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In some ways I feel like this is a statement game. The Phoenix Suns have been humiliated twice in the past few days and it would suck to end the year on a bad note with a loss to the (11-21) Pistons. I'm with a lot of you in that I feel like the Suns just need to get a win, any win to stop the bleeding. Another loss would just add salt to the wound and with what appears to be a now shaky, chemistry they can't afford much more of those. 

The former "Bad Boys" are coming off of an impressive win vs the Boston Celtics in which their starting PG Rodney Stuckey didn't play(probable for tonight's game- flu). Tracy McGrady utilized the point for them and collected 8 assist to go with his 21 points on a 7-11 shooting. He's been playing better recently and so has Chris Wilcox who collected 10 points and 8 rebounds on 4-4 shooting to follow up his 15 and 8 the night before in Charlotte. Not to mention Austin Daye who came off the bench for 12 points on 5-7 shooting. He's a nice, young big-man who can hit the three. These are guys that can hurt the Suns if they don't come prepared, or read the scouting reports... 

I was quite disappointed with the Suns the other night as most of you were; mainly the defense. According to Nash they were trying, but were quite hesitant due to not really getting the scheme. I thought Dudley said something interesting-

"Maybe it's film, maybe it's calling people out, maybe showing them what we have to do...We could defiantly talk a lot more, were over-thinking" 

Originally, I thought this was something they already did? I'd expect that they'd watch the film and the coach would call out specific players for their mistakes and show them how to fix it. I guess, that's not how all coaches are;  I never played organized basketball, so I'm not sure?

According to Dudley, he believes the awful defense is due to mental mistakes more so than effort. Nash kind of said the same thing. I think this is due to over-complicating the schemes. Whatever Gentry had them doing was just too much and the team just isn't ready for it. Apparently, he realized that too and has simplified his defensive plan. Hopefully, that works because they can't continue to expect to beat anybody if they let them shoot open jumpers, rebound missed shots and drive to the line with no fear. They played like a bunch of softies and they need to toughen up.

Maybe it's just me, but I want to see more emotion, more fire, more passion, more yelling, scrapping, banging... in their play and not the kind that comes from frustration, but the kind that comes from the heart and desire to win? The Suns need to get back that intensity they use to have last year. Lets face it, the starters miss Amar'e the bench misses Frye, but too bad, things change. They've officially got their backs to the wall and now everybody is calling them out-

The Suns are even worse on defense than you think- "I'm not sure people truly understand just how awful they've been this season"- Matt McHale

Sad thing is that it's true, no argument there. Things are going to get tough for the Suns now that the Media has finally noticed their historically, awful defense. However, they can't let that get to them. They have to be strong emotionally. They have to go out there and prove the doubters wrong. They need to play with an edge! Lol, I feel like they need to get a bit more "bad" or "rebellious". Somewhere a long the lines of this-

                                  

 

Well, I still have hope that they can turn things around and I believe they will. 

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Phoenix Suns New Year's Eve Plan Includes Some Detroit Pistons In A 'Need A Win' Game - SB Nation Arizona
The Phoenix Suns feel like they need to get this win tonight over the Detroit Pistons. They are right.

 

[Note by Seth Pollack, 12/31/10 12:39 PM MST ]

Some quick notes and quotes from shootaround:

Vince Carter:

"One game's not going to do it, I feel like I still need a few more but I feel more comfortable because of the practices but it's nothing like going through it at game speed. I feel like quarter-by-quarter I get more comfortable."

"Just playing against (the Suns) for so long you kind of have a feel for it. It's nothing like actually running the ins and outs of it, then you kind of see the big picture of what they're trying to accomplish. I say that because that's how I break down offenses. You can see plays run and be like, 'OK, fine. It's for him, it's for him, they're going to do this.' But when you see the big picture and reasons you're running it and why you have guys in particular positions, you (understand) it's a pretty good play. I've said that a couple of times."

"Just watching him (Tracy McGrady) the last couple of days he looks pretty good so he's back to his old self. I'm sure there's going to be some trash talking out there tonight," Carter said. "I'm just glad to see him back out there."

Alvin Gentry:

"Intensity level was a lot better yesterday. Not that we've not been playing hard, we've just been doing a poor job of containing guys and having guys drive by us. And it's not one guy, it's a couple here and there and a few more and a few more and before you know it it's too much for us to win a game on."

