Portland Trail Blazers 106, Phoenix Suns 99 It’s funny how things can change in only 20 games. The last time these two teams squared off in their respective 2010-11 season openers the Phoenix...

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Alvin Gentry said Monday that he anticipated playing Earl Clark in the Wizards game (before it got to garbage time) but he wasn't able to get in based on how the game went. It's just another sign of how much fluctuation we might see from the Suns rotations this season.

Gentry had said he wanted to get to the point where the rotations and roles were well established like in previous years but he now seems to be resigned to the fact that who plays will be vary based on who has the hot hand and which match-ups are most favorable against that game's opponents.

"Guys know that when they are going good, they are going to stay in the game...If a guy's going good and he's making shots, I don't know why we would take him out unless he's tired," Gentry said about the expectation he's set with his players. They know know that if they come out of the game it means they aren't playing well or they are tired.

This "best guy, that game" approach makes sense given the Suns depth and versatility and it keeps players on their toes and hungry for minutes.

It also has a potential downside in that players feel more pressure to perform when they are on the court, especially early in their stint, which can lead to more selfish play. The uncertainly also makes it hard for guys to prepare mentally and physically and can prevent players from working their way out of slump or staying in rhythm. 

There's a reason why Gentry's instinct was to find a more consistent and established set of roles and rotations but he simply has no choice right now other than to let his guys fight it out on the court for the limited minutes he has to dole out at the wing positions.


Steve Nash Shows John Wall Who The 'It' Guard Still Is - Desert Dirt - SB Nation Arizona
Nash finished the game with a perfect 8-for-8 shooting (20 points) to go along with 17 assists and just two turnovers, neither of which were caused by Wall. Steve recorded an outstanding 1.82 points per possession which puts to shame John Wall's own .60 ppp on his 12 points on 4-12 shooting. 

NBA Scores And More: Amar'e Stoudemire, New York Knicks Push Win Streak To Five - SBNation.com
As discussed in Monday's NBA Scores And More, the Knicks are finally on track with Mike D'Antoni's famous seven seconds or less program. It's taken a few years and, well, the free agent acquisition of Amar'e. But the promised land is here.

The Knicks are pretty good and danged fun to watch. But where is Stoudemire on the Amar'e Spectrum at this point? Is this officially Vintage Amar'e? Or a new post-Nash "I'm Ridin' Solo" Stoudemire? To the spectrum!

SB Nation New York Player of the Week: Amar'e Stoudemire - SB Nation New York
He's electrifying the Garden, terrifying his opponents and mystifying the defenders. OK, that about does it for my Walt Frazier impression. The Knicks' new star led his team to a 3-0 record this week, with Sunday's win over Toronto their seventh consecutive road victory. They're now a non-Knick-like 12-9. They're fun to watch, and with Isiah Thomas and his roster mistakes far away form MSG, they're safe to root for once again. Stoudemire poured in over 30 points in each of the three games, with 35 on Tuesday, 34 on Friday and 31 on Sunday. He's rebounding, he's astounding and he's confounding.

60/30: No. 17, US Airways Center | Blog Archive | The Basketball Jones | Blogs | TheScore.com
I was so overjoyed just to be able to walk around the stadium comfortably in short-sleeves, it might have handicapped the digs a little bit in my eyes. Still, I thought the arena’s externals were very pretty, and I liked that they had basketball hoops set up at each of the entrances for fans to play around on, as well as a DJ rocking out the good-time tunes out in front. Hey, you have this beautiful weather to work with, might as well make the most of it.


We need you tonight, Stevie!   (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

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We need you tonight, Stevie! (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

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After 20 games, the Phoenix Suns (11-9) are the 8th seed in the West, just ahead of Portland (9-11) - their opponent in tonight's game. Just as the Suns kicked off their 2010-2011 campaign, they get to kick off the second quarter of their season at the same venue. Let's hope the second quarter offers more wins than the first.

Take a look at what the Suns "accomplished" in the first 20 games...

1) Played one of the league's toughest schedules; only Chicago, New Orleans and Dallas had better results against tougher competition, over the first 20 games

2) Only the Rockets and Blazers have played fewer home games

3) Rank 30th overall in the following categories: defensive efficiency rating, defensive rebounds per game, opponent total rebounds per game, rebound differential, opponent points per game, opponent field goal percentage and opponent assists per game.

4) Bottom five in a host of other defensive categories

And yet, somehow the Suns are 11-9. How? Read on.

The same reason as prior years, of course: offense

Thanks to Steve Nash, the Suns once again have a devastating offense.  They're second in efficiency and first in points. Those help to make up for an awful, awful offense defense.

And thanks to Alvin Gentry. He played the right guys at the right time (as many as 12 a game) often enough to pull out more wins than losses.

Gone are the days where Hedo Turkoglu starts at PF. I have to admit (and you all know this, so give me credit for admitting it) I expected Hedo to handle this assignment better than he did. I gave him credit for being a smart, crafty veteran who would "make do" with playing against bigger guys. But he failed. Miserably.

Maybe it was the new position coupled with a new team that did him in. Maybe if they tried to play him at PF after he'd gotten comfortable with the team (ie. second half, or year two), he'd have done a tiny bit better. Who knows. But at least that experiment is over.

Not that the Suns are markedly better off. By playing Earl Barron, the Suns simply to increase the size of the front line at the expense of basketball talent. They are banking more on matchups than talent to win games. I would be willing to bet that, even now, Gentry does not see Barron as a long-term solution.

