Lots of questions for Suns post lockout, no easy answers

1 Comment

As PBT works our way through our “what should your team do during the lockout” series, some answers are pretty easy. Dallas needs to bring back Tyson Chandler and remember where they put that bottle with the lightning in it.

Other teams are not so simple.

Like the Phoenix Suns. They are not due up in our series for a couple weeks yet — and we’ll have some suggestions on moves then — but in a recent conversation with Suns swingman Jared Dudley he laid out the challenges pretty clearly. Dudley is in Las Vegas getting ready for the Impact Competitive Training Series and the season (whenever it starts) but the future of his team was on his mind.

He said the big question the Suns need to ask is what direction they want to go with Steve Nash, the to be 37-year-old point guard and face of the franchise. Nash is entering the last year of his deal.

“And we all know with Steve, the question is are they going to re-sign him?” Dudley asked. “If Steve gets traded then we are in a rebuilding mode. Turn off the lights, we’re going to be down for a little bit….

“There has to be a time when he does leave, but right now… is he in his prime? No. Is he playing at an All-Star level still? Yes. So, they have to make a decision: Do we want to sign maybe a Nene or go after a big and a big time ring and try and make a push at it? If not, if they don’t want to do that, then they may decide to let Steve go and just cut our losses.”

Suns officials have denied they will trade Nash. In part because it would hurt the team at the gate and may not speed rebuilding. All things Dudley acknowledged.

“It would be very tough,” Dudley said. “The fans are Phoenix Suns fans, true, but Phoenix identifies with certain people. Back in the day is was (Charles) Barkley and Kevin Johnson. Then Jason Kidd. Then Steve Nash and Amar’e (Stoudemire) and now that Amar’e is gone the face is Steve Nash. You get rid of Steve, there is no face…

“It sounds good to trade the franchise player and try to get something back, but sometimes the stuff you get back isn’t that good and then you’re in for a long haul to try and get back up to the top.”

Lets say the Suns front office is true to its word and Nash isn’t going anywhere. Sorry Knicks fans, but play along with us for now. If the Suns are going to contend, what has to happen?

They need another big, Dudley said. Marcin Gortat and Robin Lopez have been solid, but the Suns need a big who is a threat on the pick-and-roll to pair with Nash, he said.

Then they have to sort out the wings.

“At the wings spot right now you have Grant Hill, me, (Mickael) Pietrus and Josh Childress. We’ve got to see if we can get it done,” Dudley said. “Is Grant at his age (able to contribute)? Am I a starter or a sixth man? Is Pietrus going to be with the Suns? Is he a starter? So we have to answer those questions, who is our starting two and three?”

That is a whole lot of questions. With no easy answers.

Report: CJ McCollum has been playing through fractured lower back

Leave a comment

CJ McCollum hit two critical free throws late Tuesday to put Portland up three late on Dallas and secure the win.

But he had a rough night overall, shooting 2-of-14 overall. His shooting numbers are down across the board through this restart, not terrible but down from the level the world has seen from one of the games most feared scorers.

Now we know why: A fractured lower back. Dwight Jaynes of NBC Sports Northwest broke the news.

Sources told NBC Sports Northwest prior to the game that McCollum has been playing with a L3 vertebral transverse process fracture (non-displaced) since last Thursday. In layman’s terms, he has a fracture in his lower back. He has played three games since the injury.

While this injury is not as bad as “a fractured back” sounds, it has slowed other players who had it, including Utah’s Mike Conley.

Portland has had success despite a slowed McCollum, in part because Gary Trent Jr. has stepped up and taken on a larger role on both ends of the court (including drawing a charge on Kristaps Porzingis that sealed the Blazers win over the Mavericks).

