The Phoenix Coyotes have been the fourth most popular major sports team in Phoenix since they moved from Winnipeg to the warm, sunny desert to promote a game played on ice. Imagine that's the reason it's fourth?

The Arizona Cardinals, despite being bad-to-mediocre for most of the last two decades, still drew big crowds even when they were playing outside in Sun Devil Stadium in 100+ degree heat.

The Arizona Diamondbacks have been up and down during their 14 years in the valley - from a high of winning a Super Bowl to a low of losing 100+ games - but they have at least drawn a consistent TV viewing audience (despite modest crowds) and remain a solid presence in the community and sports pages/sites.

But it was always the Phoenix Suns who dominated the hearts and dreams of valley sports fans for 6 or more months per year. The Van Arsdale brothers, Westphal, Hawkins and other from the 70s still have a warm place in fans' hearts.

The 80s featured Sweet D, drug scandals and eventually a rebirth in the form of Kevin Johnson and Tom Chambers.

Then the 90s gave us Charles Barkley and the Suns' second appearance in an NBA Finals - one of the best and most entertaining Finals ever played.

The 2000s gave us Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and three Western Conference Finals in six seasons.

But now the Suns are one of the worst teams in the league and game attendance is at an all-time low in the new arena (since 1992).

Across town, the NHL ended it's untimely lockout and now is ready to run through a shortened schedule, starting on January 19. The Coyotes have a smart front office that put together a playoff-caliber team on a shoe-string budget.

Carl Putnam over at SB Nation's Coyotes blog - Five for Howling - gives us 10 reasons it's time to focus on the Coyotes this spring over the struggling Suns.

One of the items on the list:

4. If there is one group of fans who know what it is like when an owner comes hires a player agent as GM it is fans of Phoenix's hockey club. You'll have plenty to talk about with your new found brethren.

Check out his list here, and give them a shout.

While I still love the Suns, I also like to watch quality sports play. And the Coyotes should be able to supply that.

But bring a jacket if you decide to watch them play a game at their Jobing.com arena.

The “what” questions regarding the Phoenix Suns are easy. Alvin Gentry’s club not only doesn’t play 48 minutes of consistent basketball, but it splits that time within each game looking...

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The Suns got off to a good start on the offensive end by shooting 11-20 (55%) from the field and 3-5 (60%) from three point range. A scary moment occurred when Tucker went up for a block and Gerald Wallace, who went to the locker room, hit the floor hard after incidental contact. Dudley led the way with eight points for the Suns, while Morris had a couple of nifty passes during his brief stint. Deron Williams led the way for the Nets (7 points) who stayed close through a 6-0 free throw advantage due to a foul discrepancy between the Suns (6) and the Nets (0). Score: Suns 25, Nets 21.

The Suns got an unexpected contribution in the second quarter from the guy on the side of the milk carton. We hadn't seen much of Shannon (doing anything meaningful) lately, but tonight he showed up and scored 11 in the period. The Suns used an 11-3 run to gain separation from the Nets with Dudley, Brown and Dragic leading the way. All three players were in double figures with Brown scoring 13, Dragic 10 and Dudley (3-3 from three) 11. Williams led Brooklyn with 12, as the Nets continued to stay close behind a 22-6 free throw advantage. Score: Suns 53, Nets 46.

Brooklyn used one 10-0 run and another 18-6 run to not only take the lead in the third quarter, but actually put some distance between themselves and the Suns. Brooklyn was 11-21 from the field, while Phoenix managed just 5-20. Dudley (16 points and 4-4 from three) tried to keep the Suns close, but Phoenix had another one of their patented meltdown quarters and were outscored 28-13. In addition, the Suns were plagued by foul trouble to multiple players. Score: Nets 74, Suns 66.

The Nets stretched the end of the third quarter into a 30-6 run. The route was on. Same old story.

Nets win 99-79.


Player of the Game:

Nobody in particular had a game that stood apart from the others, so I'm going to give a team game ball to the Nets for stultifying the Suns in the second half.


Comments of the Game:

Dudley really has expanded his game.


Robin Lopez has been posting similar per 36 stats to Brook Lopez

He's having a very good year, no doubt. Happens a lot when we get rid of guys... We don't maximize our talent at all, which is why Gentry needs to go.


Tucker is an amazing defender.


(Brown) He has all the tools for being a great defender, he just doesn't have the mentality.


I think it's his (Scola's) un-athleticism that allows him to be as effective as he is.

It seems like his defenders react instinctively and overplay when they realize too late that he hasn't actually moved much at all. Then he lays it in.


That Joe Johnson looks good.

Wish we had him.


Damn Goran, he (Williams) has one leg!

Go at him!!!


Same old story.

