The circus is coming to town, and the grand masters are former Phoenix Suns Jason Kidd and Joe Johnson. Coming with them are the aging Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. So many big names, yet so few wins in this young season.
The Brooklyn Nets step into the fray against the Phoenix Suns laden with postseason expectations. Their starting lineup is dotted with All-Stars and the sideline is run by a Hall of Famer. What could go wrong? Well, a 2-5 start has a lot of people wondering if money really can't buy everything.
It's important to know your opponent, and there's few better ways than an insider look at the team. Enter SB Nation partner NetsDaily, who cover the Brooklyn Nets. Dennis Velasco and I exchanged questions about our teams this week in prep for the game tonight (US Airways Center, 7pm).
Bright Side of the Sun: Both the Suns and Nets have rookie NBA coaches, though Jason Kidd went straight from playing to coaching. How has that worked out so far for the Nets?
Dennis Velasco, NetsDaily: Well, considering the Nets' 2-5 record headed into tonight's match-up versus the Suns, it isn't going so well. You know that old saying, which I'll paraphrase here - "It's not like the coach played the game" - well, it may be an improvement if Jason Kidd actually threw on a uni and laced up his kicks another season. There is a clear lack of leadership that many fans were expecting to come bursting forth when Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce came to Brooklyn. So far, it's invisible. And, except for extreme cases such as Gregg Popovich, coaches are the ones that should be invisible. However, this being Kidd, him being a rookie head coach with zero experience as any type of coach, and most importantly, this being New York, Kidd is very much NOT invisible. He is thrown under a microscope everyday and it seems now, under a bus. For the most part, he's been the scapegoat, inspiring the Twitter hashtag, #FireKidd. Fair or not, Kidd's judgement by the fans will be harsh as long as the Nets don't produce and meet expectation. However, should the day come when the Nets string together Ws during the season and play well into the postseason, you'll see #WeBelievedInKiddFromTheBeginning trending on Twitter. Such is the beast.
BSotS: The Suns hired Lindsey Hunter to coach the team without, despite his not having any previous coaching experience at all. The results were disastrous - he didn't know how to manage a game (the lead assistant did that for a month) and didn't get the respect from players because he was flying by the seat of his pants. How has Jason Kidd handled game management and earning player respect?
NetsDaily: From the beginning, Kidd's credibility as a person of basketball - Olympic gold medalist, NBA champion, one of the best all-time point guards - was atmospheric. To a certain degree, you always have respect for those that did the things you want to do, and every single Nets player not named Garnett, Pierce and Terry revere Kidd. The aforementioned trio certainly respect the man. So, the respect is there, although, it has to be understood that it will take Kidd some time to fully get into a coaching groove. He has some top-notch assistants in Lawrence Frank and John Welch, who are very hands-on and interact very well with the team. Heck, Frank runs sprints with the team during practice! So, the trust and respect is really there for that collective and it's strong. As far as game management, the problem right now is rotations, which is a problem when Andrei Kirilenko isn't healthy. It's also a problem when Kidd says that he'll let the team play through runs by the other team. That's kind of blew up in his face this season. Kidd seems to be putting too much in the team and not grabbing them by the testicles and leading. Yes, the team is talented and should be doing way better than they are, but it still needs direction from the sidelines. Kidd seems to have disappointed in this regard.
BSotS: Garnett and Pierce are in the sunset of their careers looking for one last shot (or two) at a ring. I know their stats are down, and their skills are fading a bit. But, at the least, are they playing with that kind of passionate focus they brought in Boston in 2007?
NetsDaily: If we're speaking honestly, heck no. Other than getting up for the Miami Heat game, I don't see any of the passion we were all expecting as Nets fans. One of the main reasons being how badly Garnett has played. Offensively, forget about it, or as the natives say, fuhgeddahboutit! However, as you stated, skills are naturally fading. But, here's the problem - Garnett, quite possibly the greatest help defender ever and definitely one of the better defensive players to play the game, is making really dumb mistakes on defense. Just really bad decisions you would expect from a rookie! Pierce actually looks like he can still play, but there hasn't been any consistency yet. Part of that is a lack of a concrete rotation and what seems like an "up in the air" approach on how to give these old guys minutes from game-to-game this season. I'm honestly dumbfounded right now because I pinned so much hope on Garnett changing the entire culture, off and on the court. Disappointing.
