"There's an old saying about those who forget history. I don't remember it, but it's good."
Ed Note: This is the first in a five-part preview series we will be running over the next few weeks.
Give yourself a nice high five if you predicted the Phoenix Suns would win 54 games and reach the Western Conference finals. If you also predicted in that playoff run the Suns would sweep the San Antonio Spurs, give yourself a chest or fist bump. If you predicted the Suns would face the Lakers in the WC finals, and take 2 games from the defending world champions, well then leave work now and start your happy hour early, you did real well at calling the shots right!
A look back at us BSOTS staff writers, site editors, and editors in chief did NOT predict such a season for the Suns. One of us was close, but the rest of us didn't believe. Perhaps we had no reason to believe. Nevertheless, the Phoenix Suns squad made believers out of all of us during an improbable run that raised eyebrows and expectations all over the NBA nation.
And Now a Look Back at the Phoenix Suns' Season by Month
Oct & Nov, (14-3)
The Suns began the season with an impressive run of victories including 17 straight games of 100+ points per game en route to an October and November combined 14-3 record. ESPN.com put the Suns on the front NBA page with a photo of Steve Nash and some predictably overused cliche like "Suns Rising." Thanks for throwing Phoenix a bone, guys.
The first leg of the season was arguably not too difficult. There were plenty of opponents who were not very good teams. Beginning the season versus the Clips, Warriors and T-Wolves wasn't too challenging. The victory in Miami over the Heat was as impressive as a 22 point loss against Orlando in Orlando was unimpressive, but predictable. 2 nights later the Suns were back on track in downing Boston, again on the road.
Alvin Gentry warned us all not to get too high, the season was long and it would be a rollercoaster ride for everyone. It's the safe bet to assume so in an 82 game season. And after drubbing the Pistons, Grizzlies, T-Wolves and Raptors by an average of 21 points, the Roller Coaster took that twisting free fall that makes men like me pray to God to make it stop.
A visit to New York in the so-called infamous "hang-over" game resulted in a 27 point loss to the Knicks which was followed up by a 17 point loss to the Cavaliers. It was clearly time to go home and get some rest. The good news was the Kings were in town, but the bad news was that there were a host of Western Conference powerhouses to contend with afterwards. After downing the Kings, the Suns went back on the road, were bludgeoned by the Lakers by 20, lost a heartbreaker in Dallas, then returned home to avenge an early season loss to the Magic.Then it was more of the up and down-loss to Denver, victory over San Antonio, loss at Portland, victory against the Wiz and consecutive losses to the Cavs and Thunder, along with a preposterous loss to the 7-21 Warriors in which Amare scored 9 and Magette and and Ellis dropped 33 a piece in a contest that saw both teams hoist up a combined 172 field goal attempts, with the Suns hitting 14 of 31 three pointers.
The Suns rang in the new year with more uneven play with a 25 point home defeat against the Grizzlies, along with losses to the Heat, Pacers, and Hawks. The new trend in those stretch of games was the loss of focus and killer instinct: the Suns gave up a 16 point first half lead and 70 second half points to the Pacers. Against the Bucks the Suns reeled off 36 first quarter points followed up with 18 second quarter points. the Bucks outscore the Suns 61-43 in the middle quarters and what should have been a blow out turned into a nail biter, Suns 105-101. The Bobcats dropped 43 points on the Suns in the first quarter a few nights later followed by the Grizzlies dropping 34. The lowest of the low arrived in two straight games at the Jazz and then against the Bobcats again. At Utah, the Suns snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory as they were outscored by 20 in the second half, thus negating a Goran Dragic coming out party (32 points). Phoenix Sun turned Bobcat Boris Diaw went for 24/11/5 while Jackson, Felton and Wallace combined for 68 points while the Suns scored 15 points in the fourth quarter to lose in overtime 114-109.
At 26-21, the Suns appeared at a crossroads. The Amare trade talk erupted and it was clear that after two sub .500 months that the Suns were not that 14-3 team that had once again returned as darlings of the NBA. Who exactly the Suns were was a question mark that no one had any idea solve.
In February, Amare Stoudemire fired up his mass media campaign to gain votes as a Western Conference All Star center. The bad news for us was that these efforts included the use of David Spade. The good news was that Amare began ramping up his game. The points were always expected from Amare, but the defense and rebounding had been inconsistent. In 16 January games, Amare totalled 127 rebounds (7.9 pg). In February, Amare snagged 121 in 12 games (10.0). Jason Richardson also pulled it together, scoring in double figures in 10 of the Suns February games and pulling down 5 or more boards in 10 out of 12. Robin Lopez began his resurgence in February, scoring in double figures in 9 of 12 games while gathering up 5 or more rebounds in 10 of 12, including 30 points and 12 rebounds in a monster game against the Clippers. If I may remind you, this was the game
in which Chris Kaman grew so annoyed with Lopez's defensive presence he got himself booted 20 seconds into the half. Ah good times.
