Suns drop to 0-2, search to explain offensive struggles

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In recent years, the Phoenix Suns have been known for, above all else, having an uptempo and elite offense. Win or lose, and no matter the season’s ultimate result, the team never struggled to score with Steve Nash running a descendant of Mike D’Antoni’s offense.

Through two games in this young season, however, offense has been a huge problem for the Suns, and the primary reason behind both of the team’s losses.

At least in Monday’s season opener against the Hornets, Phoenix was in it until the final possession. But in Wednesday’s loss to the Sixers, it wasn’t close. The Suns scored just 34 points in the first half, and opened the second half on the wrong side of a 19-0 run that lasted over six minutes and put the game in the win column for Philadelphia.

The Sixers led by as many as 34 points on the way to a 103-83 victory, one that dropped the Suns to 0-2 for the first time since the 1996-97 season.

It may not yet be time to panic for Phoenix, but the results of the first two games — especially offensively — are certainly cause for concern.

“We’re struggling mightily right now offensively,” Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said afterward. “It’s so hard for us to get a shot off and so hard for us to get into any kind of rhythm.”

As for what’s causing the team’s struggles, Gentry feels it’s a combination of things. But continually getting off to slow starts isn’t helping.

“What has happened is, we’ve had some good looks early on that haven’t gone in, and I think we’ve probably pressed a little bit,” Gentry said. “But we’ve been a good shooting team, we’ve been a good offensive team. We’ve got to try to get that back.”

Making adjustments on the fly is much more difficult this season thanks to the lockout and the compressed regular season schedule that the delay in a labor agreement ended up causing. With the demanding slate of games, Gentry knows that pushing his team extra-hard in practice isn’t necessarily the answer.

“The practice times are very limited,” Gentry said. “We come in here tomorrow, we can’t really have a hard practice. We’ve got two games the next two days, and three in four nights. It’s just one of those things where we have to be smart about it. We have to get better and we have to try to improve, but we also have to be smart — we can’t come in here and have a two and a half hour practice.”

Just how bad has the Suns offense been so far? Small sample size and all that, but through two games, Phoenix is 24th in offensive efficiency at 90.9 points per 100 possessions. And pace-wise, the Suns are tied for 25th at 90.8 possessions per game. Contrast that with even last season’s numbers, where Phoenix finished 8th in pace and 9th in offensive efficiency — in a year when the team finished out of the playoffs — and it’s clear there are serious issues.

I asked Nash what he was seeing out there as the reason for the team’s offensive struggles.

“I think it’s a combination of a lot of things,” Nash said. “A shortened training camp, a lack of familiarity, and also we’re just not real efficient yet. We’re not making shots, we’re not in sync, and some of it is, I think, a product of a shortened camp. Some of it is we’ve got to get a little tougher at times and not look around and hope things will get better. We’ve got to be a little more determined at times.”

In Wednesday’s game, Nash appeared to be more aggressive from the start, uncharacteristically taking matters into his own hands to try to get the team going offensively. But it didn’t go all that well; Nash finished the first quarter with four points, one assist, three turnovers, and two personal fouls, while shooting 2-of-7 from the field in about nine and a half minutes of action. He said in this particular instance, his heavier than usual offensive usage was a result of the way the defense was playing him.

“I think the way they were playing the pick and roll tonight it was important for me to make ’em pay a little bit,” Nash said. “There was some space and I was getting in the lane, but I wasn’t able to get it done tonight. I think that put a lot of pressure on our offense, because then we couldn’t loosen them up or break them down and create easy opportunities.”

Nash finished with one of his worst statistical games in recent memory, going 2-of-11 from the field with just one assist and six turnovers in just over 17 minutes.

The way the Suns are currently constructed, without any one player who can be relied upon to average 20-plus points per game on a regular basis, there’s certainly more of an onus on Nash to create easy opportunities for his teammates. But at some point, there’s only so much Nash can do. At the end of the day, guys have to start knocking down open shots.

In the opener against New Orleans, the Suns shot 5-of-25 from three-point land, but many of those were wide-open looks, so the team feels those shots will eventually start to fall. Against the Sixers, the looks were there too, but more in the mid-range variety: 50 of the Suns’ 80 field goal attempts were from 10 feet out or beyond. And Phoenix only connected on 30 percent of those attempts.

Like all teams, the Suns would like to get more points in the paint, and easier opportunities at the rim. Their opponents haven’t had any problems in that area, with the Sixers scoring 50 of their 103 points in the paint, and the Hornets getting 42 of their 85 there on Monday.

It’s impossible to ignore the Suns’ struggles on offense, especially considering that’s the last place you’d expect to find problems with a team that’s been so prolific in that area in recent years. Nash just hopes things turn around sooner rather than later.

“It’s shown over the two games we’re just struggling offensively to find a connectivity and a rhythm together,” he said. “All you can do is continue to work hard and find a way to be optimistic and positive, and hopefully the breakthrough will come soon.”

Russell Westbrook’s triple-double hands Warriors fourth straight loss

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Russell Westbrook recorded his first triple-double of the season as Oklahoma City defeated the Golden State Warriors 123-95 Wednesday night in a game in which Thunder rookie Hamidou Diallo was carted off on a stretcher with 7:17 left with an apparent left leg injury.

