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I got up this morning hoping there would be some kind of explanation of why coach Alvin Gentry benched Marcin Gortat in favor of Jermaine O'Neal in the fourth quarter. Gortat, fresh of his public moaning about his lack of touches, seemed to get plenty of leather in the first half which he didn't convert (2-5, 5 points) and then came out and esploded in the third quarter (5-6, 13 points).

I'm sure Gentry was asked why O'Neal played while Gortat sat and I'm willing to bet your lunch money that he gave a non-answer along the lines of -- "I just went with the match ups I thought would work." -- or something equally useless. That's his prerogative to not answer a potentially loaded question, but it leaves us only with speculation for our morning gruel.

In reading through what was said, this quote from J.O. seemed most telling on the topic (and in general).

Phoenix Suns can’t complete rally against Philadelphia 76ers
“We’re not good enough to feel comfortable or relaxed after winning two games in a row until we’re 10 games over .500,” O’Neal said.

“We’re a below-.500 team. Our record is who we are. We’ve earned that. We could get quickly put in the basement with the bottom-of-the-barrel teams if we don’t get our act together. These guys played last night and went into overtime and, at times, had a lot more energy than we had.” [emphasis added]

So, is O'Neal calling out his younger colleague for waiting until the second half to turn it on and was Gentry's benching a message along those lines? We will probably never know so let's just go ahead and say that, maybe it could have possibly been the reason unless there was some other reason....ahem, Spencer "horrible defender" Hawes was also benched.

As Suns fans are likely to never forget, Jrue Holiday was passed over in favor of Earl Clark in the 2009 NBA Draft. Sarver really should fire all the front office people involved in that horrible decision!...oh, right.

The folks at Liberty Ballers certainly have plenty of Jrue love, but point out another factor in the win:

Sixers Edge the Suns: Game Recap - Liberty Ballers

Evan Turner's jumper. Turner knocked down three triples tonight, which, coupled with Notre Dame's unexpected success, has people wondering if we really only do have 28 days left on this earth.

Yup, the Suns gave up MORE open threes and the defensive suckitude was the focus of Alvin Gentry's postgame concern.

POSTGAME QUOTES: SUNS AT 76ERS - NOV. 25, 2012 | THE OFFICIAL SITE OF THE PHOENIX SUNS
Overall, (Jrue Holiday's) 33 points hurt, but those aren’t the ones that beat us. The ones that beat us were the ones that we gave up when we weren’t doing what we were supposed to do. When rotations broke down and we rotated up from the corner when we weren’t supposed to, or we pre-rotated, or we tried to go for steals. That’s what got us in trouble. So we just have to correct that."

And more from Gentry as transcribed by Valley of the Suns:

Philadelphia 76ers 104, Phoenix Suns 101 -- Holiday's weekend
“I would say once again it’s a great effort game for us, but we’ve got to do a better job of executing,” Gentry said. “I thought we did a great job down the stretch, but you go back in the game and we have five or six plays where we don’t execute defensively and we give up three-point shots. It comes down to a one-possession game, so we’ve got to do better in that area right there.

“The effort is great. We continue to really compete and do a good job, but we have to be able to make the plays that win games for you. Tonight we had too many breakdowns, not at the crucial moments, but it creates crucial moments because we don’t do it then and before you know it we’ve given up three, four three-point shots, and that’s 12 points. We’ve just got to do a much better job in that department right there, but we played well.”

You will note no quotes posted from Beasley. You can go read them yourself, but basically he said, oops, that final shot should have gone in. Sorry, guys. I need to work on my right hand.

Overall, I'm not inclined to blast Beasley for missing the shot. He had a decent offensive game but as many others have said, it's time for him to get consistent on both ends.

And what's up with Goran Dragic? He looks like he's playing with cement shoes on his feet lately. Hidden small injury? Illness? Fight with his girlfriend? Who knows, but hopefully he snaps out of it soon.