That win put Portland in as the eighth seed in the West, a spot they can hold with a win against Brooklyn on Thursday. That would put them in a play-in series — where if they won the reward would be LeBron James and the Lakers. To reach that point and threaten Los Angeles, Portland is going to need a lot out of McCollum. The question is how much does he have to give with this injury?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo ejected after headbutting Moe Wagner

Leave a comment

The Milwaukee Bucks are lucky they have another seeding game remaining because there is a good chance Giannis Antetokounmpo gets suspended a game for this.

The reigning (and soon-to-be two time) MVP let Washington’s Moe Wagner get under his skin. After Wagner took a charge from Antetokounmpo the two had to be separated. They kept jawing, and when they came together again, Antetokounmpo headbutted Wagner.

Wagner may have sold that a little, but that is unquestionably a headbutt. Antetokounmpo deserved the Flagrant II and ejection that came with it.

The one-game suspension that is coming will not cost the Bucks anything, they have the No. 1 seed in the East locked up. However, that one game is aginst the Grizzlies and if Memphis wins it gets the nine seed in the West at worst (eighth of Portland were to lose Thursday).

Wagner has a gift for getting under an opponent’s skin. Antetokounmpo has to do better keeping his emotions in check, because come the playoffs they will get tested like never before.

 

Damian Lillard scores 61 points, win vaults Portland to eight seed

Leave a comment

The Portland Trail Blazers control their own postseason destiny — and they can thank Damian Lillard for that.

Lillard got all the respect he wanted when he tied his career-high of 61 points Tuesday, and the Portland Trail Blazers needed every one of them to beat the Dallas Mavericks 134-131.

Lillard was 9-of-17 from three, plus got to the line 18 times and hit every free throw.

Portland’s win combined with Memphis’ loss to Boston puts the Trail Blazers into the eighth seed in the West — win on Thursday against Brooklyn and Portland is the eighth seed. That is a massive advantage heading into the two-game play-in series, the eighth seed just needs to win one of those two games to advance to the playoffs (and a first-round date with LeBron James). The ninth-seeded team needs to sweep the two games to advance.

Memphis can maintain the nine seed with a win Thursday. Should the Grizzlies lose again (to the Bucks, who have nothing to play for) it opens the door for the Suns or the Spurs to get the nine seed. Or maybe higher.

Portland is not safe just because of the win Tuesday: If it loses to Brooklyn on Thursday and two of Memphis, Phoenix, and San Antonio win, the Trail Blazers will be watching the first round of the playoffs on television like the rest of us. The race in the West is that tight.

It’s hard to imagine Portland losing a critical game, however, with the way Lillard is playing. He said he wants some respect on his f ****** name – and he’s more than earned it.

Watch Devin Booker score 35, keep Phoenix perfect 7-0 and in play-in hunt

Leave a comment

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Devin Booker scored 35 points and the Phoenix Suns protected their playoff hopes by beating the Philadelphia 76ers 130-117 on Tuesday to remain undefeated in the NBA restart.

Booker became the Suns’ career leader with his 91st 30-point game, breaking a tie with Walter Davis.

Mikal Bridges added 24 points and Ricky Rubio had 16 points with 10 assists for the Suns, who began the day only one game behind eighth-place Memphis in the Western Conference playoff race.

Phoenix is 7-0 as the only undefeated team in the restart and an unlikely factor in the tight race for a spot in this weekend’s play-in for the final playoff spot.

Phoenix pulled away late after leading only 105-102 following back-to-back baskets by Alec Burks, who led the 76ers with 23 points.

A dunk by Cameron Johnson capped a 10-3 run that stretched the lead to 115-105.

The Suns continued their high-scoring play in the bubble after averaging 120 points in the first six games.

Philadelphia, No. 6 in the East and already assured of a playoff spot, is attempting to prepare for the postseason after losing Ben Simmons to a knee injury.

Shake Milton was Philadelphia’s only healthy starter against the Suns. The 76ers also were without Joel Embiid (left ankle), Tobias Harris (sore right ankle) and Al Horford (sore left knee). Josh Richardson was rested.