marcus - as well as rookie scoring revelations Iman Shumpert and Marshon Brooks.

But the moment Suns fans and coaches saw Markieff play his first NBA game, they realized they had a gem. Morris is a tough guy who hustles, rebounds, blocks shots AND can score from the post as well as hit 3-pointers with aplomb. He's got all the skills wrapped up in a Philly-raised package of toughness and moxie.

Morris' comment before the Laker game this month, thanks to Paul Coro:

"If they leave me open, I'm going to shoot it. If they're not watching tape, I'm just going to keep popping it and be an unexpected shooter."

But Markieff does have an achilles' heel. He is a starry-eyed rookie when it comes to current or former MVP candidates he's been watching his whole life. Some of his worst NBA games have come when he's matched up against Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and Kevin Garnett.

Here's Morris talking about playing these guys, to Paul Coro of the Republic and azcentral.com:

Question: Is it uncanny to you to be going against guys you watched on TV last year?

Answer: Yeah, but I'm still waiting on the Kobes and LeBrons. I was star-struck when I played against Dirk (Nowitzki). I was just like, "Man, I'm really here playing on the floor with these guys." I'm just happy to be part of the team.

Q: How much did you end up covering Nowitzki in the game?

A: Two possessions. I even fouled him. I was happy to foul him at least.

His line against the Mavericks: 2-4 shooting points (0-1 on threes), 5 rebounds, 4 fouls in 17 minutes

His line against the Lakers: 0-4 shooting (0-1 on threes), 3 rebounds on 15 minutes

His line against the Celtics: 0-3 shooting (0-1 on threes), 4 rebounds, 4 turnovers in 20 minutes

And even beyond these stat lines, Morris has looked as awestruck as he said he was. His shots were rushed, hitting off the back iron or even missing the hoop entirely.

His line against everyone else*: .50% shooting (51% on threes), 6 rebounds, 10 points in 22 minutes

*(includes a 1-minute stint against the Hornets in game 5. No idea what happened there...)


He did play well with Tim Duncan on the floor, and laid an egg against the likes of journeyman Kris Humphries, so his struggles are definitely not confined to superstar opponents.

Rookies have highs and lows. They don't yet know how to mentally prepare for the NBA schedule, and if you're not mentally prepared then your body and energy will fluctuate unexpectedly.

But for a guy who seems have it all figured out, and who seems to prove it on most nights by making hustle plays on one end (steals, blocks) followed by draining an open jump shot on the other end, he just seems to lose a bit of that luster when the opponent is someone he's been watching since he was a kid.

And now that he is a starter for the foreseeable future, he will be facing superstar power forwards on a regular basis. Let's hope he gets over those rookie, starstruck jitters fairly soon.


On a night of ugly basketball, the Suns were able to apply just enough lipstick to be the prettiest belle at the ball. Though the Suns set their season high in turnovers, they defeated Boston 79-71...

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The Suns battled for every loose ball tonight, and created loose balls with sheer effort.

With Rajon Rondo out due to injury and the Celtics only a 90 PPG team with him, the Suns were set up for defensive success, but they exceeded expectations by holding the Celtics to only 71 points on the road in TD Garden tonight. Marcin Gortat was easily the Suns best player with 24 points, 12 rebounds, 2 blocks and only 2 personal fouls. Gortat led all scorers tonight.

The Celtics "Big Three" tallied only 36 points combined as the Suns played a stifling, ball-hawking defense that is foreign to most Suns fans. Sure, the Celtics are aging and their offense was discombobulated with Rondo out, but the Suns played defense with a ton of energy.

The Suns starting lineup, which again included Ronnie Price and Markieff Morris, played the Celtics to about a draw, but the game changed when the benches came in. Every Suns backup was a + in +/- tonight, led by Jared Dudley's 12 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists. Five players scored in double figures for the Celtics, but they shot only 41% from the field with 18 turnovers and the Suns held the rebounding edge 36-25. The Celtics leading scorer, Ray Allen, put up only 14 points on 4-8 shooting.

Elston Turner, take a bow. This was a Suns defensive effort we've rarely seen.

Jump it for more of the goodness.

Gortat was the hero tonight, just as he was when the Suns beat the Celtics last year. He scored 10 points to go with 4 rebounds in the first 7 minutes of the game on 7-11 shooting. Nash and Hill were ironmen again, logging 38 and 35 minutes, respectively, and had more impact on the game than their combined 20 points show. Nash had 9 assists, which is a ho-hum night from him, but he provided stability when the team needed it, and Hill played his trademark excellent defense. Hill blocked two shots and had four steals, as the Suns seemed to populate the Celtics passing lanes all night long.

The Suns offense was a little off, since defense is the Celtics calling card and they brought it, and committed 21 turnovers of their own. But when they needed a shot, they got it. After starting the second half slowly, as the Celtics went on a 12-2 run, the Suns righted the ship with a 12-0 run bridging the end of the 3rd and start of the 4th.

This could be called an ugly game with all the turnovers and poor shooting, but a lot of that ugly offense was due to the defenses filling the passing lanes and contesting shots. Historically, the Suns haven't usually won these defensive slugfests; they did tonight. With two straight wins, this road trip isn't looking so bad after all.

Game notes:

  • Ronnie Price as a starter might seem like a stretch and his game has obvious holes, but he plays hard every minute he's on the court, hit two 3s in the first half, showed tenacious defense, and took some of the ball-handling pressure off of Nash in his 29 minutes.
  • Markieff Morris needs more time to adjust. He started out this season on fire, and he's obviously a key part of the team's future, but Morris showed plenty of rookie moments tonight with 0 points and 4 turnovers.The man's a rookie and will have his ups and downs. Be patient.
  • Sebastian Telfair played like a credible backup PG tonight, with 4 points, 2 steals and a +7 in 10 minutes. Like Price, he plays fast and hard, and we can excuse him occasionally trying to do too much in limited minutes.
  • Grant Hill is playing closer to the BAMF we all know and love. His defense is still outstanding, although Paul Pierce did blow by him a couple of times in the first half. More importantly, he looks to be regaining his legs and explosiveness.
  • The best part about Ronnie Price starting is that Jared Dudley was back to his D and 3 off the bench ways. It's impossible not to appreciate Dudley's desire to be a starter, but he's average at best there. As an energy player off the bench, there are few I'd rather have.
  • Kevin Garnett? Oh yeah, that guy. He was sort of a non-factor in 33 minutes, scoring 10 points, pulling down 5 boards, and logging a -9 (worst of all Celtics). But hey, he didn't punch anyone in the testicles so we can call that progress, I guess.

This road trip was looking like the end of the Suns season, but the players aren't ready for that to be the case. 2-2 so far. Mavs up next, which will obviously be a challenge. But bring on some more beatable opponents after that, and let's see what these Suns can do. Are they good enough? Maybe, maybe not. They won't be cheated in the effort to find out.


Photo

This was ugly? No, I think this effort is sexy as hell. Celebrate a win over the Celtics! I love me some Marcin Gortat!





Rondo or no Rondo? Does it really matter? It's not like he's Steve Nash.

Let's start a win streak!!!!!


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