"I think we're playing hard. I think we're competing. I think we just have to do a better job of guarding the ball and keeping guys in front of us and doing a good job on screen and rolls."

"As I said to our guys, we still have a ton of game left to play but it's something that we need to get corrected because we're already trying to put three new guys into the mix and so that's going to take some getting used to. But defensively, we have to be better. We have to improve in that area right away."

"I wouldn't say frustrating. I would say I'm a little bit disappointed. But in defense of the guys too, we've tried to change a few things and do something differently because with the personnel that we originally had here we thought that would work best. That didn't work out so now we're going back to what we did originally with different personnel so it's been a little bit of a trying time for them too."

"I don't totally blame the players. I have to take some of the responsibility on that too because I changed what we were doing and thought it would work best for the guys we had here before we made the trade and now we're going to go back to what we were originally doing because I think it will help the guys that we have here now."

"I've been really happy with the focus and effort we've had down here (on the practice floor) but that's still got to translate to doing the job in the game. We'll get a gauge of it tonight."

"We're at simplicity where accountability is pretty easy to gauge. We're going to be a simplistic team that tries to be proactive. That's what we're going to be."

"We've got one thing thing we're going to do on screen and rolls, and post defense and isolations and things like that and we're not going to try and do three or four things."

"We've got to get back to keeping (teams) out of the 50 percent (shooting) range. It puts way way way too much pressure on the offense. If they're scoring every time it puts pressure on you to score every time. Somewhere along the line if you're getting stop it takes some of the pressure off your offense. We're very good offensively but we can't be that good."

"We've got to develop some consistency on the road and at home."

Will take a look at playing with a small line up with one big and three small guys and Steve.

Not certain the Warrick and Childress won't play. Go by feel based on match-ups. Those guys need to keep themselves ready to play which is difficult to do.

"I think he's (McGrady) played great. I watched the Boston game the other night and obviously he played really well in that game right there. He seems to be feeling a lot better and he's not an old guy. He's 31 years old, I think, so when he's healthy he's got a lot of basketball left in him."

Ben Gordon when he goes well, they go well and he plays well in this building.

"They've got five guys averaging in double-figures and that's all you need to know about them. There's not one guy you've got to zero in on, there's a bunch of guys you've got to do a good job on." 

"We've got to keep working on that situation right there to get the right people out there with (Dragic) and stuff. As I've said, he's got to play a little better but we're going to have to try and surround him with some guys that's going to make the game a little bit easier for him too."

 



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Time: 7 p.m. MST TV: FSAZ PHOENIX — Marcin Gortat punctuated one of his poignant quotes after Wednesday’s defensive shellacking at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers by remarking that...

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Frustrated with the ever-changing defensive schemes and the team's ability to stay up with the calls, the Suns will revert back to last season's simplified defensive system.

More photos » Rick Scuteri - AP

Frustrated with the ever-changing defensive schemes and the team's ability to stay up with the calls, the Suns will revert back to last season's simplified defensive system.

Browse more photos »

Last season, according to several people in the Suns organization, the team simplified the defensive schemes primarily to help Amare Stoudemire. One of Amare's issues over the years has been thinking too much and not reacting quickly enough on the defensive end of the floor. While it often appeared to the observer that he was a disinterested defender, the reality was that he simply didn't have the ability to read and react to various scenarios as they were unfolding at NBA speed.

The solution was to take all the various options for defending the screen and roll, which is the fundamental core of most NBA offenses, and boil it down to one, or maybe at times two, options.

If you remember from last season, every time the opposing team ran a pick and roll the big man would hedge out and stop the ball which gives the guard time to get around the screen and recover. If the screener rolled to the basket, the rest of the team understood how to rotate from the weak side and pick up that guy. The quick recovery from the hedge by the big man would then complete the sequence. 

There are essentially five basic ways* you can cover a screen and roll and the Suns picked one that worked best for the mobility of their big man and covered up for the lack of defensive ability from the point guard position.

It's an effective way to play defense but it's also limiting. Good teams with the right personnel could attack that scheme since they knew exactly how the Suns were going to play them. 