The Suns built on their February momentum in March, busting out a ten game winning streak which including impressive victories over the Nuggets, Jazz, Blazers, a 36 point vengeance defeat over the Knicks, and a nice W in Chicago over the Bulls. With 49 wins, the aroma of postseason was eddying about U.S. Airways Arena. And while the jockeying for post season position had only just begun, the Suns were exuding a certain poise and confidence about them that had many of us considering who the Suns would match up with in the first round of the postseason as opposed to whether the postseason would happen at all. Still, there were some vital Western Conference match-ups to be played over the final 7 games of the season
The stretch run was on, and the Suns would have to finish strong despite the absence of Robin Lopez with his back injury. The loss was minimized by Gentry and Co in public. There was no choice but to continue on without the big man, and while Jarron Collins' presence on the floor made many of us nervous, 10 minutes a game wasn't too much to derail the Suns playoff hopes.
There is a certain special sweetness that accompanies a victory over the San Antonio Spurs. The players and coaches have changed over the years, but we fans have not, and a 112-101 victory over the Spurs was especially sweet and a sign of things to come in the post season. Following a loss to the Thunder, the Suns won three straight, including a 22 point destruction of the Nuggets and 14 point win over the Jazz, that may have been Jerry Sloan calling off the dogs, thus angling for the 5 seed and a first round match-up with the downward spiraling Nuggets.
The Suns mark of 17-4 to close the season solidified the belief of many that it's not how you start but how you finish in the NBA (or sports in general). The Suns had time to sort out the December and January debacles and players like Goran Dragic, Jason Richardson, and Amare Stoudemire closed the season in top form, while Steve Nash and Grant Hill, hampered by injuries at various times of the season, got healthy while continuing their solid play. The second unit completely jelled, and at times played well enough to close out games while keeping the starters on the pine for some much needed rest.
Round 1 Vs. Portland
This matchup separated the men from the boys. While the Suns played hard nosed basketball and Jason Richardson went out of his mind for 42 points off of 8 three pointers in game 3, the Blazers and their fans could do nothing but whine about dirty play and the lack of decent officiating. Game 3 was the back breaker for Portland as the Suns trounced the Blazers in front of their hime crowd. The Suns shot only 43% and 6 of 23 from beyond the arc in game 4 and were out rebounded 45-39 by the Blazers as Brandon Roy returned to action. But Roy was a shell of himself, still attempting to return from a knee injury. The Suns shook off the loss and Channing Frye shook off his shooting woes to bolster a bench effort that outscored Portland's 55-23. In game 6 Grant Hill picked up 12 rebounds and broke the spirit of Portland with two devastating blocks on Jerryd Bayless. Again Brandon Roy was a non factor, shooting 4-16. Jason Richardson drained 5 three-pointers en route to 28 points while Amare Stoudemire chipped in 22 of his own.
Round 2 Vs. San Antonio
One had to feel that the Suns were a very special squad heading into the San Antonio Spurs series. The experts gave the Suns no chance at all to win, however, this group of Phoenix Suns refused to believe in history or any curse against San Antonio. Many of the players were not around for the heart wrenching defeats of the D'Antoni era. Not many recalled the Horry "check" against Nash or the infamous Duncan 3 pointer that iced a series in game 1. It was a new year, new era, and new attitude for the Suns who were running on the momentum left over from 2 straight wins against Portland. Not many anticipated a sweep, but breaking out the brooms against a gassed Spurs squad was the sort of justice that left us fans and players alike that something wonderful was happening. In game 1 Stoudemire, Nash and Richardson teamed for 83 points on 36-52 shooting. The Suns out rebounded San Antonio 44-38 en route to a 111-102 win. In game 2 the Suns big three again did their thing, but the bench outscored Tony Parker 31-24. It was clear that San Antonio was too slow to stop the Suns starters and didn't have the depth to compete with the Suns second unit. Game 3 was pivotal in the series. Amare Stoudemire struggled with 3 of 10 shooting but Grant Hill and Goran Dragic picked up the scoring load. Dragic stunned the San Antonio crowd and most of the national media with 23 4th quarter points. There was no answer for the Dragon. He was too fast for the Spurs, everything he put up found a home through the net. This was the back breaker for the Spurs.
Let us not forget this either.
Western Conference Finals Vs. Los Angeles Lakers
We all knew the road to the NBA World Championship went through Staples Center. I'm not going to lie, it's still pretty painful to think about. In game 1 Kobe went for 40, Odom yanked down 19 rebounds. In game 2, Gasol hit for 29 while Kobe got his teammates involved with 13 assists. In Game 3 Amare went insane for 42 points while Steve Nash hit for 17 and 15 with only one turnover. The Lakers would not sweep the Suns. That in itself was a small victory. The Suns evened things up in game 4 with 54 points from the second unit. The series dagger though, came in the form of a last second put back by Ron Artest.
Channing Frye: "I knew he was going to make it."
Jared Dudley: "Once it went in, it was deflating. It stung. It hurt.
