NBA season preview: Phoenix Suns

2 Comments

Last Season: We could talk about the slow start, the impressive run in the season’s second half, or the eventual finish two games outside of the playoff picture. But all anyone in Phoenix will ultimately remember about the 2011-12 campaign is that it was the last time they would witness the on-court brilliance of Steve Nash while he was still a member of the Suns.

Key Departures: The face of the franchise and the team finally parted ways, after an eight-year run that gave fans more than their fair share of memorable moments. Nash’s departure certainly wasn’t unexpected, as the team had gone as far as it could with its former two-time MVP orchestrating the offense on every meaningful possession. But insult may have been added to Phoenix fans’ misery when Nash ended up in Los Angeles playing for the hated Lakers, whether it was the right move for the franchise or not.

Nash wasn’t the only cornerstone to leave. Grant Hill also ended up in L.A., albeit with the city’s far less-inflammatory version of an NBA team: the Clippers. Other departed players include Robin Lopez, a project whom the team decided to give up on, as well as deep bench players in Michael Redd, Josh Childress, Hakim Warrick, and Ronnie Price.

Channing Frye isn’t gone, but he’s out for at least the season after an enlarged heart condition was discovered during a routine training camp physical.

Key Additions: The Suns didn’t hesitate in replacing Nash, and did so by bringing back a familiar face. Goran Dragic returned to Phoenix in free agency, after being unceremoniously traded out of town by the same Suns franchise just two seasons before. Michael Beasley was acquired from Minnesota, as was Wesley Johnson. Luis Scola was picked up off the amnesty wire after Houston decided it wasn’t interested in competing any longer, the team added veteran big man Jermaine O’Neal, and grabbed point guard Kendall Marshall with the 13th overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft.

Three keys to the Suns season:

1) I know the pieces fit, ’cause I watched them fall away*: This must be Alvin Gentry’s mantra heading into a transitional season. The team’s head coach is now entering his fifth year in that role, although his contract is currently set to end once the year is finished. Gentry has seen the good and the bad with this Suns team — he’s made it through the star-studded Shaquille O’Neal years, has taken the team to the Western Conference Finals, and has barely missed the playoffs a couple of times.

Now that Nash is gone, Gentry will have to make the new pieces fit into a cohesive unit — a challenge to be sure, but not impossible given the talent on the roster. The staring five should be able to compete with all but the league’s elite on most nights, and finding the right rotations to keep the game close with the reserves is something that’s more than possible considering the veteran NBA leader’s skill set.

2) It’s all about chemistry: There are a lot of new faces on this Suns roster; it’s truly a team in transition. Jared Dudley is the longest tenured team member at this point, and he has the personality to help congeal his new teammates into a group that can be productive together on the basketball court. But essentially, these guys don’t know each other. Once you get past Dudley, Marcin Gortat, Shannon Brown, and Sebastian Telfair, it’s a whole new group of guys. You don’t just wake up one day knowing how to play with one another, and how quickly these players are able to come together will go a long way in determining their success this season.

3) Maximizing Marcin Gortat: Gortat can be a beast of a low post player, a strong pick-and-roll finisher, and a serviceable rim protector. But all of that depends on how he’s used. Last season, he flirted with All-Star numbers at the break thanks to a heavy dose of finishes out of the pick-and-roll with Steve Nash. Early on it doesn’t appear that Gortat will be afforded the same high volume of pick-and-roll opportunities that he received a season ago, so the team will need to find new ways to utilize his skill set and keep him engaged offensively.

The good news about Gortat is, if things aren’t going his way, or he feels he’s not getting the opportunities he should, he’ll let us know about it. He’s one of the most open and honest players in the game — not to the detriment of the team or in a complaining capacity, but simply from a standpoint of the facts as he sees them. So, either way — good times.

*It seemed fitting to quote lyrics from a Tool song in a Suns post at some point, since I met the band’s drummer — Danny Carey — in the team’s locker room during the Shaquille O’Neal era back in December of 2008. Better late than never.

