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.

Ouch.

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.”

  • http://suns.com Jeff

    I think the stat (Amare) isn’t playing to his potential.. he’s suppose to be a leader every-night.. Stat needs to ramp his game up and start carrying our team on his shoulders.. Nash cant do it all.. plus he has chicken legs.. Grant Hill needs to ramp it up as well. that being said, I also agree with the analogy that the Suns has had a tuff schedule.. But thats no excuse.. We’re still not blistering teams away like we should.

  • javid

    Add more set for what, they switch put the ball in the post for amare, anyone checked his recent shooting from the field he looks great. its time to release the beast. he leads in scoring and takes less shots than the other starters. post infront of the lil guy switching no lob passes no special passes simple pass from free trow line extended to the post and let amare work.

  • David

    The toughest schedule in the NBA caught up to them, no biggy. The Mavericks are a top notch team and we were in it to the last seconds. Channing’s always been kinda’ streaky, if are current budget has us stuck with him we will lose some games that we coulda’ shoulda’ woulda’. That’s how the ball bounces.

    The Lakers are everything they were last year and arguably more which makes them the team to beat, you can’t outsize them which means you have to play flawlessly and get a little luck. Both contest to date being on the backside of back2backs for us does not a fair matchup yet make. No excuses, just keeping it real. We have lost maybe 2 contests we should have been in; try lacing up and doing that like these guys do though, there are going to be some off nights.

    Orlando should be a Great game! The schedule has to balance out and we will win lots more and make the playoffs with some home court keeping us from meeting the Lakers hopefully in the first two rounds and then if we’re healthy we got a shot this year. Wouldn’t mind seeing a Howard/bynum/Shack defensive presence before the trade deadline though! I know they grow on trees and all, but without one it’s probably all for naught.

    peace

  • maxine Kuykendall

    Why does the Suns score low on offensive rebounds? When they were playing ball 007 seconds or less, then I could see why they all left to get back on defense. there is not excuse for not trying for an offensive rebound. Amare should always try to position his place for the rebound. He also needs help on how to handle passes. He loses so many, he did not use to do that. I will have to say the only four to give 100% is Nash,Richardson, Dudley and Lou. I hate to see the Suns miss a 3 pointer and not Suns trying to get the offensive rebound. That is the difference in our winning and losing. Cannot turn the Ball over like they have in the past. Wild passes that are intercepted, and 2 points scored off of most of them.

  • Nasr Madar

    I know the suns shueld is crazy man we need to talk to they guy in charge and get a shueld like the lakers.. if u know what i mean..
    i wil stay with the suns for ever just like New jersy Fans

  • Lee Montag

    How about the lack of team defense? The players seem to be watching and standing a lot more than in the first 16 games (not counting Orlando) They are better off playing defense to allow twos and stop the 3 pointers that kill them. No big man in the middle means everyone has to be moving on defense almost more than on offense to keep the opposing team guessing where the little guys are coming from.

  • Dan Brewer

    I buy into a lot of what is written here but a couple of things still concern me.

    1. The New York game. We were on a days rest and it was a big road game as we were leading the leauge and the Knicks are weak and in transition. After beating Boston, this was a needed win. Instead we were embarrased.

    2. Channing Frye was so hot to start the season. The shots are now not falling and I beleive his play was one of the key elements to our great start.

    Defenses want Steve to score because historicly thats when we lose.

    My big missing link is figuring out how it worked to free up Channing for the 3 and move the ball around similar to the way they did with Bell and Joe Johnson and Marion. This was working nicely to start the season. Lets get it back!

    Steves the best and the greatest leader any team has ever had. I trust he will figure it out and get us where we all hope to be!

    AMEN!!

  • Greg Hayden

    This article is absolutely correct, many people try to compare the Suns and Lakers together and especially this season, many people don’t understand that the Suns are in a much more difficult situation than the Lakers schedule wise. With the Suns being undefeated at home just think of what our record would be with the Lakers schedule.

  • Dogen

    Bottom line. Suns are a very good team of nice guys.

    Most teams they will outscore just on raw talent. Steve Nash is the best point gaurd ever.

    Whats missing? A player that can kick some ass.

    An enforcer……..not just some time, ALL the time.

  • diana

    Hey you guys, I know you will come out being a winning team it’s like Nash said don’t worry what happens in November, I’m saying in December it’s what’s happening in April and May, so you go Suns win or lose I will always be a
    SUNS FAN!!!

  • http://www.nba/suns.com Cassandra and Nicholas

    Most things that are written in this article are true. Like how the Suns have a really tough schedule in December. The Suns have a very good record for the start of the season, and we really want them to keep it up. However, we don’t believe some things said in the article make sense and will help them win games. We really don’t think putting most of the second string on with Nash will help things out because some second string guys WON’T provide “firepower” all the time. We personally think getting Shaq slowed the Suns down last year. We don’t think anything is slowing them down this year but as the teams get harder we think it all comes down to defense. We think Nash is 100% right about all this, like how he needs to get into the paint and set up easy shots for his teammates. We are determined Suns fans and hope to see them on a wining streak soon! :)

  • http://www.triplejunearthed.com/dacre Dacre

    Maxine – everyone is giving 100%. hater. you simply cannot have ANYONE let alone Amar`e get up the court on from a defensive rebound, have a quick well timed shot put up and be there at the offensive end straight away – your basically asking the centre to run sprints from base line to base line. Do that for 1 minute yourself and see what kind of shot you put up…

    Dan Brewer – Channing Frye has been getting closed out on very quickly this month (hence no pick and pop at the 3 point line…) note though he is giving that hesitation fake and driving a little bit for the dunk – they are working on some change ups there. Amare is a classic ‘finisher’, I’m not sure giving him the ball for 4-5 dribbles is all that successful. Thats the way they went with Shaq last year and it didn’t open up the shooters then.