BSotS: Brook Lopez has really stepped up this season. He's been fantastic offensively, though his rebound rate has dropped a bit. Is this an All-Star year for Brook like a year ago?
NetsDaily: Well, the problem is that the NBA took away the center position for the All-Star Game! Well, not really a problem, but more of a hindrance that lessens the chances of Brook getting chosen. There are a lot of really good forwards, both at the 3 and 4 in the East. Do I think Lopez is the best center in the East? No question. However, he isn't a household name and hasn't appeared in the postseason nearly enough to be recognized by the voters that are casual fans. Bropez could very well be selected after the open vote, however, as he was last year. My hope is that the Nets right the ship and with their winning, he gets more notoriety, because for the Nets to do well, Lopez will actually need to be a big part of it.
BSotS: What's your prediction for game on Friday, in terms of score and how it will play out?
NetsDaily: The Nets have had BIG-TIME trouble with younger athletic teams that can run up and down. The Nets took the day from practice on Thursday, in all likelihood because of the anticipation of needing their legs for the Suns and Los Angeles Clippers the next night. However, it had to have also been for that mental break - to clear their heads. I've been a fan of the Pacers offense that controls tempo and for the Nets to succeed, I think they need to follow that model. It'd be nice if they actually played D like the Pacers too, but we can't always get what we want, right? Previously, my gut instinct has been that the Nets would win... and that's objectively speaking too... and the Nets have lost. My gut instinct here is that they'll lose because of the aforementioned athleticism and speed, so if symmetry is a friend of mine, they'll win. However, I'll go with my gut and say the Suns run the Nets out of the building and win 112-89. But, let's go symmetry!!!
Check out NetsDaily throughout the day for great coverage of tonight's game, including my own Q and A with Dennis on the Suns' hot start and glimmering future.
A look at Suns-related news floating around the internet from the last week. Also an open thread to discuss anything and everything.
The Phoenix Suns are now 5-3 after a tough, heartbreaking loss against the Portland Trail Blazers last night. On the bright side (because that's how we roll around here), there were plenty of positives to take away from that game - Eric Bledsoe's continued brilliance, Plumlee's play, the consistent defensive effort of the entire team, etc.
The Suns will next play the struggling Brooklyn Nets on Friday night in Phoenix. The Nets, at 2-5, have begun the season in poor fashion and many of their fans are already in panic mode. This should be a fantastic matchup of an old yet talented team of All-Stars playing lethargically and underperforming versus a young, overachieving roster of athletic players.
Anyway, let's take a look at some random Suns-related content that floated around various parts of the internet this last week.
CBS Sports (Nov. 11) - #9:
They're in every game. They never give up. They have so many weapons. They stay calm when things go badly. None of these things are things I expected to say about this team this season.
Sports Illustrated (Nov. 11) - #7:
The Suns continue to defy expectations, winning three of their last four games despite the absence of starting point guard Goran Dragic. Eric Bledsoe is playing like a mini-Russell Westbrook, averaging 20.9 points, 7.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.9 steals. It doesn't hurt that Markieff Morris has been on fire, averaging 24.7 points off the bench in the last three games.
ESPN (Nov 11.) - #16:
With a 4-0 start at home and a 2-0 mark against the playoff-chasing Pelicans, Phoenix is threatening to surpass Philly for No. 1 in November's Cinderella rankings. More important: Jeff Hornacek already gives you the impression that he can get his players to buy in. Which is huge if it lasts.
USA Today (Nov. 9) - #10:
Eric Bledsoe nickname suggestion: "Get Rich or Fly Tryin'."
NBC Sports (Nov. 11) - #8
The fast start is in part due to Eric Bledsoe, but also Jeff Hornacek has them playing the seventh best defense in the NBA (based on points per possession). It's early, we'll see what kind of level they can sustain, still this is a good sign for trying to build a foundation going forward.
See you in the postseason, OKC!
If there's one link you click on this week to read something about the Suns not on Bright Side of the Sun, make sure it's this phenomenal profile on Bledsoe's play thus far into the season by Jack Winter of Hardwood Paroxysm. It's fantastic and you won't regret it.