Suns cannot play for 48 minutes. Yet again collapsing in the 4th quarter. So depressing. This team has become a joke.


The Good:

Shannon Brown graced us with his presence in the first half after a six game stretch (since his demotion from the starting lineup) where he only managed 5.2 points per game on 30.9% shooting. Brown, who came into the stretch averaging 13.2 points per game, had scored zero points twice since being eschewed to the bench. Coincidentally, Brown showed up big time in the first half (13 points) a game after Suns players suggested people on the team had "quit." Whatever the reason, it was nice to see the Cannon firing.... before he started misfiring in the second half.

Jared Dudley had another superb game. On another night permeated by embarrassing ineptitude, Jared was one of the only players worthy of receiving superlatives. He scored 18 points (4-4 from three point range) to go along with five rebounds and four assists.


The Bad:

The foul and free throw disparity. I'm not usually one to bitch about the officiating (says the guy who's always bitching about the officiating), but it didn't seem like the refs rewarded the Suns for being aggressive on defense the way I've seen that dynamic work at times. The Suns had their share of mental lapses and made unnecessary contact at times, but the whistles disrupted their ability to maintain their defensive intensity throughout the game. Then, the Suns were evidently discomfited by the calls and let it get in their head, showing a lack of equanimity and mental fortitude.


The Ugly:

Brooklyn's court. It was actually an eyesore to the point that it detracted from my ability to enjoy the game. I feel sorry for their fans that have to put up with that sensory abuse on a regular basis. In a dueling pianos dynamic, the Suns wore hideous orange warm-ups that I wouldn't take if you gave them to me...

The second half. I'm growing weary of the Suns being on the receiving end of these savage beatings on an alarmingly routine basis. If I'm going to watch the rest of the games this year with a comfortably numb level of detachment the Suns are going to have to stop trying to act like they care during the pre and postgame comments and interviews. The record isn't just old or broke, it's antediluvian and has been obliterated into smithereens. Memo guys: "giving up" 30-6 runs isn't acceptable. Getting outscored 53-26 in the second half isn't acceptable. Speaking of "giving up", the Suns quit again. Hard.


Final Thoughts:

The Suns have become one of the very worst teams in the NBA.


When: Friday, January 11, 2013, 5:30 PM local time (7:30 EST)

Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York

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


Last Meeting:

The Suns first game against the "Brooklyn" Nets came almost exactly a year ago in Phoenix on January 13, 2012. The Suns lost that contest 110-103 as Deron Williams poured in 35 points while distributing 14 assists. The departed, but never forgotten, Ronnie Price started in place of Steve Nash and went for a career high 18 points, but was unable to countervail the brilliance of Williams on the other end.

This is the first contest between the teams this season and the Suns first visit to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Team Bios:

Brooklyn Nets: 20-15

Points per game: 96.2 (T-17th) Points allowed: 94.7 (5th)

Injuries: None.

The Nets kicked off the season in impressive fashion by racing to an 11-4 record, but then stumbled to 14-14 by losing 10 of their next 13 games. Now they are back in surge mode, having won four straight games and six of their last seven. So who are the Nets? The successful bookend team, or one that is streaky and prone to periods of futility?

Brooklyn hangs their hat on defense, which is not a propitious omen based on the Suns recent offensive inadequacy. The Nets on offense is another story. They share the same concerns as the Suns with points, field goal percentage (.444) and three point shooting (.344) all barely floating or underwater compared to NBA sea level.

The Nets are headlined by Brook Lopez, Deron Williams and ex-Sun Joe Johnson. Of the three, only Lopez is having a season at or above his career levels. All three of these players are capable of taking over a game, though, so making every attempt to keep them in check, or at least mitigate the damage, is imperative.


Phoenix Suns: 12-25

Points per game: 95.9 (19th) Points allowed: 100.2 (25th)

Injuries: None, except for their pride.

The Suns are in tailspin mode. Terrible on court performance is now translating to frustration and finger pointing off the court. Aspirations of competing for a playoff spot are long forgotten, but now the Suns are staring directly into the grim rictus of the situation descending to a new depth of despair (or ascending to the apogee of the lottery).

The latest twist to the Suns season long swoon sees an average offense trying to emulate the woes of the defense and rebounding that are near the bottom of the league. The Suns are running out of facets of the game where they can claim to be better than deplorable. Hopefully a defense that has recently appeared to have a flicker of life since Tucker entered the starting lineup (grasping at straws moment) will show up for tonight's game.

The Suns new starting lineup of Dragic, Dudley, Tucker, Scola and Gortat has made the Suns competitive with starting lineups of other teams and each individual has played fairly dependably (and at times well above that mark). The bench, meanwhile, has become a pernicious force where the only dependability is that they play consistently terrible. In games that the starters have played well, the bench has squandered leads and/or given the opponents separation and the starters have been unable to regain traction.