It made sense then that this season the coaching staff wanted to raise the defensive bar and mix up coverages. Great defensive teams have the ability to mix things up and the Suns wanted to go from being a decent defensive team last year to being a great defensive team this year. Don't laugh, that was the preseason goal

Instead of playing the screen and roll the same way, all the time, they wanted to be able to adjust coverages throughout the game and use different approaches on different players. A color-coded system was put in place to call out the defensive play. "Red" means one coverage, "Blue" another, and so forth. 

Then came the season which started rather promising on the defensive end but now has reverted back to last season's simplified concepts due the team's failure to cope with the complexity. This comes after a combination of the Robin Lopez injury after just ten games, the lack of defensive ability by some of the new players, the time it takes to learn the more complex schemes when playing with a lot of new guys, and the constant tweaking that progressively added more option like the strong-side zone the Suns tried out a few weeks ago.

"We're going back to what we did last year. We've got one way we play and that's the way we'll play...We know exactly where everyone should be in that situation and we're going to demand that they be there," Coach Gentry explained today after a lengthy practice session.

In that quote you see another advantage of playing the more simplified systems -- accountability. Channing Frye talked about this as well.

"For us, just being on the same page defensively, knowing exactly what everybody is supposed to do and where they're supposed to be, now we can hold people accountable. It is not like, 'I didn't know we were doing that this game or blah, blah, blah.'"

Grant Hill agreed that the change in plans makes things pretty straight forward, "I know I have to 'black' on screen and roll and I have to box out." 

That's the game plan you can look to see but as Grant also said, game plan isn't everything.

"It's really a mind-set. We can change schemes all day. We can do this, we can do that, but if we don't change our mind-set it's all for nothing. I thought today was about changing our mind-set."

The mind-set change Grant is talking about means slightly different things to different players. For a smart, experienced vet like Hill it's just about being focused and mentally prepared for the defensive part of the game. 

"We've just got to be more consistent," Hill said. "We've got to concentrate. We've got to take a little bit more pride. It's got to be personal. It's got to hurt when somebody scores on you or when somebody scores on us."

But as Channing Frye (and other players at various times) points out, it's not just about playing hard. Frye explained that you can tell someone to run hard down the hall and around the corner but if they don't know exactly where they are going they are going to hesitate. The key as he sees it, is to get everyone on the same page which frees them up to give max physical effort and not run around like "chickens with their heads cut off."

That's the direction the Suns are going in now and they had an almost three-hour long practice today focused entirely on the defensive details to try and get it right.

"We didn't play well and it starts with me and I take that responsibility," Gentry said about the overall team record, but he's still optimistic that the pieces are in place to get better. 

"We're not as bad a defensive team as our stats say and we've got to make sure that we're playing that way and putting ourselves in a position to win games."

Other Notes

Gentry:

"I didn't need to study (the game film). I mean we played terrible, that's the bottom line. We gave up 123 points, it didn't need to be studied or anything. Obviously, we have to get much better than we played...In our case, we have a lot of work that we've got to get done and continue to do and that's why we spent a lot of time out here today and we'll continue to do that."

"I think it's just a matter of everyone taking a look at themselves, including the coaches. Everybody's responsible, it starts with me and we'll make sure the accountability is there."

"It's not a punishment thing. I don't believe in punishment. We do have to do what's necessary to get us ready to play. In the past we've been a team that's been able to get our work done in an hour, hour and half, and we've been successful doing it that way."

"You work until you get your job done. That's all."

Frye

"It's not too late to get back into this playoff race and overall we just want to play better and play harder."

Today's practice was tough, detailed oriented and "great for us". 

"Nobody likes being embarrassed and nobody on this team like losing so we don't care how long we have to be out here if it's going to make us better and help us win we're going to do what's right."

"Any time you lose, you figure 'hey that's not working' so you've got to change it up. I understand that. I've been on teams that have been trying to figure out their identify defensively and I think our team likes this. We understand it and it's about effort and if we can get people moving and playing with some effort we're going to be great."

Hill

"Are we going to be the best defensive team in the league tomorrow? No. But it's something that we talked about as players and we've got to commit to it and we've got to stay patient."

