Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 12/15/11
PHOENIX -- With 12 days left before their official season premier, the Phoenix Suns staged a split-squad, casual-dress rehearsal. With half of the team in black practice jerseys and the other half in white, the familiarity of four days in training camp translated to some missed cues and unfortunate ad-libs. But the witnesses -- season ticket holders, friends, family, and, seemingly, everyone on the franchise payroll -- seemed to enjoy Wednesday night's sneak preview at Grand Canyon University Arena. For the players, it was a welcome break from the rigors of camp. "We've been workin' hard, twice a day, goin' through all the training camp stuff we need to do to build a foundation," point guard Steve Nash, who recorded 7 points (on 3-of-3 shooting), 6 dimes and 4 turnovers, said, "so to get a chance to have the morning off and rest our legs and come out and play a game was a lot of fun. "Guys played hard and I think the work we've been putting in has been paying off." OK, the 68-61 win for the white team was a nice break for the players. But for coaches and fans, it was an opportunity to sort formulating answers to questions that popped as long ago as last spring or as recently as last week. The star of one festering question is Robin Lopez, who finished the night with 12 points and 6 rebounds for the white team. "I'm really happy with Robin," Nash, who ran the show for the black team, said. "I think Robin's taken a long step from last year. He looked physically great and he looked hungry." A quick review of some holdovers from last season: Josh Childress still makes that abbreviated broad jump when shooting from the perimeter and made only 1 of 6 from 3-point range. Hakim Warrick was on fire from mid-range and deeper (we'll need more proof), but remains a defensive liability. Marcin Gortat (11 points, 9 rebounds) shot well early, but didn't finish strong. Grant Hill needs more time to thaw. Shooting guard Jared Dudley (3 points on 4-of-11 shooting) will have quite a battle with newcomer Shannon Brown. Channing Frye's shot-fake-and-go game needs more work, but has improved and could be effective. The new-guy review is limited, because rookie power forward Markieff Morris banged knees with a teammate in a Tuesday practice and was scratched from the scrimmage. But after starting slowly, Brown (16 points and 3 steals) looked capable of making the basketball operations staff look pretty crafty. The former Los Angeles Laker bagged 1 of 2 from 3-point range, played solid defense and demonstrated the ability to put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim in traffic. Without traffic, he wasn't as impressive, blowing an attempted dunk on a breakaway. "That was the product of thinking too much about what I was going to do," Brown said. "But overall, it was great. We still got a lot of improvements to make, but we came out and played hard." While Brown will battle Dudley for work at shooting guard, the contest for point-guard minutes behind Nash could be interesting. Free-agent additions Sebastian Telfair and Ronnie Price weren't tremendous statistically, but Price -- with minimal practice time -- looked formidable on defense and capable of delivering the ball at the right time as a passer. The latest big commitment to defense seemed to be paying dividends on paper, but the low scoring numbers also can be attributed to the scrimmage's length (four, 10-minute quarters with a running clock). With new assistant coach Elston Turner working in some different schemes, a few intentional differences were apparent after four days in camp. Turner's philosophy of building a wall in the lane was made manifest in a greater focus on early positioning for weak-side help. Overplaying the wings to prevent entry passes -- a gamble that often leads to back-door cuts and rotation worries -- was rare, allowing defenders to begin in position to help on dribble penetration, but still recover to shooters. Although the Suns always have attempted to defend pick-and-roll with the same series of tactics mixed in by every NBA team, this pack-line style of defense leaves them in a lane-clogging position when the screener rolls or slips the screen. It didn't always go as designed, but friendly fire makes these events difficult to read.
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