One final link to Kris Habbas' Suns week in review:

Center of the Sun: A Week In Review 11/19 - 11/25 - SB Nation Arizona
A belated Center of the Sun today as the team played a midday Sunday game against the 76ers, but nonetheless here is the best, worst, and everything in-between for the Phoenix Suns this week.

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Why do you think Gentry benched Gortat in the fourth quarter?

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The Phoenix Suns signed Michael Beasley hoping he would develop into their go-to scorer, the guy they throw the ball to over and over again down the stretch when they need important buckets. For the...

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The Suns lost a heartbreaker, as they battled back in the closing minutes only to lose a nailbiter to the Sixers, in a game with a couple of new wrinkles and plenty of old skeletons.

This is a story stream.


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Recap:

The Suns spotted the Sixers a quick 8-0 lead, but tied it back up at 14. Both team's largest lead for the first half from that point was five, which was what Philadelphia led by at intermission, 46-41. This was Sixers basketball, slow as molasses and as exciting as watching paint dry. The Suns repugnant three point defense continued as Philly shot 5-10 from deep.

The third quarter was played at a much livelier (watchable) pace. Philadelphia led through most of the quarter, and by as many as 10, but Phoenix kept it close for the most part and ended up down only 80-75. Gortat had a great quarter with 11 points and three rebounds to help keep the Suns in the game.

The Suns continued to keep it close in the fourth quarter, but it seemed like the game was slipping out of reach with the Sixers up 98-91 with 3:09 left and Dragic and Gortat on the bench. Dragic and Morris substituted in and pulled within one at 97-98, but the Suns couldn't execute when they had a chance to tie or win after a missed free throw by Holiday and fell to Philadelphia 104-101. Tough loss in an imminently winnable game.

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Player of the Game:

Jrue Holiday played like an all-star tonight. He was easily the best player on the court for either team. He added nine points in the fourth quarter, including a shot with 26 seconds left to put Philly up 102-99, en route to a 33 point, 13 assist effort.

Comments of the Game:

(great job keeping it real in the gamethread - you know who you are. Here's a hint... it's all of you.)

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This game is difficult for me to watch. I just went and ate dinner. Hopefully the Suns will pull off a win here.

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Gentry.. Come on man.

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How do we tell Beasley to bottle this game and do this over and over and over again?

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The Good:

The Sun put up a stout showing on the boards with Markieff Morris leading the way with 10. Overall, the Suns outfought the 76ers to a 41-33 edge.

Shannon Brown, the distributing marvel he is, led the Suns with seven assists. That somewhat made up for his 1-7 effort from the field.

The Suns kept it close the whole way and gave themselves an opportunity to win. Anytime a team does that on the road is an encouraging sign (the lugubrious fan writes about a good loss).

Marcin Gortat looked good in limited minutes (not exactly sure why they were limited) with 21 points and seven rebounds. It has been an up and down season for Marcin.

Beasley made a contribution on the offensive end, especially late, and finished with 21 points on 8-13 shooting. Tough break on the tying layup with time running down.

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The Bad:

The Suns continue to get abused from the three point line. Actually, abused isn't harsh enough of a word... maybe victimized or molested. The perimeter defense may be the tipping point that derails this season. It's going to lose them a lot of close games.

The Suns, who are 28th in field goal % allowed and 30th in three point field goal % allowed, had another effort commensurate with their ineptitude. Philadelphia shot 48.1% from the field and 47.4% from three. This is a team that's shooting 41.1% on the season. Ugh.

Goran Dragic. Everybody has off nights. This was one of his.

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The Ugly:

The whole first half. That was noxious. It was actually physically painful. It was like a snail crawling competition. If I'm going to watch two mediocre to bad teams play I think I deserve them to at least try to be entertaining. I can understand why teams like the Pistons and Spurs employed that tactic, but really? At least I can be grateful I don't have to watch that all season...

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When: Sunday, November 25, 2012, 4:00 PM local time (6:00 EST)

Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA

Watch/Listen: TV: FSAZ, Radio: 620 KTAR

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Last Meeting:

First meeting this season. The teams last played December 28, 2011 with Philadelphia winning in Phoenix 103-83 (in a game that's sure to have no bearing on today's contest).

