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Center spot has become black hole for Suns

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Last season, the Phoenix Suns got a solid 20 points and 10 rebounds a game out of the center position. They had a tag team of Robin Lopez — who could defend other true centers plus defend the rim — and three-point specialist Channing Frye.

They shot 56 percent combined and held opposing centers to 50 percent shooting. The production wasn’t All-Star level, but it wasn’t bad. It gave them what they needed, scoring and a defensive presence in the paint.

This season Lopez and Frye are back and… well, um, we’re pretty sure they’re the same guys. The look the same, talk the same. But the production is nowhere near the same, as Paul Coro explains at the Arizona Republic.

Combined, Lopes and Frye:

– have shot 34 percent, worse than any NBA center tandem entering Tuesday except for Minnesota’s Darko Milicic and Anthony Tolliver.

– have taken more shots than two-thirds of the NBA’s center duos.

– are in the bottom 10 for scoring and rebounding – and neither grabs as many rebounds as forward Grant Hill (6.9).

Lopez is now playing less than 20 minutes a game because of his performance. Heck, coach Alvin Gentry rolled out a lineup with Hakim Warrick at center for a while the other night. He’s desperate for anything.

What he needs is the defensive presence in the paint — the Suns are 28th in the league in defensive efficiency. The main problem is rebounding — only one other team in the league gives up a higher percentage of offensive rebounds. The fear of entering the paint against the Suns is not there, and once you’re there help yourself to an offensive rebound or two.

Lopez had back issues last season and they seem to be lingering, if not physically then mentally. He does not look like the same player.

The Suns have a few issues, but right now most of them are on the defensive end. They are issues Lopez in particular but also Frye could help solve. And they had better, or this is going to be a long, dry season in the Valley of the Sun.

Gallinari ready to take big role in new Nuggets offense

Danilo Gallinari, Jimmy Butler
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DENVER (AP) — Danilo Gallinari wants everyone to know this: His surgically repaired left knee, the one that took three procedures to fix and nearly two seasons to fully trust, no longer bothers him.

The Denver Nuggets forward doesn’t need to be on any sort of minutes restriction. He doesn’t need days off during the season. And he certainly doesn’t need to be coddled.

He’s Gallo again, the hard-to-guard Italian playmaker who can knock down the 3-pointer just as easily as drive to the hoop or even post up. He believes he will fit in quite nicely into new coach Michael Malone’s system.

“The thing I’m focused on is trying to get (this team) back to the same level that the Nuggets were when I got to Denver, when we were going to the playoffs easy. When we were clinching a playoff one or two weeks before the season was over,” said Gallinari, who was acquired in the 2011 blockbuster deal that sent Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks. “We need to get back to that level.”

Almost seems so long ago, given that the Nuggets have missed the playoffs two straight seasons after consistently making it for nearly a decade.

Gallinari returned last season for the first time since blowing out his knee in a game on April 4, 2013. His minutes were closely monitored early in the season. He never really got completely on track until late last season, when he averaged 20.5 points over the final 10 contests, including a career-high 47 against Dallas. He’s hoping to carry that kind of confidence this season.

“I’m good to go. I was good to go as soon as the beginning of last year,” Gallinari said. “I was not on the same page with the coach that we had.”

That would be Brian Shaw, who was fired last March after 1 1/2 seasons in charge and going 56-85. Exactly why he wasn’t on the same page with Shaw, well, Gallinari preferred the past remain the past.

“I’m ready to play the new season,” he said. “We need to win games, and get back to the same level we were before.”

Gallinari thinks the Nuggets have the personnel to do just that, especially with a rookie point guard in Emmanuel Mudiay and Gallinari’s knee feeling better than it has in a while. He feels like he has some ground to make up, too, since he said that knee robbed him of some of his prime.

“Playing my best basketball right before I got injured,” the 27-year old said. “Now, we’re back to the same level, hopefully better.

“My knee has been feeling great. It felt great last year. Feeling great during the summer. Feeling great now. I just feel good.”

He spent the summer playing for the Italian team at the EuroBasket tournament, where he averaged nearly 18 points a game. In those games, Gallinari saw quite a bit of time at the four spot on the floor, forcing teams to either use a bulkier big man to cover him and risk getting burned on a drive or a smaller player that Gallinari could simply shoot over.

Malone plans to employ a similar type approach, something they discussed over gelato when the coach visited Gallinari in Italy soon after he was hired.

“He’s 6-foot-10. He can handle the ball. He can play pick-and-roll. He can stretch the floor and shoot the 3,” Malone said. “There’s not a lot he can’t do offensively.”

Gallinari wants the responsibility of being the go-to player for the Nuggets this season, especially at crunch time.

“I’ve always been trying to do that, since I came to Denver,” Gallinari said. “That’s what I like to do. I feel good filling those shoes.

“I want to have the ball in my hands. I do want to have the ball in my hands a lot more.”

Knicks’ Rookie Jerian Grant gets up, throws it down (VIDEO)

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The Knicks did well trading for Jerian Grant on date night — he’s going to be able to walk in this year and play quality minutes off the bench.

And, he can get up and throw it down.

Carmelo Anthony had 18 points to lead the Knicks to a 94-88 win over the Sixers.