Goran Dragic dominated the Twitter headlines for the Suns this week, first with the birth of his son Mateo (Baby Dragon!) and then with the nasty cut he received on his face against Portland:
I would like to thank everyone for sending their best wishes. It is the best feeling in the world! #maliJunak— Goran Dragic (@Goran_Dragic) November 12, 2013
Just wanted to take time out to say congratulations to a great teammate @Goran_Dragic on his new born son!!— Archie Goodwin (@A1Laflare10) November 11, 2013
Congratulations to @Goran_Dragic and his wife on their new baby boy!— Miles Plumlee (@milesplumlee13) November 11, 2013
On Nov 12, 2010 Steve Nash had a son he called "Matteo". On Nov 11, 2013 Goran Dragic had son he called "Mateo". Both babies were 7lb 7oz.— Seth Pollack (@sethpo) November 11, 2013
Exclusive photo of Goran Dragic's wife and their newborn son, Mateo (aka Baby Dragon): pic.twitter.com/5RhA2RX6e7— Sreekar (@sreekyshooter) November 12, 2013
RT @suns_jfie: Goran Dragic has just gotten off of the doctors table, 13 stitches to close gash on side of nose (NASH WOULD BE PROUD)— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) November 14, 2013
I be back next game!!! Nasty cut pic.twitter.com/sMbzcGqOHr— Goran Dragic (@Goran_Dragic) November 14, 2013
Goran Dragic gives his son the same name as Steve Nash's son, gets a vintage Nash injury the next day. COINCIDENCE? pic.twitter.com/mRGFJG2Pye— Sreekar (@sreekyshooter) November 14, 2013
I had to make a new category just to post the gem of a tweet Matt Barnes shared with the world last night after he (shocker) was ejected for his role in instigating a ruckus against the Thunder. Barnes then tweeted the following (while the game was still being played) but deleted it after a while. For some reason, athletes tend to forget that the internet always remembers what you share:
The second Bright Sider of the Week award in the history of awards goes to (drumroll please).....Andy Buckdawg for his awesome "Comedy Screencaps" fanpost. If you haven't seen it yet, go check it out. Andy, you can collect your award when you post your next issue of comedy screencaps. Congrats!
Any other news you'd like to share? Any suggestions for what else you'd like me to do/include in these weekly segments (I'm open to anything!)? As always, feel free to discuss below!
The Portland Trailblazers have played eight games on the young season. Six of them have been easy offensive nights, but the two against Phoenix were struggles brought on by Phoenix's stifling defense.
Thanks to SB Nation partner, BlazersEdge, we got a lot of quotes out of the Portland locker room about the Suns defensive effort disrupting Portland's 5th ranked offense for the second time this season.
Head Coach Terry Stotts
BlazersEdge writer Dave Deckard (in the game analysis article linked above)
It's rare when an opponent gives any credit to the other team, and even rarer when it's after pulling out the win at home. Almost exclusively, a team talks about itself - what THEY did right or wrong. Rarely does the team gush about the opponent.
But a week after San Antonio squeaked out a win at home over the Suns and Tony Parker said the Suns are a good team, now Portland is giving some love as well.
Also, check out this great analysis of the Suns D from Randy Hill of Fox Sports Arizona.
The Phoenix Suns fell to 5-3 on the Season after falling to the Portland Trail Blazers in a game that went right down to the final second.
The Phoenix Suns went to Portland and came up just one point shy, losing 90-89 in a game that went down to the very last second.
The Suns played terrific defense all night, locking down Portland point guard Damian Lillard for 47 minutes and 45 seconds. However, he broke free in the final 15 seconds to score the game-winning layup for the Blazers on a complete defensive breakdown by the Suns. Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge combined for just 23 points on 32 shots, but it wasn't enough for the Suns to get the win. Eric Bledsoe had a phenomenal first three quarters before struggling in the fourth. Oh, and Goran Dragic had to exit early again with another injury.
The first quarter set the tone for the rest of the game as the two teams traded blows and neither was able to oull away.
Goran Dragic was active early but picked up two early fouls and had to take a seat. Fortunately for the Suns, however, LaMarcus Aldridge followed him to the bench in foul trouble shortly after.
The two teams traded, in Eddie Johnson’s words, "boneheaded" plays late in the quarter. Marcus Morris fouled Thomas Robinson 30 feet from the basket on a desperation heave with the shot clock about to expire. Then the Blazers returned the favor by fouling Eric Bledsoe on his own 3-point attempt with less than one second left on the clock. Robinson made one of his attempts while Bledsoe made all three, so I guess advantage Suns.