Steve Nash: "I was just determined to try to win," (who at one point scored 9 of the team's 11 points)
Amare Stoudemire: "We got to swallow this one."
Game 6 was the nail in the coffin on the Suns 2009-2010 season and there is no use rehashing it. Instead, why not end on a high note? Here's to the Phoenix Suns, version 2009-10. An amazing team that never quit, proved the naysayers wrong, and played an unforgettable season none of us will ever forget:
Phoenix Suns 2009-2010 Season Highlights (via SunsDynastyXcom)
This piece is the beginning of a 6 part Phoenix Suns 2010-11 Preview.
In the Coming Days, Don't Forget to Check out Our Previews Which Will Include the Following:
More photos » Francis Specker - AP
This Suns want to get after it defensively this year.
I wish I could say that I've given the kind of "balls out" effort that Gentry says is required of his team 100% of the time. I do my best, you know, but sometimes my fingers get tired and if I'm honest, my effort can be lacking.
Here's a snapshot of my notes during today's highly intense and rather long practice session:
Intense. Set screens harder. Deny lanes. We've got to turn it up. Blue collared desperate is the only way we're going to win.
It was that kind of day.
The kind where the language would make Katy Perry's uptight censors turn as red as Elmo. The kind where Robin Lopez and Gani Lawal exchanged some shoves (in the course of play) and glares (after). The kind of practice that puts meaning behind the coach's words when he says, "We're going to play as hard as hell."
Jason Richardson taking a full-on charge from giant Garret Siler on one end and getting leveled by a Siler screen on the other. Hard, physical play. That's what was earning praise today.
In other words, good stuff, although Gentry doesn't want to have go this way.
Gentry made a point of saying that he's never had to coach effort since he's been here and he's not about the start now. He clearly wasn't pleased with what he was seeing at one point and let that be known.
"I'm not even happy that I have to mention that (effort). That's not something that we have to talk about around here," Gentry said after practice. "That's not anything that's going to be able to seep into our culture here."
Defensive game plan
The focus for this season defensively is going to be taking teams out of their offense. That means getting into the passing lanes, pressuring the ball, occasionally employing the full court press and generally playing aggressive on that end of the floor.
"Most offenses are initiated with a guard-to-wing pass and so we have to be able to take that away and then we have to keep the ball out of the painted area. If we have to front, we will, and three-quarter and things like that. We just have to be more attentive to the little bitty things as far as disrupting offenses," Coach said.
Overall, Gentry said he's not disappointed, but instead of playing "hard as heck" 90% of the time, he's looking for 100%, "We're deep enough that we don't need to pace ourselves."
Steve Nash looks at the defense and talks about needing time to get used to each other. "We're starting from scratch again with all the new guys. Our defense, we're not the biggest team, so it's built on cohesion and understanding and we've got to find that if we're going to be a really good defensive team."
Josh Childress agreed. He pulled up the old "playing on a string" cliche to talk about the team's defensive potential.
"I think if we really concentrate and focus on coach's principles, we'll be a good defensive team. It's just a matter of everybody getting on a string. Everybody helping when the other person is out of position. It comes with time. Slowly but surely we're getting there."
Both Nash and Hill are looking very good right now as the season gets ready to start, but let's remember last year when both came out of the gates firing, only to fade in the middle months.
Hill had four double-doubles in the first seven games, but only grabbed 10+ rebounds two more times the rest of the season.
After starting the season shooting the ball in the mid-40's (FG%), Nash dropped to 39% in March. There was a long stretch there in January where he was hobbled with the back and shoulder pains and would regularly admit after the game that he had no "pop" in his legs. The active defense we saw Saturday night was there early last season as well, but faded with time.
Not to knock those guys, as Gentry says they are the two best conditioned athletes on the team and if the season was 30 games long, they would be fantastic. Both also combined to miss only 8 games over the past two seasons.
Between luck eventually wearing out on the injury front and the wearing down process that we've witnessed over the past two or three seasons, there's simply no reason to expect that Nash and Hill can play at their highest-level for the entire season.
This is where Hedo will (potentially) shine for the Suns.
Right now, Turkoglu can't play his normal small forward spot. Gentry simply has to play Grant when he looks this good. Hedo can't be a primary, or even shared facilitator of the offense when you have Steve Nash on the floor.
But should age and luck eventually catch up to either Grant or Steve, Hedo will be there to step in.
If Grant goes down, Hedo can slide over the small forward spot and the Suns can start either Frye or Warrick at the power forward. If Phoenix lands Erick Dampier, this is even easier since Frye would have less responsibility at the five.
If Nash goes down, Hedo can share more of the ball-handling and offense-running responsibilities with Dragic.
For now, it's going to look awkward for awhile and there are already calls for benching Hedo in favor of Warrick, but that's a mistake. Hakim is a nice offensive spark and will give some energy and perimeter defense, but we've seen through his career that his game has too many holes to be a full-time starting power forward.
More importantly, Hedo needs to learn to play with the Suns starters so he can step up into a bigger role later in the season.