The Suns are off to a 6-12 start, which isn’t exactly where the team hoped or expected to be a little more than a quarter of the way through this lockout-shortened season. The problems certainly can’t be traced back to Steve Nash, who leads the league in assists despite Phoenix playing at a much slower pace than they have in seasons past.
It’s when Nash has headed to the bench to get some rest that things have fallen apart.
Friday’s blowout loss to the Blazers was perhaps the most glaring example of this to date. Phoenix played a solid first quarter on the road, and held a three-point lead when the period came to an end. Then, Nash went out, the reserves managed to score just 9 points in the second, the Blazers were up 14 by halftime, and the rout was on.
“We’ve got to be able to do things with Steve off the floor,” head coach Alvin Gentry said, before his team took the floor against the Grizzlies on Saturday. “We’re up three, then we’re down 14 at the half. We decide to take him out a little early to see if maybe we can get him back in the game earlier, and all of a sudden we’re down 30. We’ve got to be able to do things and compete with him off the floor.”
Gentry changed up the team’s starting lineup and reserve rotations five games ago, but after three straight losses, he is going back to the starting lineup of Nash, Grant Hill, Marcin Gortat, Channing Frye, and Jared Dudley that he used at the beginning of the season. As he searches for the right combinations of players, he lamented the lack of practice time that the compressed 66-game schedule simply doesn’t allow.
“The only thing that I will say is, it’s frustrating to have these things that you need to work on and not have practice time to do it,” Gentry said. “We need the practice time. We have guys that benefit greatly from the practice time, and we just don’t have it.”
Now of course, every team is affected by this. The Suns, though, have an admitted lack of overall top talent, along with some new players who could use the time to learn the team’s offensive strategies in full-speed, teaching situations. But Gentry, at this point, thinks it would be too taxing on his players to try to trade days off for practices.
“We could have practices, and then we could have a situation where now we’re going to have a two-hour practice or an hour and a half practice or whatever after playing three games in four nights,” Gentry said. “To me, it doesn’t make sense. We try to practice and work as much as we can, but I think you’ve got to be smart about it also. If we’re going to practice and not have everybody there, it doesn’t serve a purpose anyway.”
Nash and Hill likely would be the ones who wouldn’t have their aging frames put through those paces.
We’ll see what changes Gentry has in store for his rotations; if he’s looking to add offense, he’ll need to find more minutes for Hakim Warrick, who’s been consistent when he’s gotten the chance, and Michael Redd, who might be able to provide something, but hasn’t gotten the chance.
Whatever improvements do come will have to come from the second unit. And Gentry knows that.
“Some kind of way, we’ve got to get it to the point where we’re playing with Steve off the floor,” he said. “Because Steve can’t play 48 minutes.”