Diallo’s left leg was stabilized as he was wheeled away to applause from the Oracle Arena crowd. The team it turns out not too serious.

Westbrook began 1 for 6, then hit stride, finishing with 11 points, 13 assists, 11 rebounds. It was his second game back since missing five with a sprained left ankle, then another when he welcomed twin daughters Saturday night.

Paul George had 25 points, nine rebounds and five assists and Steven Adams contributed 20 points and 11 rebounds as the Thunder sent the two-time defending NBA champions to their first four-game skid in nearly six years.

Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson scored 27 points apiece with Durant grabbing a season-best 14 rebounds for the Warriors, who were again playing without All-Star starters Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, as well as key reserve Alfonzo McKinnie.

Clearly in pain, Diallo moved himself off the court and was under basket for several minutes.

In a loss Monday at Sacramento, Diallo became the first Thunder rookie ever to go at least 7 for 7 from the floor. He made both his 3-point tries on the way to 18 points.

Westbrook’s 3-pointer 4:17 before halftime put the Thunder ahead 50-37.

The Warriors, who held off the Thunder 108-100 in their season opener Oct. 16 and had won the last three matchups, trailed 60-46 at halftime with just 11 assists to 10 turnovers but opened the third with a 13-2 run to get within 62-59.

While Golden State dropped 10 of its final 17 games last season, the Warriors hadn’t endured a four-game losing streak during the regular season since dropping four in a row from Feb. 26-March 2, 2013. They also lost six straight just before that in February `13.

OKC’s Terrance Ferguson returned from a two-game absence as he welcomed a baby, then went down at the 5:41 mark of the first with a sprained left ankle and didn’t return.

 

LeBron James, Lakers prevail in Cleveland after controversial late call

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LeBron James got a warm welcome before the game. He got another standing ovation during the game. And he got favorable officiating late.

Just like old times in Cleveland.

LeBron returned with the Lakers and escaped with a 109-105 win over the Cavaliers on Wednesday. With 32 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists, he did all he could to top his old team. But an odd call also benefited Los Angeles.

With the Lakers up two late, LeBron missed a jumper, and the rebound went out of bounds. Officials ruled it Los Angeles ball with 22.9 seconds left. Per the NBA’s new offensive-rebound shot-clock rule, the shot clock goes to 14 seconds “after the offensive team gets possession of the ball after it goes out of bounds immediately following a missed field goal or free throw that hit the rim.” That seemed to apply here. Yet, the Lakers inbounded with the shot clock off, so the Cavs were forced to foul.

Ultimately, I’m not convinced it mattered, because LeBron split from the line. Is there a huge difference in win expectancy between the Cavaliers getting the ball down three with 19.6 seconds left (what actually happened) and defending down two with 22.9 seconds left and 14 seconds on the shot clock (what probably should have happened)? It seems not.

Besides, this game was more about sentimentality than result, anyway. Sure, a win over LeBron would have been satisfying during a lost season. But Cavaliers fans settled for a nice ovation to LeBron during intros and another with his tribute video:

This game was far closer than 2010, when LeBron returned to Cleveland with the Heat and routed the Cavs. This game was also far, far, far tamer.

On the eve of Thanksgiving, it seems everyone is happier to walk away with limited drama.

Kyrie Irving: ‘F— Thanksgiving’

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There’s a theory Kyrie Irving resented the way LeBron James‘ political opinions always drew attention and Irving’s didn’t. The biggest folly of the situation? Irving’s flat-earth takes were the only non-basketball thing he said that resonated.

But Irving seemingly hit on more meaningful discourse tonight.

After the Celtics’ loss to the Knicks, Irving addressed tomorrow’s holiday.

Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston:

Irving has Native American roots and a strong connection Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. I suspect that informs his opinion on Thanksgiving.

The history of Thanksgiving is more complex than the fairytale many of us were taught in school. Agree or disagree with Irving’s point of view, his remark presents a great opportunity to learn more about different perspectives.

Anthony Davis gets 5×5, but misses game-tying free throw

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When going to the line for multiple free throws, NBA players typically shoot better on each successive attempt.

Anthony Davis bucked that trend at the worst possible time.

With the Pelicans down three and 2.5 seconds left, Davis drew a foul on a 3-pointer. He sunk the first two free throws then missed the third, allowing the 76ers to escape with a 121-120 win.

Davis deserves credit for getting New Orleans so close. Before Davis drew the foul, Jrue Holiday missed a wayward quick-two attempt. Davis stole Ben Simmons‘ attempt to keep the ball in bounds and got up the 3-pointer the Pelicans should have been attempting all along.

After swishing the first two free throws what went wrong for Davis? Maybe it was the curse of Jahlil Okafor. The former 76er subbed in for New Orleans before the third free throw, working the loud Philadelphia crowd into even more of a frenzy.

I’m not sure Davis’ final steal should count, as Simmons might not have had possession. But if it holds up, Davis will have a rare 5×5 – at least five points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.

For now, it’s the first 5×5 since Draymond Green‘s in 2015 and first 5×5 in a loss since Andrei Kirilenko’s in 2003.

Here’s every 5×5 since 1983-84 (as far back as Basketball-Reference records go):

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