What To Watch For:

Lopez vs. Gortat: Gortat tends to struggle against long bigs (due to the fact that he is not himself long). Lopez is having a stellar year which will probably culminate in an all-star appearance this season (not too many exceptional bigs in the Eastern Conference). Gortat has also stepped up his game recently with four double-doubles in the last five games.

Williams vs. Dragic: In a league with very solid, if not spectacular, point guard play across the board, Goran doesn't get many nights off. Tonight he faces Williams, who is not having a prodigious year by his own lofty standards, but is still a capable and dangerous threat.

The Bugaboo: Unless someone has actually cast some kind of wicked imprecation on the Suns that prevents them from ever winning another road game unless Goran Dragic gets kissed by a charming prince, the Suns have to stumble into a win at some point. Right?

Pulse Check: Several players on the Suns implied, or directly stated, that players were going through the motions or had "quit." It will be interesting to see how the players respond up and down the roster. Challenging a player's effort can be like challenging his manhood (depending upon the disposition and character of the player). Then again, for players with a life direction dominated by turpitude, it probably won't matter. I will be watching to see who is bringing it.



The Suns have lost 10 of their last 11 games overall.

The Suns are 2-16 on the road this season. They have lost 11 straight on the road, which is their longest road losing streak since the 1983-84 season.

Brook Lopez leads all NBA centers in scoring at 18.7 per game. Gortat (11.6) is 15th, one spot behind Brook's brother, Robin (11.8).

Shannon Brown is averaging 5.2 points per game since his demotion to the bench. Prior to that he had been averaging 13.2....


2013 Lottery Watch

The Suns are currently in 5th place in the race for the #1 seed in the lottery.

Last night's games of interest: Dallas (14-23) beats Sacramento (13-23) 117-112 in overtime

Tonight's slate:

Charlotte Bobcats (9-25) at Toronto Raptors (13-22)

Detroit Pistons (13-23) at Milwaukee Bucks (18-16)

Minnesota Timberwolves (16-16) at New Orleans Hornets (10-25)

Cleveland Cavaliers (9-28) at Denver Nuggets (21-16)

Oklahoma City Thunder (27-8) at Los Angeles Lakers (15-20)

Good chance for the Suns to gain some ground!


The Final Word(s):

The Suns probably aren't going to win this game, but it's not completely beyond the realm of possibility. For instance, if you subscribe to an infinite number of possible realities philosophy, I'm sure there are at least one or two in which the Suns win tonight. Since anything can happen, I still give the Suns a scintilla of a chance. That being said, I'm mostly tuning in to see how the Suns manage to lose this one...


The Suns lack the top end talent of a lot of teams, but even so that isn't their biggest problem. It's not the guys at the top of the depth chart that are losing the majority of these game, but rather the guys that should be at the bottom of it -- or out of the rotation all together.

NBA.com's John Schuhmann recently wrote about the players that have the biggest defensive impact on their teams relative to their back-ups for the Hangtime Blog. He took a look at the best on/off court differential in defensive rating, and right there at number three is our very own Jared Dudley.

3. Jared Dudley, Suns

On/off floor MIN DefRtg
On floor 992 101.4
Off floor 607 112.9
Diff. -11.5

Dudley’s on-off court differential has a lot to do with the Suns’ deadly (in a bad way) defensive trio of Michael Beasley, Shannon Brown and Markieff Morris. Phoenix has allowed an absolutely atrocious 126 points per 100 possessions in 223 minutes with those three guys on the floor together, and Dudley has been on the bench for all 223 of those minutes.

Alvin Gentry wisely stopped using that trio for almost a month, but then went back to it on Wednesday against the Sixers. The Suns were outscored 17-6 in less than seven minutes with them on the floor.

Dudley himself is a solid defender, and he has played most of his minutes with other solid defenders like Goran Dragic, Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat. Dudley and P.J. Tucker have made a pretty good defensive wing combo, too.

Schuhmann hit the nail right in the head here. Dudley is a very good player, but his +11.5 differential has as much or more to do with the guys coming off the bench when he takes a seat.

Michael Beasley

Michael Beasley has fallen a long way in a very short time since the Suns made him their first free agent acquisition this past summer. Beasley played 7:37 against Utah, and then rode the pine for the Suns' next two games. He returned for whatever reason against Boston and played 5:15, and during that time he was -10 and got abused by Jeff Green of the Celtics.

Some may still have faith in Beasley and want to see him play big minutes in the hopes that his season (and perhaps NBA career at this point) can be salvaged. However, I don't believe that will solve anything. A culture of losing can be an even deeper hole to dig out of than a lack of talent, and playing Beasley big minutes when he doesn't deserve it is sending the wrong message.

