When: Tonight, tipoff at 7:12PM AZ Time (Mountain)
Where: US Airways Center, Phoenix, Arizona
Watch: FSNAZ (locally), NBA League Pass
Tonight, the Phoenix Suns (4-7) try to right the ship against the Portland Trailblazers (5-5) after three free days or workouts and practices.
Alvin Gentry will introduce a new lineup tonight, already tiring of the quintuplet of Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley, Michael Beasley, Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat. Those guys have generated at least a 10-point deficit at some point in 10 of their first 11 games. Only once this season has the starting unit not been on the floor for a 10+ point deficit, and that was against until-recently-winless Detroit at home. Coincidentally, that was the last time the Suns played effective defense against another team.
On the other hand, the second unit has been dynamite lately. While the starters have dug hole after hole, the second unit has clawed their way out of that hole in all but a couple of games. At least one, if not three of those guys will be rewarded for their efforts with a starting spot tonight.
The Trailblazers, who the Suns beat in the preseason, have exceeded expectations to the tune of a .500 record that includes three-game winning streak against Sacramento, Houston and Chicago. They have also beaten the Lakers and a second time over Houston. Their losses have been to OKC, Dallas, Clippers, Spurs and Hawks.
Rookie PG Damian Lillard (taken 6 spots ahead of Kendall Marshall) has been an impressive, scoring 19 points per game and dishing out 6.1 assists. LaMarcus Aldridge leads the team in scoring (21.1) while J.J. Hickson leads the team in rebounds (10.6). Expect to see a lot of Portland's best players. Four Portland starters average at least 37.5 minutes per game, with J.J. Hickson getting 28.5 minutes.
2012-2013 OVERALL NBA RANKINGS PER GAME
Suns: 98.3 (14th) Blazers: 100.4 (7th)
Suns: 104.3 (30th) Blazers: 101.8 (28th)
Both teams prefer scoring to defending. The key for the Suns is to score more points over the course of the game.
On a more serious note, Goran Dragic and Sebastian Telfair need to outplay Blazers rookie Damian Lillard on both ends of the court. And Michael Beasley/PJ Tucker need to outwork Nicolas Batum at the SF position. If Lillard and Batum both score their season numbers (combining for nearly 40 points) then this will be a tough game to win.
With Gentry mixing up the lineups, we have no idea what we are going to get tonight. We can only hope that the Suns will play as hard as possible. And when they do, good things tend to happen.
Whether big or small, SOME kind of change to the Suns starting lineup is coming tonight against Portland. It could be as benign and obvious as swapping Shannon Brown and Jared Dudley. Or it could be as crazy as swapping out the power forward and center too, though a change that sweeping would certainly be a temporary "message" more than a permanent change.
Phoenix Suns coach Alvin Gentry has not yet named a new starting lineup, but he has dropped a couple of ambiguous statements the last couple of days that could be twisted and loosely interpreted as "clues".
"[Morris] can get anything he wants," coach Gentry said about second-year power forward Markieff Morris to suns.com either yesterday or Monday, "If it would make him continue to play well and be as aggressive as he is."
Gentry was not talking about playing time. He was referring to his invitation of Morris for Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, and whether Gentry should buy an extra turkey just for his extra-large guest.
Yet, you could twist and turn that comment into a huge vote of confidence for Morris, and even conclude that Gentry would gladly give Marcin Gortat's and Luis Scola's servings of turkey to the Philly boy if he plays well in his new starting role on Wednesday.
But no one would make that leap of faith and logic from such an innocent comment about a national holiday, would they?
"He will be in the game when we need stops," Gentry said of P.J. Tucker, when asked if Tucker's spot-minute role will change going forward.
On the surface, the comment implies that any lineup change would exclude Tucker from consideration. Gentry likes what Tucker brings when they need that extra boost of defense and hustle.
However, one could look closer at the lackluster play of the team when Tucker is NOT in the lineup as well as their last-in-the-league defense, and conclude that Gentry needs Tucker the whole forty-eight minutes. In that scenario, Gentry was telling us that Tucker is not only a starter but he's irreplaceable for even a minute a game.
"Gortat's 88-game starting streak could end at tipoff against the Trail Blazers" - Paul Coro on azcentral.com
Paul doesn't attribute any quotes or inside information to this statement in his article on azcentral.com after practice yesterday, but Paul always has scoops on player moves before they happen. He called the signing and keeping of fourth-PG Diante Garrett and PF longshot Luke Zeller last month, to name two very recent examples. He also called the drafting of Kendall Marshall and just about every Suns draft pick in the last eight years he covered the team.
