Ordinarily one doesn’t expect to make too much of what happens in pre-season games. And this being really a “pre” pre-season affair, one would think one would expect to make even less.
As it turns out, there was one significant and highly encouraging thing to take away from this one. Namely and to wit, that the coach and the team are on the same page. Last year, you will remember, the coach and the team were not even in the same book.
But here was Coach Alvin starting his first year as head coach of the team saying that the thing that pleased him most about the opener was that the players are clearly buying into his program.
“They did everything we’ve been asking them to do defensively,” he said. “I was very pleased with our rotations. Everybody was talking and helping.”
And it showed, too. Even though Partizan was hardly a true test of anything, except maybe the ability of the fans who stayed through the second half to stay awake, it was obvious the Suns had a game plan defensively and were trying to execute it. And that’s progress with a capital P.
I mean, when’s the last time the Suns defense was ahead of the offense at ANY stage of a season? This is not to suggest one should start worrying about the offense either. Once Steve Nash returns to the lineup and Amar’e rounds into top shape, the offense will be just fine, thank you.
If you’re looking for any cloud to go with these silver linings, try rebounding. The Suns are smallish and will likely struggle on the boards against most NBA team. In fact, they barely broke even with Partizan. And don’t misunderstand, even with an improved attitude and the best of intentions, they will never be a great defensive team. That’s just not who they are, a reality the management learned the hard way with the Terry Porter experiment.
But if they get back to their freewheeling selves, which they are free to do now that they have shed the shackles of Shaq, they don’t HAVE to play GREAT “D” to make the playoffs and maybe make some waves in the early rounds of the playoffs. Just play SOME!
Don’t get me wrong. That last isn’t a shot at Shaq, who put up unexpectedly good numbers last year. But he was actually as much a part of the problem as the solution, as his need for “touches” tended to slow things down. Shaq was brought here to help, not be the focus, and as long as he was happy in that role everything was fine. But he became less and less happy with it, and would have been an even bigger monkey wrench in the machinery this year had he stayed.
The early bottom line on this team after one brief look: As long as Nash, Amar’e, and Grant Hill stay healthy, they will be very much in the playoff hunt.