Los Angeles Lakers 99, Phoenix Suns 95 PHOENIX — Oh how far the mighty have fallen. It was just seven months ago the Lakers and Suns were battling it out in the Western Conference Finals. Now,...

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PHOENIX — The trio of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom historically manhandles the Phoenix Suns on the interior. So far this season, the Lakers are shooting 33-of-48 (68.67) at the rim...

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It's funny when people ask me about the Suns nowadays. People at work, relatives, friends. I hate the grin on their faces when they ask this question but do you know what that grin means? It means "I told you so". Once Amar'e left I was positive that the FO would figure a way to replace him, we would go through an adjustment period and then we would start rolling like we usually do. Well, I guess the rolling part is not here yet.

Just to recap, two of the new acquisitions are in Gentry's dog house right now while the other was shipped to Orlando (along with our leading scorer). So much for the Childress and Warrick hype huh?

But this is old news and the Suns are trying to integrate Marcin Gortat, Mickael Pietrus and Vince Carter and it has not been an easy transition. There are fans that have seen progress and that can take positives from games the Suns have lost. Good for them. To me, you have to be able to close out games. Playing three quarters of good basketball is not good enough in this league. That's like my dad saving money for me to go to law school and being happy that I made it to 3rd year before dropping out. I can't imagine him telling my mom: "But honey, don't be mad. He made it to 3rd year. You should be proud he made it that far!"

There's really no way to downplay the Suns issues at this point. Even the most optimist and positive fan can't deny the fact the Suns might not turn this season around. They have reached rock bottom and hopefully that's as low as they can go.

They have the pieces to be a good team and that's the most frustrating part. At some point you have to put some blame on Gentry and I've never been the type of fan or player that uses a coach as the scapegoat. Gentry's in-game decisions have been suspect, his lineups sometimes don't make sense and it allows other teams to use mismatches. Plays out of timeouts are sloppy and look as if they were improvised, concentration and focus during crunch time has been awful. All of the above goes on the coach.

Now, the Suns will play the Lakers and Gentry faces yet another dilemma.

Let's get down to business. See you after the jump. 

Alvin Gentry will have to decide if he goes with a bigger lineup with Gortat and Lopez to counter Bynum's and Gasol's size. Seth explains here how it might work but I don't trust Robin's ability to hit a 15 footer. Our best option is to use Frye and hope that he starts making threes so he can spread the floor.

The Lakers have issues. They routed Detroit last night in a blowout win but prior to that game they had lost 4 of their last 6 games by a margin of 17.3 points per game. There is panic all over the internets. The current champions are not good enough, they had lost interest. Kobe and Phil Jackson calling out players and teammates in the media. Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom saying that those shout outs weren't necessary. Practice confrontations, players missing practice and Kobe taking over late in the games completely ignoring the triangle offense and his teammates.

Haven't we seen all of this before? As much as it hurts me to say this, I'd be really careful to dismiss the current champs out of contention. Here's every year's pattern: Lakers in a slump, Kobe jacking up shots, teammates pissed, Lakers get out of slump, Lakers win the NBA finals, Kobe leads parade, Kobe gets his ring.

This latest panic wave just shows you the amount of spoiled fans and media that follow the Lakers. Sure, they've played like crap recently but watching them overreact just makes me smile.

Keys to winning the game

  • Limit Pau Gasol's and Bynum's activity in the paint: Frye, Lopez and Gortat will have their hands full tonight. During the Lakers tough stretch, Gasol was limited to 13 points per game. If the Suns want to have a shot they will need to keep the Lakers towers from having good offensive games. Box out and hustle for rebounds. Easier said than done.
  • Keeping role players in check: The Suns can not afford having career nights from the Blakes, Browns and Barnes from this world.
  • Defensive focus and communication: Defensive assignments can't be missed or this game will be over in a heart beat.
  • Bench play: Dragic and company will need to step up.

Final thoughts

If the Suns win this game it could give them a much needed confidence boost. They need to play four quarters of good basketball, play with heart and be mentally tough to withstand any Lakers runs. Last year it was STAT who had to play through trade rumors and he handled it really well. It will be interesting to see how Nash will play with people whispering stuff in his ear. The Suns will have to make a decision soon and it will be based on how the team performs before the trade deadline, needless to say this is a critical time for the Suns organization and fans. Buckle up because this promises to be a bumpy ride.

 

[Note by Seth Pollack, 01/05/11 12:10 PM MST ]

You wanted size....

Los Angeles Lakers Come To Phoenix For National TV Game With Suns - SB Nation Arizona
Another adjustment we can expect to see tonight is the debut of the Marcin Gotat / Robin Lopez "Great Wall Of Phoenix" pairing on the court. Gentry has been understandably reluctant to use these two inside players together for fear of bogging down the offense, but against the Andrew Bynum / Pau Gasol tandem for the Lakers he sounds ready to give it a try.

"We'll try that as some stage tonight. Maybe early. Maybe really really early," he said implying that the two could start the game together.


We have not seen enough of this from Hakim this season. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

More photos » Ross D. Franklin - AP

We have not seen enough of this from Hakim this season. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

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Underperforming really mucks. They may not be "best laid" plans, but they were plans nonetheless. And each one of them has been mucked up.

For the purpose of this article, let's not question the reasoning behind these plans anymore. That's been done to death. Let's just focus on how they got mucked up by circumstance and injury and simple underperformance, and how the Suns' front office has reacted to that.