"The one thing I've come to a conclusion on is we're never going to have a set rotation," Gentry said. "On certain nights, guys are going to step up like Hakim (Warrick) did (against Washington). And they're going to play a lot of minutes.

"I anticipated playing Earl Clark some (against the Wizards), but the way the game went he didn't get in much. But the next game he might be the guy to play. Guys are going to have to understand that."

So are we, BSotS-ers. Get used to mixing and matching. Don't take any game's starting lineup as THE starting lineup for the future (at least until Robin Lopez returns to form).

"We'll continue to piece things together and try to figure out how we can get guys in the best position," Gentry said. "As coaches, our job is to get guys in the best position possible to help us win games and for them to be successful.

"We're still trying to plug in guys and figure that out."

I'd be willing to bet that Gentry loses sleep over playing Earl Barron big minutes. That doesn't jive with "playoff contender" in any direct correlative context.


But hey, at least we're not the Blazers....


Tonight's opponent - the Portland Trailblazers

These guys are so dysfunctional, we still don't even know if they're the Blazers or the Trailblazers. I mean, this is getting ridiculous isn't it?

Greg Oden is out for the year. Andre Miller is out for this game, after being suspended for an altercation in the prior game (their only win in 2 weeks!). Brandon Roy is playing on one leg and has no lift. After looking so good in the season's first week (including the opener against Phoenix), the Blazers are under .500 and currently out of the playoff picture.

Here's their stats:

Brandon Roy 17 35.2 6.2 14.9 41.9 1.2 3.1 37.7 4.4 4.9 89.3 0.5 2.5 3.0 2.7 1.6 1.1 0.5 1.9 18.1
LaMarcus Aldridge 20 38.4 7.0 16.0 43.4 0.2 0.4 42.9 3.5 4.5 77.5 4.0 4.4 8.4 2.2 2.1 1.1 1.1 3.4 17.5
Wesley Matthews 20 27.2 5.0 10.8 46.3 1.5 4.2 34.5 2.5 3.1 80.6 0.7 2.3 3.0 1.2 1.7 0.9 0.2 2.6 14.0
Andre Miller 20 33.6 4.9 11.0 44.5 0.1 0.8 6.7 3.7 4.1 90.1 1.5 1.9 3.4 7.2 2.7 2.2 0.1 1.9 13.5
Nicolas Batum 20 28.4 4.5 10.1 44.3 1.5 4.3 33.7 1.3 1.7 75.8 1.7 3.0 4.6 1.4 1.1 1.1 0.6 2.8 11.6
Rudy Fernandez 18 17.8 2.1 6.1 34.5 1.6 4.4 35.0 1.1 1.4 80.0 0.2 1.3 1.5 1.7 0.8 0.9 0.1 1.7 6.9
Marcus Camby 20 29.2 2.6 6.2 41.9 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.9 1.3 69.2 3.4 7.4 10.8 1.9 1.0 0.7 1.7 2.6 6.1
Dante Cunningham 20 18.1 1.9 4.4 42.5 0.0 0.2 0.0 0.6 0.8 75.0 1.3 2.2 3.5 0.8 0.4 0.4 0.5 2.2 4.3
Armon Johnson 17 11.1 1.6 3.5 46.7 0.2 0.6 40.0 0.6 1.1 57.9 0.4 1.0 1.4 1.9 1.6 0.2 0.1 1.3 4.2
Patrick Mills 6 7.0 1.0 2.7 37.5 0.5 1.2 42.9 0.2 0.3 50.0 0.0 0.2 0.2 1.7 0.8 0.5 0.0 0.8 2.7
Joel Przybilla 2 14.5 1.0 1.0 100.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.5 1.0 50.0 1.5 2.5 4.0 0.5 0.0 0.5 0.0 4.0 2.5
Sean Marks 9 7.8 0.9 1.8 50.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.2 0.2 100.0 0.3 0.9 1.2 0.1 0.4 0.0 0.1 2.0 2.0
Luke Babbitt 8 3.6 0.3 1.3 20.0 0.1 0.8 16.7 0.1 0.5 25.0 0.0 0.5 0.5 0.0 0.1 0.0 0.1 0.4 0.8

Despite their tailspin, the Blazers might win tonight's game because their talent base remains high.

Batum and Matthews - hell, even Armon Johnson - have played well against the Suns. Rudy Fernandez could hit a boatload of 3s. Marcus Camby could pull down 25 rebounds. Dante Cunningham always hits 80% of his jumpers against the Suns.

They are playing at home, and probably still see the Suns as chop-licking opponent.

Yet, with Andre Miller out, the Blazers will have trouble running their offense. Roy shifts to point guard in most lineups, I'd guess. He's just not moving as well as he used to, possibly making the Blazers easier to defend. Possibly.

The Suns will have to scrap, claw and fight their way to a win, no matter what the supporting stat lines say. Alvin will have to use his magic wand to pick the right rotation and recognize the guys who are playing well.

"I'm not a baseball manager, but I never understood why you'd take a guy out with a one-hitter because he's thrown 112 pitches or whatever," Gentry said.

"If a guy is going good and hitting shots, I don't know why you'd take him out."

He added that he tells players he'll pull them only if they're tired or playing badly.

"If you get taken out of the game and you say you're not tired . . . see B," Gentry cracked.


Other links:

Suns vs Trail Blazers coverage

Check out all the Miller love and Suns hate on Blazersedge

NBA Power Rankings, Suns 8th

Our own Wil Cantrell did this Week's NBA Power Rankings over at the SBN.com.

The rankings themselves, were a group vote effort thing though, so don't blame him that the Suns are 8th and not 1st in the West.

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