Would Gentry actually start Jermaine O'Neal ahead of Marcin Gortat? If so, would that be a permanent change or just a "message" to the Polish Gazelle/Hammer/Machine? Most likely, the latter. O'Neal does not have the stamina to play starters' minutes, so he'd most likely play the Lopez role of 2010-11 - taking up the first few minutes of the first and third quarters, with the rest of the game up to the player working the hardest that night.
"__(crickets)__" - Gentry on the small forward and point guard positions
Neither tongue in cheek nor pointed message have blown in the direction of the small forward (Beasley) or point guard (Dragic) positions in any context since Gentry proclaimed upcoming changes.
One could take that as a sure sign Dragic and Beasley will have their names called tonight.
One could also twist and turn that silence into a sure sign that Gentry can't trust himself to keep a secret, so he's not even mentioning the ACTUAL changes he wants to make tonight.
A few potential starting lineups, then
... (and so on and so on)
We don't know if any of these changes will happen, but SOMETHING will change tonight.
"We'll take one guy or two guys or three guys or four guys out of the lineup, and we'll replace them with other guys who have played and done the same thing," Gentry said. "How many or what we're going to do, I don't know yet, but we're definitely going to do something.
"We've just got to be much more gritty, if you want to use that word, and much more resilient at the start of games."
And then yesterday:
"I think we've got a good feel of what we want to try to do and the reasons that we'll do it," coach Alvin Gentry said. "We'll see if that works and if not, we'll try something else."
Can you guess the new lineup?
After eleven games, I believe it is pertinent to discuss who might be in the running for the first annual Gomer Pyle Award. So to see who or what is the biggest "surprise, surprise, surprise!" so far this season, I give you the leading candidates.
But first, some other early award updates:
Currently leans toward Lon Babby for dodging the Eric Gordon signing. Not only did Babby accidentally avoid maxing out a salary to a player that makes Kevin Johnson look durable, but he also avoided having to give up anything else in a sign and trade deal. He is "the one!"
Is headed to Minnesota and their fans for obviously knowing the obvious about Wes Johnson. It was said on many a blog that Johnson will never outplay anyone to get on the court. ‘Sota fans stated that other than his great smile, the Suns won't ever reap any benefits of having Wes on their team. Many speculated that he was a throw in that would be dumped fairly quickly.
I knew that! It's so funny that you think that I didn't know that. I mean the guy's option was not renewed and he hasn't seen the court. I knew that.
If we could find him, Jared Dudley would get it. Does he still play for the Suns?
We already know who wins this, you know what I mean? It is going to the BSOTS followers for predicting a wholly mediocre season and below .500 record. We are certainly on pace. Or could it be we are as flawed as Kreskin himself?
This one is currently a four way tie between Michael Beasley, Shannon Brown, Wes Johnson and Luis Scola. If you were asked prior to the beginning of the season to describe each players future contributions in detail, that description would be a word for word review of how each has contributed so far. Scola has been the cagey veteran that can't play D, tires out quickly, gives the occasional crafty move and is useless in crunch time. Johnson hasn't seen the floor [see above]. Brown has enticed with flashes of brilliant, albeit lucky play only to reveal his true inefficient self. And Beasley has confounded us with stretches of quality promise, only to see equal stretches of baffling lack of focus and intensity and being relegated to the bench in fourth quarters.
We loved his hustle and enthusiasm during Summer League, enough so that his signing was resoundingly approved. Yet none of us realistically thought he would get too much run, let alone be a factor in any games. The most we expected of him was the occasional "Lou" moment. Yet Tucker has shown that if you are willing to dedicate yourself to defending, rebounding and being active, all while abandoning any idea that you might have to provide anything offensively, you can stay on the court in crunch time.
The jury is still out on Tucker's sustainability, especially in light of Gentry's lack of enthusiasm for inserting Tucker into the starting lineup. Yet the fact that he has forced Gentry to sit guys that clearly were a priority for the Suns future in the fourth quarter so early in the season has surprised everyone.
In a complete reversal of everything we have ever known about Dudley, at present, Jared seems he can do no right. We can all accept missing shots - it happens. In fact, if you polled all of us here in Orangania [?], my guess is that we would overwhelmingly vote that eventually Dudley's shot will return to form with no worries.
