The lowly Phoenix Suns started the night on a 12-0 run and never looked back, until Portland tapped them on the shoulder late. But Portland's comeback was a little too late, and the Suns finished out a big road win in Portland.
The Suns charged out of the gate, kept scoring and finished with 36 big points after one quarter. Considering the last home game I attended, where the Suns had only 34 points after THREE whole quarters, this game was very refreshing. Myers Leonard was abused again by Suns centers Marcin Gortat (6,2) and Jermaine O'Neal (3,2) and Goran Dragic showed how many assists he could rack up with a shooting team by getting 10 in the quarter to go along with 5 points.
The Suns did not stop there, scoring another 27 in the second quarter to finish with 63 at the half. Not only did the Suns score at will, they played strong defense, holding Portland to 47 points. The Suns had 7 second-quarter turnovers, but made up for it by outrebounding Portland 14-7 in the frame.
While Shannon Brown nursed a turned ankle and sore back, Wesley Johnson had a great second quarter with 12 points and 5 rebounds. he soared all over the court in this quarter, making Suns fans wonder where this aggressive guy was all season? Johnson played the last 14 minutes of the half, taking not only Brown's minutes but also Tucker's second quarter minutes as well.
In the third, Portland started hot and outscored the Suns 16-8 in the first six minutes on 6-8 shooting while the Suns shot 3-7 with two turnovers. The Suns righted the ship though, and soon Dragic had a career high in assists by the three-minute mark of the third quarter.
By the end of the third, your Slovenian Dragon had 16 assists, a career high with a quarter left to play. Can he get 20? Dragic also scored the ball, getting 14 points on 5-12 shooting. Damian Lillard kept the Blazers within striking distance with 19 points and 4 assists, but those numbers paled in comparison to Dragic. J.J. Hickson powered his way to 21 points and 13 rebounds after three quarters as well (9 and 7 in the third alone), helping the Blazers grab four offensive rebounds to keep the game closer than it could have been.
The Suns entered the 4th quarter with an 84-73 lead.
The bench unit kept the lead behind Jermaine O'Neal, who put together a heck of a game with 9 points and 13 rebounds. The Suns took a 90-74 lead early in the fourth before Portland began chipping heavily away, going on an 18-6 run even while the Suns brought back in their starters.
Shades of the earlier season loss in Portland were coming to light, where Portland overcame a deficit to beat the Suns by 3 when the Suns were trying to right their ship in December. That loss to Portland sparked 11 losses in 12 games, mostly on the road.
Portland roared back in the fourth while the Suns' once-fluid once stopped up with Dragic getting trapped and forced to the release the ball. Michael Beasley had one of his "off" games, shooting 3 for 9 with 3 fouls and a turnover. He was a ball-stopper, taking shots or committing fouls seemingly every time he touched it.
The Suns were able to pull out the win on the strength of some strong defense and a couple of crafty drives to the hoops by Gortat and Scola, despite big shots made by Portland. Just not enough of them.
The Phoenix Suns outrebounded Portland 51-36 - a feat unto itself.
The Suns shot 50% on the night, compared to Portland's 42%.
But Portland made 26-32 on free throws to keep it close, and the Suns had to ride Dragic's 14 points and 18 assists to the victory. O'Neal chipped in 9 points and 13 assists, and Wesley-freakin-Johnson had a HUGE 14 points and 8 rebounds.
The Suns broke a 7-game losing streak in Portland while the Blazers extended their season-long losing streak to 6 games.
Should the Phoenix Suns make an offer to Atlanta for Josh Smith? Would be make a good cornerstone player to partner with Goran Dragic and the future lottery picks? Is it worth sending Marcin Gortat and maybe Markieff Morris to the Hawks to get the multi-talented power forward?
All fun questions to ask and think about, and in light of the many trade rumors out there, it'd be criminally negligent on our part not to at least chat it out. But in this case, the situation remains what it is and that's reporters outside of Phoenix likely getting their info from agents and other teams who are speculating or simply blowing smoke while local sources are highly skeptical that the Suns want even Smith.
