Amare Stoudemire: "I never had a clue on how fun defense really is because we never played it"

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It’s seemed a revelation in the playoffs, but the Suns started playing defense just after the All-Star Break. Seriously. They kept putting up the mountains of points, but from the All-Star Game to the end of the season, the Suns were 12th in defensive efficiency in he league (according to ESPN’s John Hollinger).

Not great, but not bad, and with their offense all they need to be is not bad.

Since the game two switch of Grant Hill Defensive Stopper (still just weird to type that) on to Andre Miller in the Blazers/Suns series, the Suns defense is winning them a playoff series. Even Amare Stoudemire is in on the act, slowing LaMarcus Aldridge.

The Suns are having fun with this, according to the Arizona Republic:

“I never had a clue on how fun defense really is because we never played it,” Stoudemire said. “It was just such a great offensive team. We never talked about defense. There’s no weak link on the court defensively. We now are known as somewhat of a defensive team. It may get overshadowed here or there because we score so well.”

What sparked all this? A Jason Terry comment. Seriously.

On Jan. 28, a 26-21 Suns team was losing at home at halftime when the Suns locker room television became a mirror of truth.

There, for the Suns to see, Terry was giving a TNT halftime interview and saying: “We’ve got to score on these guys. They’re not very good defensively and we’ve got to make them pay.”

“With all the repetition and practice, it (Terry’s comment) sparked more of a defensive mind-set for us because we knew we had to defend to win that game,” Suns forward Grant Hill said. “We get in huddles and timeouts in fourth quarters or tough stretches and we talk about getting stops. Whereas before, we were always thinking about our offense. That comment sparked something in us that became personal when he said that.”

It is defense that is going to move the Suns on to the second round. It is defense that could have them upsetting the Mavericks (or maybe beating the Spurs is more likely).

Who knew it could be fun?

Tyronn Lue says he has secret plan to fix Cavaliers’ defense for playoffs

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Only one team that ranked outside the top 12 in points allowed per possession during the regular season won an NBA title. The 2000-01 Lakers, who were 21st in defensive rating, are the lone outlier.

The Cavaliers rank 22nd in defensive rating this season and have been even worse lately.

But Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue says he has a plan. He just won’t reveal it yet.

Lue, via Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

“We’ve got to hold back. We can’t show our hand early because … these are some good teams and we don’t want them to be able to come into a series and be able to adjust to what we do. We just have to be able to play our normal defense until we get there and then we will see what happens.”

Also:

“I think the rebounding hurt us. Rebounding. But it will be different once some other things happen. … Their two-guards, their threes, they still crashed the boards. But we have something to fix that. Just not right now.”

What precisely those plans are, Lue wouldn’t tell us. And here’s the other part — he’s not exactly sure they’ll work.

“I’m not confident, but we’ve got to” get the defense fixed, Lue said. “We have to.”

The Cavs ranked just 10th in defensive rating last season, among the worst marks for an eventual champion. But they cranked up their defense in the playoffs, especially late. Cleveland held the Raptors 4.8 points per 100 possessions below their regular-season scoring rate and the Warriors 7.8 below theirs.

Lue also unleashed a 3-point-heavy attack in the playoffs last year after sitting on the strategy through the regular season.

So, I have some faith Lue will implement a better defensive gameplan when it counts. It also helps to have LeBron James, who can still play elite defense when not in the slog of a long regular season.

But the Cavaliers’ defensive deficiencies right now are glaring. This roster appears to lack defensive potential, and their many miscues keep them well below whatever that potential is.

The challenge in elevating this defense to championship-caliber will be immense, maybe even unprecedented.

Mavericks’ Salah Mejri dunks while getting shoved in the gut (video)

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The Mavericks built a 13-point lead over the Thunder with 3:30left thanks to plays like this Salah Mejri dunk on Nick Collison.

Unfortunately for Dallas, Russell Westbrook happened.

Willy Hernangomez dunks on Andre Drummond, Pistons’ playoff chances (video)

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Andre Drummond and the Pistons couldn’t slow down anything.

Not Willy Hernangomez. Not the Knicks. Not Detroit’s plummeting playoff hopes.

After a 109-95 loss to the Knicks last night, the Pistons — who’ve lost four straight and seven of eight — are 1.5 games and two teams out of playoff position.

Terrence Ross 360 dunks his way back into Raptors fans’ hearts (video)

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In his first appearance in Toronto since the Raptors traded him to the Magic, Terrence Ross did what he has done best throughout his career: Delight Toronto fans with a dunk.

And of course the fans appreciated it, because their Raptors cruised to a 131-112 win.