Found December 29, 2011 on Fox Sports Arizona:
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PHOENIX -- The beauty of this edition of the Phoenix Suns' offense is its capacity to transform almost anyone on the roster into an emergency go-to-guy for one night. But in the eye of even the most optimistic beholder, running sets to create pristine looks for Hakim Warrick and Ronnie Price suggests the potential for cosmic concerns on Planet Orange. Well, Warrick and Price did combine to make an equal split of 14 of 26 shots from the field and 28 points (14 is a career high for Price) during Wednesday's date with the Philadelphia 76ers at U.S. Airways Center. Unfortunately, their teammates were an arctic 19 of 54, and -- even with the Hak and Ronnie Show in full gallop -- the Suns shot an alarming 32.5 percent in the opening half. "Sometimes when it rains," Suns forward Grant Hill said, "it pours." Hallelujah, it was rainin' bricks. But operating a traditionally-robust offensive system with the current roster has the potential to seem as futile as putting on a production of "Riverdance" with a cast full of lumberjacks. It should be noted the 103-83 loss to the Sixers wasn't exactly epic. The Suns' 34-point first half was a whopping nine points shy of the record for worst 24 minutes in franchise history. And the 6-minute, 13-second whiff to open the third quarter was historically mitigated by a 20-point eruption over the final 5:47. A blistering, 57.1-percent marksmanship during the entire fourth-quarter hiked the Suns' overall shooting accuracy to 41.3. "We're not ready to panic or anything like that," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said after his team opened the compacted campaign with two home losses. "Am I disappointed? Sure, I'm disappointed. But you can't stay there. You don't have the time to linger in pity." Well, with the commitment to moving on established, the rest of us can dig for that silver lining. Ah, here's something. The first-half defense was -- by comparison to the offense -- beastly. Phoenix actually bothered the bouncy, young Sixers into a 40-percent shooting performance before intermission. The Suns only forced three turnovers by that time, however, and the nasty karma from their offensive nightmare eventually provoked calamity at both ends of the floor. Gentry, justifiably irritable after his team surrendered 50 points in the paint for the game, has been emphatic in pointing out that a renewed emphasis to building a wall on defense is not translating into offensive misery. "That has zero to do with it," Gentry said. "We're not trying to slow anything down or do anything different offensively." No, in addition to even shooting poorly when wide open, the Suns simply have very few players capable of using the ultimate NBA weapon of dribbling to create scoring opportunities -- for their teammates or themselves. One of the greatest in recent league history, point guard Steve Nash, had a stat line that truly defined the proceedings: 4 points (on 2-of-11 shooting), 1 assist and 6 turnovers. But not hitting shots was contagious. Suns infected during this particular epidemic were Hill (4 of 12), Channing Frye (0 of 4), Jared Dudley (0 of 2), and Marcin Gortat (1 of 6). And while Warrick helped prevent a record-setting catastrophe on offense, he managed to collect a measly three rebounds in 31-plus minutes and was the usual liability on defense. Anyway, it's obvious that Nash is the rare Sun with enough off-the-bounce chutzpah to gut a defense, locate open teammates and make a play. Phoenix was far from blessed in this regard last season, too, an affliction that often manifested when opposing defenses went to the fourth-quarter tactic of squeezing pick-and-roll maneuvers with the intent of having Nash give up the ball early. Through two games, a similar offensive stagger has begun right after tip-off. "I think it's a combination of a lot of things," Nash said. "Shortened training camp, lack of familiarity, not efficient yet, not making shots and we're not in sync. "Some of it is a part of the shortened camp. I think we need to get a little tougher at times and not look around and hope things will get better." The shortened-camp thing isn't isolated in Phoenix. Everyone has that excuse in their hip pockets. Getting tougher would help considerably, and -- although we've seen more space created in the past -- the shooting can't remain awful for an entire season. But even in the best of times for a team with this level of offensive talent, just flirting with a very low playoff seed may be as hopeful as a Suns follower can reasonably be. Whether they rise or continue falling, there will be salary-cap flexibility this summer. In the meantime, Suns fans can enjoy watching rookie power forward Markieff Morris (9 points on 4-of-5 shooting) develop. There also have been reports that the team worked out former standout sniper Michael Redd (whose recent knee history has made him available) and former Pitt star Gilbert Brown. Players with the ability to ride into town and fix this scoring mess aren't available. Well, not right now. So, while fans pretend to play general manager, the coaches and players have 64 more games to improve. "We gotta take it as a stepping stone and try to lock in," Gentry said.
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