    SUNS FOR FINALS RUN!

  • JOHN SERPE

    Look, the Suns have a good second tier team, but were not the Lakers, no way, forget that notion. We don’t have a superstar, and don’t even bother arguing that Amare and Nash fit that label. Amare will never achieve that status, his game is limited by his personality. Nash is a very good player but he couldn’t defend a top notch college point guard. We have no true big man and the effort put forth early in the season to stay close in the rebounding department has worn down the team. Don’t kid yourself, the Mavericks are not a top level team, there right down with us. We can all just enjoy what we have right now, or what an owner who thinks about every penny will spend to give us. An entertaining team that will win some games. Championship, come on, those are just surger plumbs dancing in our heads.

  • DA STRATEGIZT!

    I believe the Suns are in the top 10 in the NBA, but still not in the elite 5(Lakers, Boston, Orlando, Cleveland, Denver) where they should be to contend for that Championship ring/trophy! If you are a true fan of the game of Basketball and not just a Suns die-hard fan you should have already known this… Now everything that’s been said in opinion is true plus the facts, so how do the PHX Suns become elite? It’s simple to be the best you have to beat the best no excuses at all times attitude! I hope Steve Nash, Stat, Grant Hill, Steve Kerr, Alvin Gentry all get a glimpse of this Post! 1.)Facts: The PHX Suns are a small team compared to the elite 1a.)Suck it up and play smarter and quicker than the so called athletic big men for each 48 min game attack! and on Defense focus on the opponents Superstar players completely! most teams have only 1 or 2 at worst 3 Be a champion and “D-Up” take there offensive rhythm away!i.e. look at Houston take down the Lakers they almost did it 2wice! 2.)Facts: The PHX Suns won’t be elite until they play some hard nosed in your face defense! 2a.) Defense wins championships there’s no way around it! If you have a team that is as athletic and as on point in execution on offense as the Suns can be and have shown there is no excuse for the same determination and will on the Defensive end none what so ever! My philosophy #1 on Offense #1 on Defense = The best team “Champions” anything else is an excuse for failure! Don’t give me those Alvin Gentry interviews about ranking in the top 15 in Defense will be good enough for the #1 Offensive team in the league! That is B.S. and an excuse for failure welcome to another year with no Championship Suns fans! 3.)Facts: There is only 1 pedigree to success and being an NBA champion! Hard nosed DEFENSE and execution on OFFENSE holds true yesterday, today, and forever! 3a.)On offense: The PHX Suns need to get more ball movement, slashes, cuts, knock down the 3-ball and post-up Amare Suns execution style basketball in the halfcourt offense!I believe the Suns need to start running and gunning again in the fullcourt offense to put teams on their heels early! Grant Hill needs to step-up so does Channing frye! 3a.)On Defense: The PHX Suns will need to use their knowledge for the game and instincts as individuals, but as a team Coaching staff must create a gameplan to take down each opponents Superstars and make the role-players beat you each 48 min game. You see if 2 or 3 Superstars get it going that could hurt you anywhere from 50-80 points but let’s say only 1 goes for 50 that would mean the opponents’ role players still would have to score another 50-60 points to even contend with the #1 scoring Offense! In conclusion my personal in-depth gameplan for Friday nights game at Home against the visiting Orlando Magic: On offense: Coach Alvin Gentry mentioned some new sets are being placed to create more space in the half-court game now that teams are switching the Big-Man on Nash in the pick&roll game. Interested to see these new sets in execution and also I would like to see Grant Hill handle the ball more because he’s a cerebral player and so good at creating fouls on the opponent. I would also like to see Jason Richardson on some pick&roll situations with Stat, being that he’s a lethal offensive player when he’s driving towards the basket to create havoc on the Defensive end when he’s(Richarson, Hill, and Stoudemire are) not posting-up creating fouls as well. I also want to emphasize you’re at Home against an Elite who blew you out at their house PHX has to come out running & gunning execution-style! Most importantly is this!!! On Defense: Tonight are Defensive focus is geared towards Dwight Howard and Vince Carter! On Dwight Howard tonight we should play him 1on1 with an occasional double-team to ruin his rhythm. If he get’s 50 so be it! (He’ll eventually tire as the game wears on)! On Vince Carter we should make him a passer with a double-team scheme and this is the most important of all! *Run the Magic out of the perimeter 3-point-line into the inside keep close to the shooters at all times!!!* Reason for gameplan: Last time out Howard was not only a scorer & a passer, but he also dictated his will on Defense and around the boards. This time around if PHX let’s him go-off for 50 he’ll eventually tire get into foul-trouble and the Magic as a team will have had a poor shooting night as the Offense should be stagnant all night due to the fact the Suns stayed close to the shooters for 48min! I am a PHX Suns fan, but first and foremost a fan of the game of Basketball thanks for your time! My opinion on The PHX Suns quest to be an elite team in the NBA!!!