(Christian Petersen)

I bring good news and bad news. The good news is the Suns’ schedule turned soft, as was expected after a brutal opening stretch. The bad news is the Suns turned even softer.

And “soft” is the nicest four-letter word that comes to mind for last night’s effort. It’s bad enough not to guard the paint in the paint, but the Suns didn’t even defend the paint on the rim in the first three quarters.

In case you ever wondered what kind of effort the worst defense in the league would put forth on an off night, wonder no more.

The Blazers, who came in ranked next to last in field goal accuracy, hit right at 65 per cent from the field in the first half, and were still right at 60 going into the fourth quarter. And trust me, it wasn’t because they suddenly became that much better shooters. It was rather that they were getting better shots. Much much better!

To put it another way, when an opponent hits double digits on the dunk-o-meter you know it’s going to be a night. Granted, defense is not the Suns’ long suit, but you wouldn’t think they’d be void in it.

Thanks to a fourth period surge which was irrelevant and immaterial, the final numbers didn’t look that bad. The Blazers finished at 49 per cent, partly because they scored only one field goal over the last 6 and ½ minutes, and hit only 4 of 18 shots in entire fourth period. Whether this was because the Suns finally started playing defense or the Blazers were simply punched out is a moot point.

Still, having thrown the defense under all four wheels of the bus, I have to say the offense is perhaps an even greater concern. I mean, the “D’ is supposed to be bad even on its good nights, but given the quixotic mix of their roster, the Suns often are able to offset this with the most productive “O” in the NBA.

But not lately. And their last three losses can be attributed more to a sputtering and inconsistent offense that has failed to break 100 in any of those games than defensive shortcomings. The rhythm, spacing, and explosiveness that have enabled them to overcoming those shortcomings (including rebounds) in the past, has turned tentative.

They’re never going to be great, or even very good, defensively with their present personnel. But the offense has been very good, even great, for them to stay in the 45-win range.

Part of the problem is that Jason Richardson has gone from much of the solution to more than a little of the problem. J.R., one of the hottest shooters in the league the last month, has suddenly turned ice cold. He’s 6 for 28 over the last three games, and oh-for-10 on three-pointers. The good news here is his track record indicates that he will heat up again, and sooner than later.

However, he’s not the only problem. The offense overall has lost much of its swagger. Even when the Suns do break 100 they seem to be laboring more for their points. This team is not built to grind it out, and yet that’s pretty much what it’s been doing.

Obviously there is still plenty of time to get the “O” back in gear, and it’s reassuring to recall the Suns hit a similar bump last year after getting off to a 14-3 start, and pulled out of it to stage a very strong finish that carried them all the way to Game Six of the Conference Finals.

But somehow, I’m not getting that kind of vibe about this team right now. Maybe it’s the natural pessimist in me coming out. After all, it was just a couple of weeks ago that I liked a lot of what I sensed was coming together, and couldn’t have been THAT wrong, could I?

Hey, that was a rhetorical question!

  • JAS

    Joe, your the glue that helps keep the Suns fan base looking to the positive but I sense even you can’t take the frustration this season. Defense, it’s not even a word in Suns land. Sure JRich is tense, so would anyone be when he’s expected to be a superstar every night, sorry, a very good player yes, carry the team I don’t think so. Suns have to many players out of their “skill level”. Turk is just an average small forward bench player trying to guard the likes of Zach Randolph, it’s criminal. Frye is a good player on the outside but he couldn’t push me around under the basket. Nash is down to maybe 3 real good games a month, it’s age, we all have been there. This season is the result of squeezing every last drop out of the tank, you have to fill it back with more than a throw of the dice at some point. Last season was the perfect storm, this year is the aftermath. Hopefully the new management will ease the rebuilding pain, we don’t have much else to look forward to.

  • JAS

    Whew!! The Wolves really were at the door last night, Suns escape for now. Lopez showed even a “good” center who is still working on getting his legs back really boosts the Suns energy. We still have to hit alot of long range shots to be competitive, not good odds. The defense reminds me of past years when Suns only played it in spurts, mostly to close out games. Warrick is a less physical looking Amare which is fine with Lopez in the lineup. Without any big injuries Suns look like an even bet to make #8. Translation, one and out.

  • JAS

    So it begins. Suns had to do something about Hedo, that trade was a huge flop and it was staring management right in the face every night. JRich did everything you could ask him and more but who else do you deal? Clark was gone when they didn’t renew his contract. I say the Suns are slightly better with the shake up which is basically a trade off with Carter, a back up for injury prone Lopez, a big forward for the bench and around a #20 draft pick. It all translates into we will probably still miss the playoffs.