The most surprising issue with Dudley is his apparent lack of energy and effort. While he has always been slow footed, he made up for it in sheer hustle by sticking with plays, always making sure he is a factor on the defensive end. Whether being in the right help position, or trailing his man and ultimately getting a hand in on the play, we all loved Dudley for his effort, IQ and consistent impact on the game.
So far this season, Dudley has been 100% AWOL. PJ Tucker is the living embodiment of what Dudley used to be [yeah, we know PJ is more athletic]. Having Tucker only illustrates the loss of Dudley as we knew him. We can only hope for a zombie apocalypse and have Dudley rise from the dead - but one of those super-fast zombies from "I am Legend", not walkers from Walking Dead. They are slow and un-athletic.
B-EASY ON HIM
Counter to what everyone thinks, and even counter to what I think, after thinking about it, I am more confused as ever. Huh?
Yes, we all knew about Michael Beasley. He of the pot smoking. One who never passed up a hit or a shot. The guy who was drafted #2 overall but plays like a second round pick. They describe him as the Carmelo Anthony-like, just not as talented. He was said to be a bigger drag to his team than the monster on the wing of that airplane!
Yet after watching Beasley so far, I am not sure that is all true. Well, it is true that Beasley is not as talented as Carmelo. Yet from what I see of Michael Beasley, ha also is not a malcontent chucker. While I will delve into this matter in more detail in another article, I think Michael Beasley is misunderstood and misused. He has shown a surprisingly concerted effort to pass the ball. He has done so while passing up shots. In fact, he has made some of the nicest assists so far this season. I really think that he is not so much a malcontent who selfishly wants to put up numbers, but simply is a guy that doesn't really understand the game, is very soft, and is unfocused.
So the surprise here is that I don't actually dislike Beasley for what I thought I would. If used correctly, I believe he is of some use.
TEL-GOOD, NOT JUST FAIR
In drafting Kendall Marshall, the Suns clearly sent a message to fans that we are moving out of the Nameless Player Era and into our future. Marshall was clearly thought of as a future [down the road] cornerstone piece of the franchise. Even with the Dragic signing, it was thought that this would help Marshall come along without the pressure of having the team on his back.
So far he has played eleven minutes in three blowout losses. Surprising as that is, what is even more shocking is the reason why Marshall is pining away - Sebastian Telfair.
Yes, we all loved how Bassy played last season. He adequately supplied backup minutes [although not enough in my view] to rest Nameless. We loved his hustle and determination to show that he indeed belongs in the NBA.
Yet this season, Bassy has not only supplied quality minutes, but has actually impacted this team in a dramatic way. While his numbers are not dramatically different, what has been noticeable is his intensity and effort defensively, and his ability to spark runs. Telfair has even taken over a few games and been invaluable in his effort this year. He has impressed Gentry so much that Gentry hasn't even thought about giving Marshall any run.
This is great news. It is great for Telfair as his hard work is being awarded. But it is equally good for Marshall, because he is getting a great lesson in how to be a professional basketball player. Marshall is learning that he better work hard this offseason or some journeyman scrub throw away will take his job.
While it is not surprising to hear Marcin Gortat bitching about his role, it certainly seems a bit early in the season for it. Gortat waited a whole 11/82nd of the season to start questioning his coach and calling out his teammates for sticky hands. While we all expected him to implode at some point, we certainly didn't think so soon. And to think we all thought Beasley was the malcontent.
What is even more surprising is Alvin Gentry's response. Typically when confronted by a media onslaught perpetrated by players, coaches pull out Roget's Clicheasaurus. They claim that they understand their player and that the player is somewhat right. They coddle and soothe that player so as to calm the situation. Basically they lie, hoping said player thinks the coach is on their side, only with the hopes to manipulate said player into changing his attitude.
Gentry was having none of that. In a response any parent can take note of [as a model to how to tell your kid they aren't as keen as they think they are], Gentry basically told Gortat to stick it where the sun don't shine. Calling out Gortat's lackluster play in the post and telling everyone point blank that nothing will change, Gentry slammed down the tough love on Gortat. It was exactly what Marcin needed to hear, and in fact, was exactly what every kid in the nation playing basketball needed to see. You aren't getting touches because you simply aren't playing hard enough, and I am not rearranging our philosophy around your play because you aren't good enough. Is that what you hoped to hear Marcin?
Maybe not, but it is what you needed to hear.
And that is the most surprising thing I have seen in the NBA for 20 years!