Team Bios:

Philadelphia 76ers: 7-6

Points per game: 89.8 (29th) Points allowed: 90.9 (1st)

Offensive Efficiency: 96.3 (27th) Defensive Efficiency: 97.1 (2nd)

Philadelphia is coming off of two straight losses, including a 116-109 OT loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder last night. Philadelphia's best player in the early season is Jrue Holiday, who leads the team in scoring at 17.5 ppg and assists at 8.9 apg. The Sixers are still indefinitely without their uber talented offseason acquisition, center Andrew Bynum, whose regulated activities now include bowling, walking, sitting and breathing. It's starting to appear that Bynum may never suit up for an actual game for the 76ers due to ongoing injury concerns. Check out this article on Liberty Ballers for the latest.

The Sixers play grind it out, slow it down, defense wins basketball. In Philadelphia basketball is not an artform, but a travesty that resembles a barroom brawl. The problem with their style of basketball is that while they excel on the defensive end they are equally inept on the offensive side. They do have some guys that can stroke it from deep, so don't be surprised if they try to exploit the Suns league worst 3PFG% allowed (.426).

For those of you who aren't familiar with the storied tradition of 76ers basketball, allow me to give you a quick tutorial: They traded us Charles Barkley. That is all.

Best things to come out of Philadelphia: Markieff Morris and cheesesteaks.

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Phoenix Suns: 6-7

Points per game: 100.5 (8th) Points allowed: 103.2 (30th)

Offensive Efficiency: 102.5 (12th) Defensive Efficiency: 106.0 (T-27th)

The Phoenix Suns are this close to looking like a real basketball team. Despite being 4th in the Pacific Division, they are only one game out of 5th place in the Western Conference. In a departure from most of last season, where the starting units (and those including Nash) carried the team, this year the bench has been their salvation. To illustrate this point, PJ Tucker and Sebastian Telfair have the best +/- numbers on the team.

While the Suns have managed four exhilarating comebacks from double digit deficits, all of those have been at home. The Suns lone road win (1-4) saw the opposite dynamic in effect as they nearly squandered an 80-65 lead and allowed the Charlotte Bobcats to close to 100-97 before Shannon Brown exploded for six fourth quarter threes. If the Suns plan on winning against Philly they will need a different game plan.

Unlike Philly, the Suns push the pace and score at an above average clip. Unfortunately the Suns are basically the worst defensive team in the league. Creating extra possessions only helps if you can score/defend at a better rate than your opponent. So far the Suns can't.

Goran Dragic (16.5 PPG, 7.4 APG) has been the Suns best, most consistent player this season, but don't be surprised if all four other starters to begin the season find their way to the bench if their indolent play continues (two down, two to go).

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What To Watch For:

Markieff Morris/PJ Tucker: These two have arguably (I'm conceding it to them) been the Suns two best players the last two games. If they continue their stellar play, the Suns should have a chance in this game. The entire bench has been outplaying the starters, to the point of early season lineup changes. Is the bench mob back? Young players and bench players traditionally have the biggest disparity between home and road performance. Watch to see if the hostile performance causes any dip in their output.

Pace: The Suns like to play frenetically and the Sixers prefer a plodding, methodical approach. OKC had some success controlling the pace against them last night until Philly stymied the Thunder into 13 fourth quarter points. If the Suns can score 100+, they will probably win. If they are below that mark, you get the idea.

Fresh Legs: The Suns are coming in rested and Gentry has found (some) players on the team that are willing to hustle like madmen. The Sixers are coming off an overtime loss to OKC last night. Advantage: Suns.

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The Final Word(s):

Despite all my bluster and bravado, I think the Sixers have the upper hand in this game. Even if we assert the teams are nearly equal (lots of people would still dissent on this), the Sixers have the trump card of playing at home. It would be an impressive, though not startling, road victory and a great way to start a road trip that could turn ugly if the Suns don't win a couple early.

But that still doesn't mean we're not coming for you, Philly... and your cheesesteaks, too.

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