Coming into the season, Phoenix Suns fans, coaches, players and management expected/hoped for (among others) four big things to happen:

  1. Robin Lopez would play at near all-star level (per Dudley)
  2. Josh Childress would provide defense on the wing
  3. Hedo Turkoglu would provide a quality secondary playmaker to Nash
  4. Hakim Warrick would provide more than half the lost Amare production (ie. more than 10 and 4), with no cost on the defensive end. 

Robin Lopez was supposed to provide a strong presence in the paint. In offseason rankings posts, Lopez regularly made it into the top 20 of any list of NBA centers. When healthy, he showed last season that he can score on offense in a variety of ways while providing strong post presence and deterrant to dribble-penetrating guards. Jared Dudley even went so far as to say the Suns needed Lopez to play at "near all-star level". He would never have said that if he didn't think it was possible.

Josh Childress was supposed to reprise his defensive and all-everything reputation from his Atlanta days, coupled with wisdom and BBall IQ from playing on a top-level Euro team (Olympiakos) the last two years. He was supposed to be a candidate for best offseason signing.

Neither of those two things happened. And, not surprisingly, the Suns struggled. In fact, they have struggled so much that the Suns front office could wait no longer for those necessary ingredients and acquired their replacements in December.

Strong inside presence? Enter Marcin Gortat.

Pesky wing defender who can make 3s? Enter Mikael Pietrus.

But it's not that easy, is it? To get these guys, the Suns had to give up a recent fan fave in SG Jason Richardson. Logically speaking, they traded Richardson for Carter + 3 mil (roughly equal contracts), then Hedo for Gortat and Pietrus, and Clark for nothing.

I love the trade. Gortat is healthy, and provides a great 1-2 punch with a healthy Lopez at C. Pietrus and Childress are different (maybe complementary?) players offensively, while potentially providing solid defense in tandem on the wing.

But if Lopez and Childress had lived up to their expectations, this trade would never have happened.

Lopez was clearly not producing and seems to be anchored to the floor indefinitely. Even worse, he seems mentally affected by his lack of athleticism and isn't even maxing out what he can currently offer.

Childress broke the tip of his right, middle finger on a dunk attempt in the last preseason game. This was really, really, really unfortunate because his entire game is predicated on dunks, putbacks, rebounds and steals. All things that require hands. Strong, unbroken hands. As a result, his dunks have been soft and tenuous, and he's tried and failed to develop left-handed hooks and layups.

To top it off, Childress' feet (on defense) have been much heavier than advertised or expected. In the first two months, he got regularly beat on dribble-drives, completely confounding Gentry and teammates.

It may be that Lopez and Childress, when they physically recover 100%, their "game" will recover as well. In that case, those are two great assets to have on any team.

But in the meantime, the Suns couldn't wait around.

Enter Gortat and Pietrus. So far, not so good in the W-L column. The Suns are 1-4 with these two guys getting about 50-55 minutes a night, primarily at the expense of Lopez, Childress and Hakim Warrick's time.

These two have definitely produced, but not enough to offset the reduced effectiveness of the starting SG (Carter, for Richardson) and the inexplicably poor play by many of the remaining Suns players since the trade. Grant's shot has disappeared, probably due to the banging he's enduring at the PF spot. Frye's shot has disappeared too, though his shot attempts haven't changed a whole lot.

A third hope/expectation coming out of the offseason was that Hedo Turkoglu and Steve Nash could effectively co-exist in the same lineup. We all know that flamed out. It's not because Hedo is a poor player (he's proven that in Orlando since the trade) or that Nash is prickly and selfish (of COURSE that's not true), it's just that this wasn't a marriage made in heaven.

A fourth hope/expectation coming out of the offseason was that Hakim Warrick could provide more than half of what Amare provided on offense and rebounding, and be at least comparable on defense. Warrick did the first part, but was gawdawful at the latter (defense) to the point where he stood out as the worst defensive player on the league's worst defensive squad. Ugh.

On top of that, Warrick failed to replace Amare in two other areas that had not been uttered as necessary. 

Where Amare was consistent - providing the same 21 and 8 nearly every night - Hakim Warrick is the model of inconsistency. One night, he'll get 10 points in 20 minutes. The next, 2 points in the same minutes. The net result matches his careeer average, but that's just not good enough.

The only area in which Warrick is fairly consistent? Passivity. Where Amare was aggressive and often set the tone on offense, Warrick is passive and requires an open lane to the basket in order to effectively reprise the pick-n-roll game. Otherwise, he disappears.

 

In summary

In summary, there are 4 areas where the Suns expected/hoped for a certain outcome this season to offset the losses of Lou, Amare and LB, only to watch none of them come to fruition in the first 8 weeks of the season. The first two were mostly injury-related, but still. Complete failure.

The Suns' front office, to their credit, hit the reset button. They acquired 2 pieces to effectively fill the gaps of expectations/hopes #1 and #2, while jettisoning expectation/hope #3 entirely. The cost? A marginally less effective (yet much more hated) starting SG. Not bad, really.

So, guess what's next on the Suns' front office agenda?

Likely to find someone to fill expectation/hope #4. We all know they are floundering at PF. Maybe Warrick gets another shot someday. The Suns would certainly prefer not to make another trade if they could avoid it. Warrick has the tools to be effective enough, and in the right scheme can be downright good. But if he wants another shot, and he wants to stick in the lineup, he's gonna have to be consistent night in, night out. And he needs to be aggressive night in, night out.

Or, maybe the front office hits the reset button again. The Suns cannot afford to ride out the season without a new answer at the PF position, and they've already shown a willingness to find answers.


Pro: These aren’t the same old Suns There’s almost always cause for optimism on Planet Orange. The storyline usually goes something like this: An overlooked Steve Nash rallies the troops...

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