If these two guys aren’t worried, should you be?
(Issac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images)
The Suns dropping four of their last five games has some fans reaching for the panic button. So let’s see if we can put the situation in perspective.
In those four losses, the Suns are only averaging 94.5 points a game and shooting 43.6 percent from the floor. Before this recent five-game stretch, the Suns were 14-3 and leading the league in scoring and field goal percentage.
“Nobody is panicking and there’s no reason to get into panic situation,” Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry said. “Right now we’re playing really good teams and we have to play really well to beat them.”
So what is the difference between the first 17 games where the Suns were beating good teams and the last five? Well, there are more moving parts than one would think.
First things first, the Suns’ schedule is ridiculously brutal (more on that tomorrow). They’ve played three more road games than any team in their conference and two more than any other team in the league in addition to having already played five back-to-back sets of games.
To put things in perspective, the conference and division-leading Lakers have only played three – yes, three – away games and two back-to-back sets. They played the Rockets after the Thunder and the Nets after the Warriors. Not exactly the crème de la crème of the league.
On the flip side, the Suns played the Magic after facing the Heat in a back-to-back set and the Lakers twice after playing a game at home and then having to fly to L.A. right after their home game concluded. Oh yeah, and before the Suns played the Lakers this last time, they had just returned from a four-game road trip, played a home game against the Kings and then flew out to L.A. after the game.
But that is the norm for the Suns, who already had a similar situation like that already occur earlier this season. But instead of returning from a four-game trip to play a home-and-away back-to-back that finished with the Lakers in L.A., they returned from a five-game East Coast road trip to play in a home-and-away back-to-back that featured the Hornets at home and the defending champs on in the City of Angels the next night.
So when you look at the Suns’ seven losses, consider that four of them came on the second half of back-to-backs and two of those back-to-back defeats came in the last five contests; after a lot of frequent flyer miles had been logged. And to keep it in better perspective, the Suns are still the league’s only undefeated team at home (7-0).
The second reason the Suns have been slowed is because of the absence of Leandro Barbosa. If you don’t think missing your sixth man affects you, ask how the Spurs felt about not having Manu Ginobili around last season.
Barbosa, who not only has won Sixth Man of the Year, but was the Suns’ fourth-leading scorer last season. When Jason Richardson missed the first two games of this season, LB stepped in and scored 17 and 24 points in his place.
That’s not only higher than J-Rich’s average (16.8 a night), but the two guards shoot virtually the same percentage from the field. To give you an idea of how potent the Brazilian Blur can be, he led the Suns in scoring 12 times last season.
Only Amar’e Stoudemire, Steve Nash and Shaquille O’Neal did that more times. And don’t forget, LB missed 12 games last year, too. They’ve lost four of five without him.
“We miss LB,” Gentry said. “We don’ have that punch off the bench that when we’re little bit stagnant he can change the game for us.”
The LB situation leads to a domino effect because now some of the starters have to play more minutes with the second unit. Not only does that cause the starters to wear down because of more minutes, but it disrupts the usual rotation and chemistry that the second unit had already built up.
“We have to keep experimenting and finding the combination that helps get us over the hump,” Gentry said. “That’s what all the teams are doing right now. Believe me, nobody is feeling sorry for anybody in this league.”
The Suns Head Coach said that someone like Jared Dudley, who is usually asked to come in to defend and provide the intangibles, is being asked to do all of that and add a scoring punch, as well. Back-up point guard Goran Dragic, who is used to running the second team, is also being asked to slide over to the two-guard spot and play off of Steve Nash and provide some firepower.
The other reason the Suns have cooled recently is that other teams have scouted their style and have made adjustments. Instead of getting carved up by the pick-and-roll with Nash and STAT, teams are switching and leaving their bigs on Nash. The two-tome MVP is making them pay by averaging near a career high in points, but it’s bottling up the offense a bit.
“Teams are switching the pick-and-rolls and it’s limiting opportunities for me to get into the paint and create easy shots for my teammates,” Nash said. “We have to find a way to open it up so we can make some simple plays and get some easy shots. I can go out there and score 20 or 30 points against a switching defense, but that’s not necessarily as good for us as if I scored in the teens and had assists in the teens where everyone is involved, our rhythm is good and we’re putting the defense in a bind.”
The Suns say that they are adding sets that will hopefully decrease the stagnation. In addition, the Suns captain and playmaker believes pushing the tempo will help, too.
“We can’t stop, walk and be over-analytical because we’re not a power team and we don’t have a lot of creators,” Nash added. “So we need the offense to be created by our movement. We’d like to play a little bit faster. We still don’t know if we’re a fast break team but that doesn’t mean our half-court tempo can’t increase and that we can’t put pressure on the defense because of our movement and skill.”