Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 12/10/12
PHOENIX -- It would be easy (not to mention predictable and reckless) to take a few point-blank shots at the coach. How about a couple of hackneyed zingers aimed at the front office or the team owner? Hey, not a problem. But as the Phoenix Suns seventh consecutive loss was being executed to imperfection on Sunday night, the clarity of their predicament became even more obvious. Unless this collection of players begins to play for each other, any hypothetical down-the-stretch rally this season could be moot. Its not anything complicated, Suns coach Alvin Gentry said after a 98-90 loss to the Orlando Magic. Amen to that. In a showdown between dueling low-profile rosters, the Magic (8-12) survived a third-quarter funk and handed first-year coach Jacque Vaughn the youngest coach in the league a third win in the final game of the teams five game West Coast tour. Vaughn continues to incorporate the same corner-series offense Gentry installed during the Suns' training camp. But Orlandos execution of this and other schemes in its repertoire was (excepting the first 10 minutes of the third quarter) superior to what was accomplished by the home team. The Magics defensive rotations werent pristine, but they were crisper and more committed than those of the Suns, who while contending to register as the worst defensive team in the league allowed Orlando to shoot 52 percent from the field. Does this strongly suggest that Vaughn is (or will be) the superior coach? Nope. Sure, it could be proven over time, but the Suns didnt fall to 7-15 (one game worse than after the first 22 games last season) because the coaches lack the basketball intelligence to teach the system. As they did while knocking off the Suns in Orlando, the Magic players simply put on their (cough) big-boy pants before trusting the system to work fairly well when hard cuts, solid screens and crisp passes are involved. Orlando is 29th among NBA teams in offensive efficiency, mind you, so theres still a lot of work to be done by the rookie coach and his crew. But the Magic buying in on the help-the-helper mandate are eighth in defensive efficiency. They believe that making a play for a teammate could lead to collective success -- including return opportunities for themselves. It also should be pointed out that despite lacking star power (very much like the situation here), the Orlando roster offers more balance. In addition to having multiple shooters, ballhandlers and post options in an ordinary cast, the Magic have veteran leaders with a great deal of big-game experience. So, Sundays defeat should fall in the lap of the personnel guys and the guy who hired em, right? Well, some questionable maneuvers seem to be moving the needle with much more force than the good decisions, but much of this 7-15 start is not on the front office, either. Were just not making the plays we need to make to win ballgames, Gentry said. We gotta rebound better. We gotta defend better. We gotta take care of the damn ball. For the record, the Suns were outrebounded (a crazy 44-29) but came out plus-six in turnovers because Orlando burped up eight turnovers in the third quarter and 18 overall. We gotta get the ball movin, Gentry said. When we get three or more passes before a shot, we shoot in the mid-50s. We will force the ball to go from side to side. By the way, Gentry refused to credit this particular setback on the absence of stunt man P.J. Tucker (bum knee) and point guard Goran Dragic (flu). We would never use that as an excuse, he said. We have no excuses. Even when The Dragon isnt draggin, the Suns court balance, player movement and ball movement have been sluggish. And on the rare occasions when the defensive effort is reasonable, the focus on locating shooters has been abysmal. Its a real frustrating loss, Gentry said. You know, were playing spot basketball. We play good for two minutes, then were bad for seven, then were good for five and were bad for three. You just cant have any consistency, and you just cant win any basketball games in this league when you play that way. OK, so its true that finding proper combinations can be dicey when most players on the roster are near the same level of talent. And when that talent isnt exceptional, a roller-coaster of inconsistency creates lineup juggling. Its easier when players have at least a nodding acquaintance with their limitations and accept prescribed roles. But the marketing teams "All for Orange" sales pitch leaning on the premise that a team without stars must pull together is rooted in the all for one and one for all philosophy. And an interpretation of playing hard or tough is diluted when a group of pretty decent players fail to play for each other.
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