Here's the respected and informed Paul Coro from the Arizona Republic with the latest:
The Josh Smith rumor keeps floating and there seems to be nothing at all on the trade front for him with Phoenix. Smith could be of more interest to the Suns in free agency but he wants to be a maximum-salary player and he is no face of the franchise. Rudy Gay was more of a real trade option than Smith has been.
It's an interesting assessment that isn't without flaws. Not flaws in the reporting mind you, but flaws in the thinking if this indeed represents the Suns mindset.
First: Does anyone really value Rudy Gay higher than Josh Smith? Gay is a one-dimensional player who (inefficiently) scores the ball. Smith fills up the box score with assists, rebounds, steals, blocks and yes, buckets. It's not even close.
The second flaw in this potential thinking is that Josh Smith would be available this summer as a free agent. If the Suns were to trade for Smith they'd hold a sizable monetary advantage when it comes time to re-sign him this summer. If they wait, the Suns would have no edge over the other teams with cap space and certainly a disadvantage to whoever holds his Bird Rights.
If the Suns want to save their money for some other unknown player (there really aren't any star targets this summer), that's fine. It plays into the hands of those drooling over the 2014 draft with big names (Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins) but let's remember that to be in the running for those guys the Suns need to be prepared for yet another horrible season of losing.
If saving the cap space and avoiding talent that could hurt those lottery chances is the plan, so be it. We can cover a losing team for another year...just don't try and tell me Josh Smith is a lesser player than Rudy Gay.
This is an important trade deadline for the Phoenix Suns. They are at the crux of nearly every trade rumor and have their eyes on some talent, but they need to be wary of overpaying for the wrong players.
The overwhelming consensus is that Josh Smith of the Atlanta Hawks is the prize and silver lining to an overall dismal season, but he may be the panic move that reserves the Suns into mediocrity for the next 5-7 seasons. Smith is not a franchise guy, hence the Hawks willingness to let him go to the highest bidder. In eight years in the league Smith has been the best player on his team once (this year), an All-Star zero times, and a member of an All-NBA Team once (All-Defensive Second Team, 2009-2010).
His Hawks teams have been above .500 five times in nine seasons, four of which were teams led by Joe Johnson on the perimeter and Al Horford in the paint. Advanced stats need to be taken with a grain of salt, but Smith has an average of 5.1 Win Shares each year for the Hawks. In his four years with the Suns as arguably the teams fourth or fifth best player Jared Dudley has an average Win Share of 4.9. Does that scream franchise player?
He is equipped to be the third or fourth guy on a Championship team, or if he was still in his prime to be the second or third best player on a team with Championship aspirations. A Max Contract used to mean you are the man.
If the teams interest in Smith is legitimate, it will take a Max to get to get him to stay here, which locks the team into a perennial third wheel until he is 34 years old sacrificing 25% of the teams cap room for five seasons. The Suns went that route before when they acquired Stephon Marbury in an effort to stop-gap the losing by handing the keys over to the habitually average point guard.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. This is a new regime, but it looks like 11 years later history could be repeating itself.
There in lies a concept the team could key in on.
Instead of acquiring the third wheel masked as the franchise changer -- be the third wheel.
Most (if not all) trades in the NBA revolve around one team wanting a specific piece from another team, or two teams with mutually appealing assets they want to swap. In those situations there is always room for a virtuous front office to grab some assets as the prying vulture keeping a watchful eye out.
Scoping the landscape of the NBA there is not a franchise altering player on the horizon that can be had with the assets available.
Dudley, Marcin Gortat, Jermaine O'Neal, and Sebastian Telfair are all quality assets, but they are not the presence that makes teams come calling to unload a Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, or James Harden. All of which at one point were traded for packages more appealing than what the Suns are able to offer.
Without the assets to garner a star to the Valley, the next best option is to latch onto a trade as a third or fourth party to bring in some newer, potentially better assets to build off of.
In the recent past the Denver Nuggets were able to turn Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington into Andre Iguodala. The Memphis Grizzlies were able to turn the draft rights to Donte Greene into Darrell Arthur. Also, the Los Angeles Clippers turned Brian Cook into Nick Young and the New Orleans Hornets turned Brad Miller and Jerome Dyson into Robin Lopez.
