Game Notes: Blazers at Suns
Stressing success and size in Phoenix
by Dennis Tarwood / @tuffyr
If you think holiday shopping and party preparation have you stressed, imagine the life of a Portland Trail Blazer or a Phoenix Sun. Endlessly .500; endlessly unable to consistently put together a pattern of success in the W column.
The Blazers and Suns met in Phoenix Friday night stuck on 11-11 records; the Blazers departed town with the winning record due to a 101-94 win predicated heavily on shooting 58 percent from the floor through the first three frames.
For the Blazers, permanent uncertainty continues to keep players and coaches alike unable to find solid footing. Quite literally, who will show up each night? Friday night, the new missing Blazer was Joel Przybilla, out to tend to the funeral of his grandmother.
“The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Managing Stress” suggests dealing with constant change by leapfrogging the change by trying to get a few steps ahead of it: “You can periodically leapfrog over the developments of the past several months and ‘catch up’.”
Against Phoenix, the Blazers have found they just need to be taller than the change to control it. LaMarcus Aldridge and Marcus Camby combined for 15-23 from the floor and contributed to nearly doubling the Blazers’ trips to the line compared to Phoenix (32-17).
On defense, the Suns couldn’t formulate a strategy against the Blazers if they didn’t beat them out on the break. Circling and dribbling with little passing, the Suns’ offense looked like a Red Rover competitor that just ran parallel to the opponent. Nearly a third of their shots came from the dreaded long two zone: 16-23 feet.
Against the World’s Largest Collection of Small Forwards, the Blazers passed cross-court so often that they forgot the Suns were there, once accidentally turning the ball over to Jared Dudley by passing it into his biceps. Surprised, he nearly smashed his face in with the turnover.
In the fourth quarter, the stress of an 82-game schedule settled in on both sides. The Blazers’ third game in four nights with a bench mostly theoretical and the Suns facing the same issues with steam led to brutal play all round. The Blazers failed to score from the six-minute mark to the one-minute interval, missing nine shots and letting a merely adequate Suns attack slip back within six.
But Brandon Roy used the bone spurs in his knees as daggers and sunk a jumper with a minute left to essentially put the game out of reach. Roy was the belle of the ball postgame, but it wasn’t a fêteing, though, so much as a brutal interrogation. Why 40 minutes instead of the agreed-upon 35? Whose decision? What don’t you like about yourself? (Yes, really.)
For the Suns, constant change isn’t their problem so much as a lack of it after a dramatic change. Despite having spent a quarter-season together, they still don’t seem to know where to play or how to play to succeed.
Goran Dragic still has to point to Josh Childress to get him to rotate into position. Jared Dudley and Hedo Turkoglu openly argue during a stoppage in play about offensive positioning. Steve Nash just runs at the rim to avoid the whole issue. Grant Hill backs up six feet behind the three-point line like a bull that needs more runway to charge.
Once again, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Managing Stress” offers these bons mots to say aloud when change starts to overwhelm someone: “I choose to be open to new ways of accomplishing my tasks.” “I choose to fully embrace the new changes.” “I choose to have fun with the new ways of doing things.”
Steve Nash agrees. “[It's important to] make those new guys feel good and feel that there’s no pressure. Just go out and play and have fun. If we don’t have fun, we’re not going to be as good of a team anyway… we can’t go out there with a scowl on our face and win games.”
Channing Frye called the Suns’ current play “tenderfoot” for all the caution and hesitation. “It just makes for bad basketball. It’s not fun.”
A quibble could be found with causation and correlation, perhaps. Having fun when winning doesn’t necessarily mean having fun will stop losing. But at least there’s fun being had, right? Right?
So what can change, exactly? Is there something Suns president Lon Babby can do to turn an emulsion of talent into building blocks?
“We put together some great trades,” Alvin Gentry claimed jokingly. “It’s just those [redacted] on the other side of it didn’t agree with us.”
Ah, yes. Who said mergers and acquisitions were easy?
The Blazers earned their fourth straight win after six losses in a row; the Suns logged their third loss sequentially after three wins. The Suns get to practice plays before Wednesday’s visit from Minnesota; the Blazers spend their Sunday in San Antonio.
– Aussie Patty Mills got a gleam in his eye when reminded of SLAMonline’s conversation with him at Summer League about his national coach, Brett Brown. Mills talks with him on the phone all the time but won’t do so this weekend; he will see him in person Sunday in San Antonio. Brown is also an assistant coach with the Spurs. “I talked to him (Thursday), but I’m not going to talk to him until I get there.”
“He’s my national team coach,” Mills smiled, “but while he’s over here, I feel like he’s someone I can talk to about me personally and how I’ve been going through the NBA and he’s been great. He’s in that tight circle and he’s been giving me great feedback.”
– Blazers rookie Armon Johnson has what your mother calls a fidget-butt. He absolutely will not sit still on the bench. Multiple times, he bounced up from the bench and headed towards the basket, perhaps to the locker room. Hopefully, be found it. Before the game, he wanted to know where the visitor’s locker room is in US Airways Arena. He was standing in front of it when he asked.
– Kevin Johnson was in the house and received a standing ovation from nearly everyone in attendance. Kevin’s wife, former DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, fired the rest out of habit.
– Josh Childress – 8:15 played. Gentry might have identified a way to shorten his bench.
– Earl Barron is the missing Collins triplet. Discuss.
– Dan Majerle noted to the assembled press in Gentry’s office before the game that he’s changing the Lou Amundson chicken sandwich in his popular local restaurants to the Jared Dudley chicken sandwich. He’s still using white meat, though.