– As I walked towards the press room being set up for today’s game, Suns coach Alvin Gentry started walking along side me. He remarked that he was tired, and wanted to just kick back and watch football. I told him that I wasn’t getting paid to cover the game today, so I would gladly coach the team, take his salary and be happy. He stuck his hand out, and told me I had myself a deal. But I covered the game, he coached it, and no money changed hands.
-Over the past several months I have heard several players, coaches and members of the media, praise the actions of the Phoenix Suns training staff. From Shaquille O’Neal, to Grant Hill, to Steve Nash, to Steve Kerr to ESPN’s Bill Simmons, everyone has nothing but glowing statements about the Suns’ trainers, and today I saw first hand how they operate. I was waiting to interview some of the Suns’ players for almost 20 minutes prior to the game, because all of the players in there were participating in some type of stretching exercise. Amare Stoudemire and Grant Hill were stretching their ankles with resistance bands. Leandro Barbosa and Jared Dudley were sitting on giant exercise balls. Steve Nash and Jason Richardson were also using equipment to stretch as well. To give you some perspective, the usual pre-game locker room atmosphere consists of players listening to music and joking around. For Phoenix, every player was either on the court shooting around or in the locker room stretching. No exceptions.
– During his pre-game press conference, Coach Gentry mentioned that although he was happy his team defeated the Celtics on Friday night, he did not put much stock in that or anything that happens prior to the 25 game mark. “For us the quality of [the victory over the Celtics] is that it’s a road win and those are hard to come by in the NBA,” Gentry remarked. “Other than that I don’t read anything into that the fact that we have a 5-1 start. To me I think we’ll know about our team 25 games into the season. Then you can go back and look at what kind of consistency we’ve had.” Although Gentry was talking about his team, that same logic can be applied to this 2-5 Wizards team. It is still early.
-Amare Stoudemire, who had major eye surgery back in February, showed flashes of his past brilliance at times (17 points and 12 rebounds), but at the other times he seemed to be fighting with himself whether it be his footwork or his shot. Coach Gentry cautioned the media against judging Stoudemire’s performance this early in the season. “I think he’s making progress, but I don’t think people understand he missed six months. He couldn’t lift a weight, he could not shoot a basketball, he couldn’t run, he couldn’t do anything, ” Gentry explained. “So obviously when that happens, there’s an adjustment period when you start playing again. I don’t think that you count the preseason games because that’s just a different mentality, so really he’s only had the six games that we’ve played to get his timing and stuff back, so I think he’s at 70-75%, but I think he’s going to get a lot better.”
-During media day, Nick Young made many references to the fact that he was ready to start in this his third year. When Mike Miller went down with a shoulder injury during the Miami Heat game last week, there was an open starting slot at the shooting guard position, and Coach Saunders inserted Young prior to the Indiana Pacers game on Fridy. After hitting an early three pointer against the Pacers, Young was a non-factor, scoring only 3 points in a blowout loss. Tonight, Coach Saunders chose to start Randy Foye, and Young’s window to prove he could start slammed shut. “[Foye] gives us a little more offense and consistency when we’re out on the floor, ” Saunders said. Young, incidentally, did not play a minute.
-The Suns came into this contest against the Wizards as the number one scoring team in the NBA at 111 points per game. The Wizards were able to hold them to just 102 points, and despite the loss, that’s a feat that both Arenas and Coach Saunders were extremely proud to have accomplished. “For the most part I thought we contained what they were trying to do,” Arenas said at his locker after the game. “They shot 47% from the field, 44% from three, and 40% from the free throw line…you know we’re ninth [in the league] in defense right now, we just can’t get our offense in the right direction.” Arenas went on to say, “We’re trying to find out what we are. At first we were a bad defensive team and we were 22nd, 29th, 30th in the league [in points allowed] and now we’re ninth, and we’re just trying to figure out how we can put the ball in the basket.” Saunders said of the defense, “I told our guys to hold them to 102 points, the way they[Phoenix] have been playing is not that bad…we forced 20 turnovers and 23 points off turnovers which kept us in the game.”
-The offense, which was supposed to be the one area that Coach Saunders specialized in, has been struggling the last several games, and no one seems to have the answer as to why. Saunders said after the game that his players didn’t trust the system or each other. Brendan Haywood thinks that when the offensive sets break down, there are too many one-on-one and isolation plays. Arenas thinks that the absence of both Jamison and Miller are the key, because of how they can spread the floor and make things easier for everyone. From my vantage point, it is all of the above, plus the fact that the Wizards are simply missing shots that they were hitting in their victories. In fact, the Wizards have not looked fluid on offense since the first half of their game against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
-Wizards forward Dominic McGuire only played 11 minutes and did not score a point. But his inspired play on the defensive end might have earned him more playing time in future games. Down the stretch he blocked a shot by Jason Richardson, who had been abusing both Foye and Arenas in the paint earlier in the game; he stole the ball from Nash in the paint, and he just seemed to be everywhere. Offfensively he continues to struggle as much as the rest of the team, but this hustle plays cannot be overlooked. Perhaps Nick Young could take some lessons on how to earn more playing time.
-35-year-old Steve Nash absolutely controlled the pace of the game this evening. He finished with more assists than the entire Wizards team (he had 17 to their 15), he scored 11 points, and he consistently exploited the Wizards lack of understanding on how to play the pick-and-roll. Every move that he made had a purpose, he rarely made a bad pass or forced a shot, and his teammates always had to stay ready for an unconventional, yet accurate pass. It was truly special to watch. When one member of the media mentioned to Arenas that the Suns had twice as many assists as the Wizards, he jumped in and sang Nash’s praises. “One guy [Nash] had twice as many, that’s how that system runs. Same thing with Chris Paul… they have the ball in their hand, pick and rolling, and then when he passes it you better shoot, “Arenas said. “He doesn’t go for the pump fake or rhythm type of shots. I heard him curse out Grant Hill when Grant Hill pumped, took one dribble and then shot it, he got on him. That’s how the offense works, when he passes it, you better shoot.”
-Speaking of Grant Hill, I had a chance to speak with him on a wide range of topics. Stay tuned to Hoops Addict later on this week for that story.