All of those were assets collected while assisting another team get what they wanted. It is safe to say none of those assets outside of Afflalo provide the impact that Dudley or Gortat would today. So who is to say this is not the avenue for the Suns?
Those trades can backfire costing the team an asset for something that does not pan out like a second round pick or fringe NBA talent like Anthony Randolph. That is the risky element of making a move, but the risk factor is drastically reduced when the return is a Young, Iguodala, or Lopez type for a few years rather than a Smith type for five years.
In the past seven years there have been 23 trades involving three or four teams all of which are not homeruns for the third wheel.
That is an average 2.38 big trades a year, including the two that have already happened this season, the odds are on the Suns side to step in as a facilitator. The Hawks are eying the Milwaukee Bucks Monte Ellis while the Knicks and Magic are exploring a swap of Iman Shumpert and J.J. Redick.
Sift through the Magic, Knicks, Bucks, and Hawks roster to see what spare parts could be beneficial to the long-term future of the Suns; because Smith would be the Adam Dunn of NBA Trade Homeruns.
Phoenix Suns forward P.J. Tucker isn't blessed with prototypical height or length for an NBA wing, nor is he the most athletic player in the league. He doesn't have the quickest of feet and he can't jump out of the gym. Generally, undersized, sub-par athletes don't tend to stick around very long in the NBA. Yet here Tucker is, starting for the Suns and playing big minutes.
Tucker has made it back to the NBA after a detour overseas through hard work. He wasn't good enough to be the star he was at Texas, so he reinvented his game to become something else. Tucker has turned himself into a hard-nosed defensive player, and a darn good one at that.
To be fair, Bryant helped out Tucker a lot by not even trying to shoot in the first half. The Suns sent a lot of double-teams early to get the ball out of Bryant's hands, and he was gracious enough to comply with the Suns' game plan and look to pass the ball. And it was working for him as the Lakers controlled the game throughout the first half. Kobe was all smiles at halftime.
But then something changed. The Suns fought their way back into the game, and Kobe wasn't smiling any more. He finally started shooting. But just because he was shooting doesn't mean he was scoring. No, Tucker made sure of that.
Bryant finished the game 1-8 from the field and 2-2 from the free throw line for four points, and had eight turnovers to go with his nine assists. Watching all of those plays on MySynergySports.com, Bryant went 0-5, was fouled on one shot and committed six turnovers against Tucker's defense. How did Tucker shut down one of the best scorers in NBA history? Let's take a look.
Here we see Kobe getting the ball on the right side of the court. P.J. was right up in his face before the catch and doesn't back down once Kobe gets the ball.
Kobe surveys the floor, but P.J. is right up in his grill, getting his hand in front of the ball and in Bryant's face, looking to deny the pass. Tucker is not going to give Bryant anything easy on this play. As you can see, he's playing tight on Kobe's left hand and giving him the baseline.
Kobe blows by Tucker and drives baseline ... right into the waiting help defense of Marcin Gortat. Bryant left his feet to try to make a pass and got caught in the air before throwing it off the feet of Dwight Howard.
Score: Tucker 1, Bryant 0
This play starts the same as the first one, with Kobe getting the ball on the right side of the court and Tucker right on him.
Kobe gets past Tucker and drives baseline again, but this time there is no help defense waiting at the basket.
Instead of giving up on the play, Tucker chases him down and hacks the heck out of him to prevent the dunk. With no help defense, Tucker made the wrong play by pressuring Kobe so tight and giving him the baseline (it's tough to tell from the angle given on Synergy, but it looks like Jermaine O'Neal might have had to time to get over and help but didn't even move).
Score: Tucker 1 - Bryant 1
This time, Bryant brings the ball up the court and Tucker meets him a step outside the arc. Both Howard and Antawn Jamison come up to set screens.
Tucker fights through and gets over both screens, while Markieff Morris steps out to hedge on the second one.
Kobe tries to split the trap off the screen, but Tucker and Morris don't give him room and he dribbles off Tucker's foot.
Score: Tucker 2 - Bryant 1
On this play, Steve Nash passes the ball off to Kobe on the left wing, and Tucker is right up on him.