What Suns fans should fear: This is completely dependent on your team-building philosophy. If you’re of the belief that a team needs to be blown up to try to rebuild through the draft, then your fear is that this team sneaks into the playoffs. If you simply want to see the team compete at the highest level, then you’re rooting for an eight seed, just to see what happens.

The good news for Suns fans is that there really are no worries with this year’s squad — there are certainly no championship aspirations, so just enjoy the ride, and hope for the best. Oh, and hope that whatever happens, it’s good enough for the franchise to sign Gentry to a new long-term contract.

Prediction: The Suns should compete on most nights, but the lack of depth should be problematic to the point that it will jeopardize the club’s ability to win on a consistent basis. Shooting for the eighth seed will be the priority, but it will be tough to get there given the level of talent on the competing teams in the Western Conference.

Three Things to Know: After third straight loss Steve Kerr says Warriors now in “the real NBA”

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Each night in the NBA there is a lot of action, a lot to unpack. Which is why every weekday morning during the NBA season we bring you three things you need to know out of the night before, to keep you up on all the big happenings around the NBA.

1) Warriors drop third straight game on road trip and Steve Kerr is blunt: “This is the real NBA…. We’ve been in this dream. So now we’re faced with real adversity.” This is not serious illness the Warriors have come down with, it’s just a little fall cold. Come April, when the chance to threepeat is on the line, the Warriors will be the Warriors again. Don’t doubt that.

But right now, the Warriors are scuffling.

Stephen Curry is out with a strained groin. Draymond Green is out with an injured toe. In his last five quarters of play, Kevin Durant has shot 9-of-32 (28.1 percent) and he picked up a technical Sunday chirping at officials, he just is off his game and seems to be unfocused (insert your speculation about the Green situation here). In his last two games Klay Thompson is shooting 40 percent. On Saturday night both had chances at potential game winners and missed good looks. On Sunday in San Antonio, neither even got the chance as the Spurs handled the Warriors without much trouble 104-92.

With that, the Warriors went 0-3 on a road trip for the first time with Steve Kerr as coach, and they are 2-5 in their last seven. In those seven games, the Warriors are allowing 112.7 points per 100 possessions, the second worst defense in the league during that stretch. On the other end of the floor, the ball is sticking on offense.

“I’ve had a dream run for four-and-a-half years,” Kerr said. “We’ve had such a charmed existence the last four seasons. So, yeah, of course, this is the toughest stretch we’ve been in. This is the real NBA. We haven’t been in the real NBA the last few years. We’ve been in this dream. So now we’re faced with real adversity. We’ve got to get out of it ourselves.”

How do they change this around? Get healthy — Curry was playing back closer to his MVP level before the groin injury, just putting him back in the lineup will spark the offense and the team. Green’s return will help the defense. Durant and Thompson will find their shot at some point. Beyond that, the Warriors just need to get out of their own heads. While everyone around the NBA can talk about how they are on a cakewalk to a title, the reality is they are going to have to work for it. There are good teams in their way.

That said, we aren’t even to Thanksgiving yet. If the NBA season is a marathon, we are just 5.1 miles into it. It is far too early to think the Warriors are in any real trouble, or more unlikely, that they are going to make a trade and break things up (ownership said that is not happening).  The Warriors will be the Warriors again when it matters. Right now, they are facing some adversity, and that’s probably good for them looking ahead towards the playoffs (better to be tested than not).

2) When LeBron James is good, the Lakers are good. Sunday he dropped 51 on the Heat and the Lakers looked dangerous again. Last Wednesday night on national television, LeBron James had one of those “just reminding you I’m the best player on the planet” games dropping 44 on the Timberwolves, and the Lakers looked the best they have all season in a win. Saturday night, LeBron had a pedestrian 22 and did not dominate the game the same way, and the Lakers lost to the Orlando Magic.

Sunday LeBron was back to his dominant ways, dropping 51 on his old team in Miami, getting Los Angeles another win.