"We've shown it at times. We've shown we can do it in stretches. Maybe short stretches, but we've shown we can do it. "

 

* Five Ways To Cover The Screen And Roll

1. Hedge and rotate

The big man who was guarding the screener jumps out and stops the ball handler from turning the corner. Ideally the ball handler will pick up his dribble. This requires full commitment and quick action by the big as they have to leave their own man and focus on stopping the ball. When the screener rolls to the basket the weak side help has to come over and prevent an easy pass and finish. When that pass is cut off, the players rotate back to their original assignments.

In this coverage the primary responsibilities are on the big man and the help defenders behind the play. This takes pressure off the guard (typically Steve Nash).

2. Show and recover

Here the big man quickly stunts out and tries to slow the ball handler just long enough for the guard but never gives up responsibility for the roll man either. This often leaves the defender in limbo as he ends up not showing hard enough to stop the ball but is still out of position to defend his man as he rolls to the basket.

3. Switch

Teams like Denver and Portland and Atlanta switch almost every screen and roll. This leaves a big man on the guard and the guard defending the screener. The Suns almost never do this.

4. Chase over screen, sag off

Here the guard follows the ball handler over the screen while the big man sags off and tries to both cut off dribble penetration and also stay in the passing lane to prevent a pass to the roll man. The Spurs do this really well with Tim Duncan. At least they used to.

5. Go under screen

Here the big man stays with the screener and essentially takes him out of the play while the guard goes under the screen. This helps deny dribble penetration and stops the screen man from rolling free to the basket. This gives the guard a wide open jump shot as he's left unguarded for a period of time. This works well against guards that can't shoot from outside or are just having a bad shooting night. 

The Suns used this as a secondary option last season and probably will continue to do so again when the match-ups call for it. 


He might be balding but he's no shrinking violet.

More photos » Alex Gallardo - AP

He might be balding but he's no shrinking violet.

Browse more photos »

One thing we can say for sure about Marcin Gortat, he's not afraid to speak his mind. After Wednesday night's drubbing at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers, Gortat ripped into his new team for one of the worst defensive performances we've seen out of the NBA's worst defensive team. 

When a player, especially a player who's new to the team, speaks up like this, it can go two ways. The rest of the team can see his words as a wake-up call and react in a positive way. Or he can create division in the locker room with guys pointing fingers and resenting the "new guy" for speaking out of school. We'll see what happens next.

Take it away, Marcin:

"I came from a team where everybody was competing and trying to do what the coach told you. We just totally changed our rotations and what we said before the game. We were not playing hard enough and we have a lot of work in front of us."

Straight forward enough start to things. He puts the blame on the team for not following the game plan and states the obvious about having a lot of work to do. But then he goes further.

"I think we need to be in the gym everyday for three hours, learn the rotations and everything from the beginning. There are so many things we are doing bad and I can't find an explanation."

Now Marcin is suggesting that the way the Suns go about their business is part of the problem and here he gets into potentially dangerous territory.

"I'm trying to get some rebounds and stops, but unfortunately there is not too many opportunities to rebound because the 76ers are scoring 120-something points. It is just frustrating. It is frustrating as hell; I'm not going to lie. It is a reality check for me, going from a team who is winning to a team who is losing and we are the worst defensive team in the league."

So the lack of defensive rebounding is a result of giving up too many points, which has a certain logic to it except the 76ers still had 12 offensive rebounds and 18 second chance points. The comment about going from a winning team to a losing team is refreshingly candid, but potentially decisive. It's not like the Suns are the 76ers, who haven't had playoff success in years.

"We have to be more serious about everything we do. When you pass through that door up front over there, this is time when you pack it in and are getting ready for the game or the practice. We got to read the scouting report, which guy likes to do what and learn it. It's a lot of work."

And now he specifically calls out his teammates for lack of preparation and attacks the very culture of the Phoenix Suns. This isn't a team used to wearing their game face all the time. This is a team who wants to play loose and have a positive, upbeat attitude. 

Good stuff from Marcin. Should be interesting to see where this goes from here.

 

Here's a little diddy about the offensive side of things which has some issues as well.

 

Phoenix Suns Offensive System Depends On One Man, Channing Frye - Desert Dirt - SB Nation Arizona
That, my friends, is why Channing Frye is the key to the entire Suns offense. He's the guy that starts the engine.

 

Oh, and...

Happy New Year!

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Was Gortat right to say what he said?

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PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns have played some awful defensive games over the years, but Wednesday’s 123-110 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers does not have many rivals in futility. This was a Sixers...

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