Kobe tries to take P.J. off the dribble and drives left, but Tucker does an excellent job of moving his feet and staying in front of him. Bryant picks up the ball and has nowhere to go, but for some reason O'Neal comes over to double. That leaves a free lane for Howard to roll to the basket. But as you can see, Jared Dudley is in excellent position to rotate over.
Bryant sees Howard open at the rim and tries to pass to him, but Dudley steps in front and knocks the ball away.
Score: Tucker 3, Bryant 1
This next play is a Shannon Brown special. Kobe brings the ball down the court and isolates on Tucker at the top of the key.
After a lot of dribbling in place, Kobe rises up for a 19-foot jumper, and Tucker is right up in his face contesting the shot. Clank.
Score: Tucker 4 - Kobe 1
Kobe isos on Tucker again, but this time he attacks the defense.
Kobe drives, but Tucker stops him. Kobe crosses over and tries to drive again, but Tucker is still there. Kobe spins back ...
Then turns back around for the fadeaway jumper. The only problem (for him) is Tucker didn't fall for the spin and is right in his face, giving him no room to get a good shot off. Airball.
Score: Tucker 5 - Bryant 1
Bryant starts out off the ball, but Tucker doesn't relax. Kobe cuts baseline but Tucker is right there fighting him every step of the way. Kobe looks to get position on the block as Tucker fronts him hard.
Bryant puts a forearm into Tucker's back to create space (not legal, but not called) and Jamison tries to make the pass. But the pass sails and Kobe falls out of bounds trying to bring it down.
Score: Tucker 6 - Bryant 1
This time, Kobe's back on the ball. Howard and Jamison set high ball screens again. Just like the first time, Tucker gets through the screens and Morris hedges to give him time to recover. Kobe isos and tries to take Tucker off the dribble ...
But Tucker gets his hand on the ball and knocks it loose.
Score: Tucker 7 - Bryant 1
On this play, Bryant brings the ball down the court and Tucker gets picked off by Howard, giving Bryant space to rise up for the 3-pointer.
Tucker does a good job of getting around the screen and closing out to contest the shot. This was still one of Kobe's easiest looks of the game, but Tucker didn't give up on the play. And as cold as Bryant was, no bucket.
Score: Tucker 8 - Bryant 1
Nash passes the ball to Bryant at the top of the key, and on the catch Bryant tries to attack.
He tries to cross Tucker over, but never really has control of the ball and Tucker gets a hand on it. The ball is knocked around a little bit but somehow ends up back in Nash's hands.
Nash gets it right back to Kobe and he tries to drive again, but Tucker cuts him off. Kobe tries his reverse pivot/spin move thing again ...
And again Tucker is right in his grill on the release and again it's an airball.
Score: Tucker 9 - Bryant 1
This next play is in transition as Bryant pushes the ball up the court.
Tucker gets back and meets him at the 3-point line. Howard has position down low, and Bryant leaves his feet in order to make the pass. For some reason known only to Bryant (perhaps Tucker's upraised arm was in his passing lane?) he decides - while in the air - not to let the pass go to Howard and tries to get rid of it to Jamison in the corner before he comes back down.
But Luis Scola is close enough get a hand on the ball and knock it out of bounds off of Jamison. Meanwhile, Howard still has O'Neal sealed under the basket. Never leave your feet to make a pass kids (unless you're Steve Nash).
Score: Tucker 10 - Bryant 1
Tucker spent much of the game face-guarding Bryant and sticking tight to him, but on this play he gives him a bit of room.
Nash runs the high pick-and-roll with Howard and penetrates into the lane, collapsing the defense a bit. Tucker drops down into help position leaving Bryant open at the arc.
Nash hits Bryant for the pot-up 3, but as cold as he was even the open ones wouldn't go in. And Tucker still did an excellent job of closing out and contesting the shot.
Final Score: Tucker 11 - Bryant 1
Tucker was able to be so successful defensively because he never took a play off. He played with intensity on every possession, getting up in Bryant's face an cranking up the pressure. He moved his feet well, read Bryant's moves and overall played very fundamentally sound defense. This is who P.J. Tucker is. He's the Garbage Man, putting in a long day of hard work and doing all the dirty work. He's not and never will be a big time scorer, but Tucker's defense should keep him in the NBA for a bit longer this time around.