Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 1/7/12
PHOENIX -- It still seems bizarre each time it's said, but it can't denied: The Phoenix Suns are playing good, solid defense. The defensive revolution -- albeit brief thus far -- continued in Phoenix on Friday night as the Suns (3-4) handed the NBA's third best scoring team just its second loss in a 102-77 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. "Our defense has been real good," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. "Its been able to keep us in games and give us an opportunity to win." That's the weird part -- that its defense keeping the Suns in game. In the team's underwhelming 3-4 start defense has been the one constant, the one thing they've been able to count on. In almost any season for the past decade or so, it was the other way around. In the win Friday, the Suns held Portland to 32.5 percent shooting. The Trail Blazers (5-2) entered the night shooting 45 percent and averaging 102.8 points per game. Last night, they put up 107 points in a win over the Lakers. "It's pretty apparent thats the best we've played the whole year," Gentry said. "(The Trail Blazers) are probably playing as well as anybody in the league." Steve Nash led the Suns with 17 points and nine assists and the Suns' offense found a quicker pace that's eluded them so far this season. No doubt, things were clicking more across the board Friday than in previous games, but it was defense that carried them. Portland's leading scorer, LaMarcus Aldridge entered the night scoring 23.2 points per game but managed just 14, thanks largely in part to the defensive efforts of Suns rookie Markieff Morris, who played 31 minutes off the bench. Gerald Wallace same in scoring 17.2 points per game and was held to just one Friday. The Suns' newfound defensive prowess is really nothing new seven games into the season, though, as just two days ago they held the Dallas Mavericks to 41 percent shooting in a loss. In their first win of the season, they held the Hornets to 78 points on 28.9 percent shooting. The defensive revolution is the result of an offseason commitment by the organization to making defense a priority. The culture in Phoenix was one of high-scoring, fast-paced basketball with little emphasis on defense and a change was in order. To lead that revolution, the Suns brought in Elston Turner to be their defensive assistant coach. "I think Elston and (assistant coach) Dan Majerle have done a great job with what we're trying to establish and just the whole atmosphere we're trying to create defensively," Gentry said. If seven games is any indication, that defensive atmosphere has been embraced. And if this kind of defense sustains over the 66-game schedule, Turner might very well find himself a hot commodity on the coaching carousel. The snag in the defensive turnaround is the Suns' stagnant offense. Friday marked just the second time this season the Suns have topped the century mark in scoring and with the win are still averaging an uncharacteristic 92.9 points, in the bottom half of the league. It's been a shooting and pace problem so far, but again, that appeared to be getting closer to the norm on Friday. If Phoenix can get all its facets clicking more nights than not, the defensive edge could do a lot to make a playoff team out of a projected cellar dweller. "We had a better rhythm," Nash said of the Friday win. "I thought that allowed us to find comfort, and we made more shots probably as a result." It would be unfair not to mention that the Suns probably benefited to some degree from a tired Portland team on the second half of a back-to-back. Coach Nate McMillan said his team had "heavy legs," and the Suns capitalized on that. "Everybody's going to go through that," Gentry said. "I think that's why you're going to see scores like the one tonight. Do I think we're 25 points better than they are? No, but I think given the opportunity to take advantage of something like this you better do it." It would also be remiss to mention that the season is still very young. The Suns have had good defensive stretches before, and this could be one of them. Maybe the defense won't stick. Maybe the Suns will find their illustrious pace and abandon some of the defensive fundamentals they've stressed since the start of training camp. But don't count on it. The Suns made the commitment to playing better defense and all signs point to them following through on it, even if it means scoring less, though Gentry doesn't think improved defense has to mean a slower offense. But if it does, so be it. A slower offense and defense they can be proud of might just be the Suns' new identity.
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