Looking at the splits, two things happen in the Lakers’ wins. First, he is a more efficient shooter. For example, he shoots 32.5 percent from three in Laker losses, but 44.6 percent in victories. Or, his true shooting percentage jumps from a good 58 in losses to an insane 64.8 in wins. The second big change is his defense, and the team defense, is more dialed in for Laker wins. LeBron’s defensive rating is 115.6 in losses, and is 101.8 percent in wins.

It’s not just LeBron that has keyed the Lakers’ improved play of late, much of that comes from better team defense overall. But he is the catalyst of the offense, and when LeBron dials it up the Lakers dangerous.

3) He’s no Jennifer Hudson — Heat’s Josh Richardson ejected for throwing his shoe into crowd. When Jennifer Hudson throws a shoe — her shoe, someone else’s shoe, any shoe she can find — on The Voice, it’s a sign of respect. A compliment.

That is not how it came off when Josh Richardson threw his shoe into the crowd Sunday. Richardson — who is having a breakout season in Miami — was frustrated. Very frustrated with the foul calls (he felt he didn’t get one on a dunk attempt, then with his shoe off he fouled LeBron), with the team not winning, with a knot in his shoelace that would not come out, and with Erik Spoelstra subbing him out to get the shoe fixed and to calm down. So Richardson launched his shoe into the crowd.

That’s an automatic ejection. Richardson can break out the checkbook, too, a $25k fine is coming.

But if he wants, Richardson can just tell the league office he was offering LeBron a compliment by throwing his Nikes into the crowd. Not going to work, but he can try.

 

 

Damian Lillard drops 40, leads Blazers past Wizards

Getty
Leave a comment

WASHINGTON (AP) Damian Lillard scored 40 points, C.J. McCullom added 25 and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Washington Wizards 119-109 on Sunday.

Jusuf Nurkic had 13 points, 14 rebounds and matched his career high with eight assists for Portland.

The Trail Blazers, coming off a 112-96 loss at Minnesota on Friday, snapped a two-game losing streak and improved to 11-5.

John Wall scored 24 points and Kelly Oubre, Jr. added 19 for the Wizards, who slipped to 5-11.

The Trail Blazers started quickly, hitting 7 for 9 shots from 3-point range and taking a 32-12 lead with 3:54 remaining in the first quarter. Washington scored 15 straight and closed to 32-27, but Portland outscored the Wizards 30-14 and led 62-41 at the half.

Lillard scored 13 points in the second quarter and added 18 in the third.

Washington, which trailed by 29 points in the third, cut the deficit to 115-107 with 51 seconds to play.

Dwight Howard, who missed the first seven games of the season with gluteal soreness, aggravated the injury in the second quarter and was ruled out at halftime after scoring two points and picking up three fouls in seven minutes.

TIP INS:

Trail Blazers: G Seth Curry (right knee) missed his second straight game. … F Maurice Harkless (left knee) sat out his 11th in a row. . C Zach Collins picked up four fouls in eight first-half minutes and fouled out in the fourth quarter after playing just 13 minutes. … F Al-Farouq Aminu also fouled out late in the fourth.

Wizards: Coach Scott Brooks was assessed a technical foul in the third quarter. . Oubre picked up a fourth quarter technical foul. . G Jordan McRae was recalled from the G League Capital City Go-Go, but didn’t dress. McRae is averaging 36.7 points in three games in the G League.

UP NEXT:

Trail Blazers: Visit the Knicks in the fourth of a five-game road trip on Tuesday

Wizards: Host the Clippers in the final game of a five-game homestand on Tuesday

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Josh Jackson yells at teammate ‘You want to f—king play or what?’ (VIDEO)

Getty
Leave a comment

The Phoenix Suns are a bad team. They aren’t the worst team in the NBA — the Cleveland Cavaliers have them edged out there — but it’s clear there’s some serious work to do with this young squad moving forward.

It’s early in the season, but even with many young players in a development year, most would like to put a few more wins up on the board. As such, when poor or low effort play is involved, it’s possible for tensions to boil over.