It is time to sit Beasley down. Gentry has tried everything he can to put Beasley in a position to succeed. He's tried starting him as a go-to scorer. He's tried bringing him off the bench against lesser competition. He's even given him minutes at power forward, and although he played better, it wasn't enough. Gentry has done what he can.

Now it is on Beasley. He needs to earn his playing time. He needs to put in more work on the practice floor. He needs to figure out how to be more effective. He needs to find a way to help this team, because if he can't he should not be playing.

If a complete benching doesn't spark anything in him and nothing changes, it may be time to use the stretch provision and cut him at the end of the year.

Markieff Morris and Shannon Brown

P.J. Tucker has finally earned a starting spot alongside Jared Dudley, which puts Shannon Brown on the bench where he belongs.

But as Schuhmann wrote, Brown, Beasley and Morris together make an absolutely horrible defensive trio. All three are bad defenders and complicate that problem by being inefficient scorers. It's no wonder that the Suns are so bad with Dudley out of the game.

However, the Suns just don't have enough good players, so they have to play some of these guys. Both Morris and Brown have had their moments and can be valuable contributors from time to time. The problem is their inconsistency, and that is an issue Alvin Gentry has to deal with.

Shortened Bench

Alvin Gentry has long been a fan of five-man second units. In 2010 with a little more talent, that strategy helped carry the team to the Western Conference Finals. However, with two key players from that 2010 bench unit now starting, doing so this year probably isn't the best idea. There just isn't enough talent. And Gentry is finally starting to come to terms with that fact, according to Valley of the Sun.

"Maybe we can’t sub in a whole second unit," Gentry said. "Maybe we’re going to have to put in a few guys here and there, and not sub in an entire unit. We’ve played that way forever, but this may be a situation where we can’t because we’ve gotten ourselves in a lot of trouble."

VotS published that on Jan. 3, and since then the Suns have played (and lost) four games. Gentry has used his five-man bench unit for at least one stretch in each of those games, and he has used it for 26:16 overall. In that 26 minutes, the Suns have been outscored by 19.

Gentry played five bench guys in the second quarter against Utah, and it didn't go so well. So Gentry didn't go back to it in the second half and didn't play Beasley at all after the break.

The Memphis game is a bit of an outlier, as the bench (with Wes Johnson replacing Beasley) held its own and was only outscored by two points in two stints totaling 11:37. It was the starters that sucked in this one.

Against Milwaukee, Gentry played the bench five (still with Johnson in for Beasley) for 5:41 in the second quarter, and they were outscored by eight. He didn't go back to them in the second half.

In Boston, Gentry only played them for 2:57, during which they were -3. But the big problem was playing Beasley again.

The Suns just don't have five good players on their bench, and the fact that the five guys they do play don't fit well together just complicates the matters.

Staggering Lineups

It's time for Gentry to completely scrap the five-man bench unit. He needs to start experimenting with ways to stagger the minutes of the starters so that there can always be at least one or (hopefully) two starters on the floor at all times.

Gentry has done a little of this in these last four games. He has cut the minutes of the bench guys and has expended the minutes of the starters. Jared Dudley in particular has played 37 or more minutes in three of the last four (with Memphis being the outlier). P.J. Tucker has also seen an uptick in minutes, which is well-deserved. This hasn't yielded great results so far, but it is the right thing to do.

Gentry likes playing the starters for almost the entire first quarter, which leads to a lot of four and five man bench units in the second. I think it's time to change that. Gentry needs to start making substitutions earlier. I'd like to see him take Dragic and Tucker out around the eight minute mark, and put Telfair and Brown in and let them play the rest of the quarter with the remaining starters.

Sub in Morris either late in the first or at the start of the second. Then bring Dragic and Tucker back in after a minute or two along with O'Neal and give Dudley, Bassy and Gortat a break. Bring Dudley and Scola back with a few minutes left in the half to (hopefully) close it out strong.

In the Second half, start the same way. Except this time, Sub in Telfair, Bron and Morris a little bit earlier. Then sit down Dudley and Gortat with a minute or two left in the quarter (replaced with Tucker and O'Neal). The same five starts the fourth quarter and plays for 2 or 3 minutes, then the starters return and play the rest of the game.

That is a nine-man rotation, an it has Dragic, Tucker and Dudley playing in the high 30s minute-wise, while the bigs play in the 30-35 range. This sort of rotation has the flexibility to give Brown more minutes when he's feeling it, or give Johnson some minutes when he's not. Dragic and Bassy could also play together a little bit if the match-ups allow it. It has the best players playing big minutes, and it makes sure there are one or two starters on the court at all times.

What do you have to say Bright Siders? What kind of rotation do you wan to see?

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