The Suns aren’t a team that’s stacked with talent; Steve Nash has said so himself at multiple times this season, going as far back as training camp last December. And given the team’s sub-.500 position in the standings, it certainly can’t afford to play games without its best offensive creator in Nash, and its best defender in Grant Hill. Yet Phoenix did exactly that on Tuesday in Denver, and did so on purpose.
Nash and Hill were late scratches against the Nuggets, and not surprisingly, the Suns dropped their second straight on the road by a margin of 17 points. Fans wondered if Phoenix was justified in sitting its two best players by choice — an action that equates to a virtual forfeit given the overall talent on this roster. But head coach Alvin Gentry defended the decision before the Suns lost their third straight on Wednesday, saying that preventing injury, and not solely resting his older players for the sake of comfort, was the reason why.
“I don’t think we have that luxury of resting guys,” Gentry said. “I mean, Grant and Steve sat out [Tuesday night in Denver] because they were a little banged up. I think you have to be smart enough to realize that, do you stick ’em out there and risk them actually getting hurt, where now they miss multiple games? Or do you just sit ’em out for a game? And I just thought that it was smart on our part, after talking with the trainers and everything, that we just sit them out for the game. Because I do think that when you’re playing three games in three days, or in our case four games in five days, there’s a chance that if there’s something just a wee bit wrong that it could end up being something that becomes even more so. I just didn’t think it was worth the risk.”
Nash was on the same page, and said that you’ve got to be careful with the schedule being what it is, while using the Achilles’ injury to Chauncey Billups as an example of what could go wrong if the proper precautions aren’t put in place.
“Honestly, you’ve got to be smart sometimes,” he said. “You see what happened to Chauncey Billups; you never know when something like that can happen. Usually injuries like that can come when there’s a cumulative effect of fatigue and something happens. The schedule’s been insane before this three-in-a-row; I think your ego wants to play, but at the same time, you’ve got to think of the big picture.”
Both Nash and Hill looked refreshed and played well in their team’s loss to Atlanta on Wednesday: Nash finished the first quarter with seven points and five assists, and Hill had nine points and two rebounds in the game’s opening period. Still, the Suns fell to the Hawks, losing for the third time in as many nights.
So, while the rest may be a necessity in Gentry’s eyes to prevent long-term injury, fans are going to continue to wonder if a team struggling to stay relevant isn’t just needlessly surrendering games — wins that the Suns desperately need to have to remain in the playoff hunt — by voluntarily sitting its two best players.