When the dust settled, the Blazers were ahead 25-22.
Aldridge and Dragic returned to the court to start the second quarter, and the two teams went back and forth early on, with each squad hitting a two and a three to up the score to 30-27. The two teams also traded a series of missed layups as the rims were not kind in Portland. The Morris to Morris three-quarter court connection resulted in a layup that actually stayed in and brought the Suns within one at 34-33 halfway through the quarter.
The Suns took the lead on a fastbreak layup by Dragic that was created by terrific defense, particularly by Markieff Morris on Aldridge. Robin Lopez answered with a hook shot but a fastbreak dunk by Archie Goodwin and a pair of free throws by Dragic put the Suns ahead 39-36. The teams continued to trade points. LaMarcus Aldridge scored his first points of the game with 25 seconds left in the half after being locked down in the first 23:35 by Markieff Morris and Channing Frye.
Phoenix took a 43-41 lead into halftime. As the low score indicates, it was an ugly half with each team shooting 39 percent from the field (including all the layups that rimmed out). The fact that Robin Lopez had 10 boards in the half tells you how many bricks were thrown up.
The Suns held the duo of Damian Lillard and Aldridge to just seven points on 3-14 shooting combined. Goran Dragic struggled in his return to the starting lineup, shooting just 2-7 for six points. Eric Bledsoe, however, had a big half with 11 points and was the only one in the game to reach double figures in the first half.
The shooting woes for both teams continued into the third quarter, and the Suns managed to hang on to their lead throughout the quarter. Portland pulled within two at 58-56 with just over two minutes left in the half, but Phoenix exploded for a 10-3 run to expand the lead to 9. Unfortunately, Mo Williams banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer to cut the lead to 68-62 at the end of the third quarter.
Bledsoe continued to roll for the Suns, scoring 10 in the period to push his total to 21.
Portland scored the first five points of the final period, but Phoenix responded with a 6-2 run as Dragic hit two 3-pointers. A nasty collision between Williams and Dragic resulted in both guys going down, but the Suns continued to play and Gerald Green drilled a 3-pointer. Unfortunately for the Suns, Dragic had to be taken back to the locker room to get stitches. Dragic would not return to the game.
Following Dragic’s departure, the Blazers went on a 9-0 run to take a 78-77 lead with just under seven minutes remaining. Neither team was able to get a stop as the two teams traded buckets for the next couple minutes until Thomas Robinson was fouled and missed both free throws. Phoenix scored and came right back to fouling Robinson, this time intentionally, and he split a pair.
Bledsoe took it straight to the rack and finished for the Suns (unfortunately, his only points of the quarter), but Wesley Matthews responded with a tough step-back 3-pointer. An offensive foul by Tucker gave the ball back to Portland and they capitalized to take an 88-87 lead.
Bledsoe pulled up for a jumper and missed, but Plumlee managed to get a hand on it and tapped it back to a teammate. Following a timeout, Bledsoe found Plumlee rolling to the basket for a layup to put the Suns back up by one. On the other end, the Suns got the stop they needed as Aldridge missed a turnaround jumper over Mook Morris.
Eric Bledsoe looked to expand the Suns' one-point lead with a strong drive to the rack, but he couldn't finish at the rim and the Blazers secured the rebound with 11.3 seconds left.
Needing a bucket, the Blazers run a high pick-and-roll, which the Suns decide not to defend (Bledsoe got picked off, Frye stuck with the screener, and nobody else helped). Lillard virtually strolled to the rim for a layup with 6.5 seconds left.
(picture courtesy of Matt Moore of CBS)
Trailing by one, the Suns had one more chance. Once again, Bledsoe got all the way to the basket ... and once again, he wasn't able to finish. P.J Tucker and Markieff Morris both had a chance at tip-ins but neither one fell and the clock ran out.
Game over, Portland wins.
Defense on Aldridge and Lillard: In the first meeting between these two teams, Aldridge and Lillard combined for 60 points. In this one, they didn't even reach 30. Channing Frye, Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris all took turns on Aldridge and held him to just 12 points on 5-19 shooting. Eric Bledsoe attacked Lillard on offense all night, and made life miserable for him on defense. He finished with 11 points on 4-13 shooting. It's just a shame that the last possession went the way it did after such a great performance overall.
(screen cap taken from a picture by Suns TV's Bob Adloch)