That’s what happened on Saturday night as the Suns took on the Oklahoma City Thunder. During an inbounds play with a few seconds left to go in the third quarter, sloppy play by his Phoenix teammates led Josh Jackson to yell at TJ Warren.

Via Twitter:

I mean, someone has to come to the ball there, right? That’s some 5th grade basketball nonsense right there.

Perhaps Warren and the rest of the Suns thought that Jackson would try to launch the ball into their own half of the court to get a closer shot? In any case more communication was necessary.

The Suns lost to the Thunder, 110-100, and dropped to 3-12 on the season.

LeBron James scores 51 points, Lakers torch Heat 113-97

Leave a comment

MIAMI (AP) LeBron James scored 51 points against his former club and the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Miami Heat 113-97 on Sunday night.

James had 19 points in the first quarter to set the tone, the Lakers led by as many as 21 and never trailed.

The 51 points were a season high for James, and the most he’s scored against Miami; he had 47 against the Heat twice. His last shot was a 32-footer with 16 seconds left, capping the 13th 50-point game of his career – including playoffs – and he threw the ball skyward at midcourt when time expired.

It was James’ first time winning against Miami since he left the Heat after the 2014 NBA Finals. He was 0-4 when facing the Heat since; his teams were 0-7, when including the three Cleveland-Miami games that he sat out for various reasons.

Wayne Ellington scored 19 points for Miami (6-10), which has dropped four straight home games and is off to its second-worst start in the last 12 years. The Heat were 5-11 at this point of the 2016-17 season, the only other time they’ve been worse after 16 games in that span.

Josh Richardson scored 17 points before getting ejected in the fourth quarter after throwing one of his sneakers about 15 rows deep into the crowd, while he was arguing about what he thought should have been a foul call that didn’t come his way. Tyler Johnson also had 17 points for the Heat, while Rodney McGruder added 14.

Goran Dragic missed the game for Miami because of a right knee problem, one that will be further evaluated Monday. Dwyane Wade missed his seventh consecutive game for the Heat because of the birth of his and wife Gabrielle Union-Wade’s daughter; it’s possible that Wade returns to the Heat this week.

Miami hasn’t forgotten James, obviously – he still gets loud cheers when introduced in his former home arena – but just in case anyone in attendance needed a reminder of what’s in his skillset, he put on a show. He made eight of his first nine shots and had the whole arsenal working; dunks in transition, stepback 3-pointers, turnarounds from the baseline.

But the biggest shot for the Lakers might have come from Brandon Ingram with 3:46 left. Miami had clawed within eight and the shot clock was about to expire on the Lakers, but Ingram connected on a long jumper from the left wing to make it 104-94.

From there, the only drama was whether James would get 50. And he did.

TIP-INS

Lakers: This game is part of a long weekend of sorts in Miami for the Lakers, who arrived Saturday night after playing in Orlando and aren’t scheduled to fly to Cleveland until Tuesday. … Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 19 points, Kyle Luzma scored 15 and Ingram finished with 13.

Heat: The last time Miami lost four straight at home was early in the 2014-15 season, which was actually a five-game slide. … Miami had the rare five-shot possession in the third quarter, with three missed layups and a missed jumper, all of them rebounded by the Heat, before Ellington made a 3-pointer. … The Heat fouled 3-point shooters twice in the first half, after doing so only twice – total – in the season’s first 15 games.

CONSISTENT LEBRON

Whenever James changes teams – Cleveland to Miami in 2010, Miami to Cleveland in 2014, Cleveland to the Lakers this past summer – the same thing always happens: His new team starts 9-7. The Lakers surely hope the other thing that happens when James changes teams holds true, since the 2010-11 Heat and 2014-15 Cavs both went to the NBA Finals.

HEAT HELP

James Johnson played for the first time this season after finally being declared good to go following offseason sports hernia surgery. He had four fouls in the first half and finished with eight points.

UP NEXT

Lakers: Visit Cleveland on Wednesday. The Lakers are 2-11 in their last 13 trips to Cleveland.

Heat: Host Brooklyn on Tuesday. The Heat defeated the Nets 120-107 in Brooklyn last week.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports