Daniel Banks/Suns.com

Daniel Banks/Suns.com

As I sat perched behind the Suns’ NBA Summer League Head Coach Igor Kokoscov at the scorer’s table, I realized that while this may seem like a working for vacation for myself, there are a lot of people with the Suns whose work-year is well underway.

 

Tell the young players attempting to make the Suns’ roster that the summer is the time for relaxing. Or tell the new coaching staff, who is trying to piece together their first team in the Valley of the Sun. Or how about second-year men DJ Strawberry and Alando Tucker? Both are looking to build upon their rookie seasons and crack a rotation filled with veteran stars.

The same could be said for rookie Robin Lopez, who along with the two veterans, led Phoenix to 98-74 victory over the Spurs on Thursday. After catching the Suns’ first game on TV and watching Lopez in tonight’s contest against San Antonio, it’s already fair to say that the young center has made his presence felt.

The former Stanford Cardinal has been super-active, getting his hand on a lot of balls defensively, whether it has been through blocking shots or by deflecting passes. And after all of the talk about how he was so inferior to his brother offensively, I think more than a few people are going to eat their words for that criticism. After a 19-point performance in his debut Monday, Lopez racked up 14 points against the Spurs, displaying a litany of moves around the basket.

There was one play where he received the ball on the block with less than a minute left in the first half, faked to the middle and then outquicked a smaller defender by spinning to the baseline, using the rim as a shield, and then drawing the hoop and the harm. At one point in the game he even scored on a sky-hook. Somewhere Kareem was beaming. He also collected nine boards and two blocks.

Besides Lopez, Strawberry and Tucker both looked strong, showing that they’ve already used the summer to improve on their individual games. It is noticeable that both have been working intensely with strength and conditioning coach Erik Phillips, with both players looking much more physically developed.

Tucker was able to gather three offensive rebounds and convert on a few and-ones, despite being butchered by opposing defenders. Tucker scored 24 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the floor, including 8-of-11 from the line. Strawberry added 12, but seemed much more comfortable in the role as floor leader.

The Suns made a big push in the third quarter by causing turnovers and then pushing the ball up the floor for easy baskets. Defense creating offense seemed to be the theme, as the coaches constantly barked at the players to pressure the ball and stay up on their defenders to half court. With Lopez roaming the paint, on the help side, it gave the Suns defenders much more confidence to extend their pressure.

FIRST WIN

After Coach Kokoskov received his first win with fellow Suns assistant coach and legend Dan Majerle, GM Steve Kerr joked that they were lucky that they got the win. When Kerr saw the two coaches after the game he teased, “Congratulations, you get to keep your job for one more day.” New assistant coach Bill Cartwright, who would presumably receive the reigns in the event of a Kokoskov-Majerle meltdown, also got in on the ribbing, “I think this is just the beginning (for those two). They won’t be stopped from here on out.”

PANDA EXPRESS

Upon arriving in Vegas, my co-worker and partner in crime, Daniel Banks, wanted to chow down after the long drive. With a Panda Express in the lobby of our hotel, it was a no-brainer considering our crunch for time. After getting halfway through my orange chicken, we saw assistant coach and Suns legend Dan Majerle preparing pre-game notes with Coach Kokoscov.

Whenwe went over to say hello and they asked what we were doing, I said that I was looking to get a famous “MJ Cordon Bleu Sandwich” from his Majerle’s restaurant, but I had to settle for the Panda. “Thunder Dan,” who already has expanded his restaurant to Chandler, informed me that he would look into branching out in Nevada. It would be nice to have a home away from home…

UN-AMERICAN IDOL

One of the running jokes here is that no one can sing the national anthem. Every person they get seems to be asleep at the wheel. In a town of entertainers, there seems to be shortage of talent.

I guess that trend has extended to the Events Staff, who couldn’t find the recording for the Canadian National Anthem before the Sixers-Raptors game. After asking the crowd to stand for the song, everyone looked around for the music to start for a good two minutes. Nothing but crickets could be heard in the background before a note was finally heard. I’m hoping that the pattern continues just for comedic purposes…

NEW BEGINNINGS

Tomorrow will be the first reunion between the Knicks and the Suns since former head coach Mike D’Antoni left for New York. Familiar faces and former Suns assistants Phil Weber and Dan D’Antoni will be patrolling the sidelines for the Knicks. I know I will be looking forward to seeing how a team adopting a fast-paced offense fares against a team who is known for it. The game tips off at 1 p.m.

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