Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 1/9/12
PHOENIX -- We now find the Phoenix Suns transitioning from a game they were expected to win (they did) and into an early-season litmus event. Sunday's 109-93 clouting of the Milwaukee Bucks at U.S. Airways Center was their second laugher in three nights. After taking down the seemingly mighty Portland Trail Blazers on Friday, dismissing the Bucks was required, especially since it escorts them into Tuesday's play date with the Lakers in Los Angeles. By the way, the victory lifted Phoenix to .500 (4-4) on the season, represents the Suns' third home victory in a row and occurred vs. a team that didn't suit up three of its top players in a back-to-back-nights predicament. "We're supposed to be able to take advantage of situations like that," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said about one week after any obvious victory situation wasn't looking all that likely. It also should be noted, for historical perspective, the win prolongs a crazy skid for a team that's been even more vulnerable in Phoenix than an ice sculpture. The Bucks now have lost 24 consecutive games here, a streak that rolls us back to their last Arizona-based triumph in 1987. "All I know is that we beat 'em tonight," said Gentry, whose post-game media address began with some light-hearted ribbing of anyone in the fourth estate doubting Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. Speaking of passers who entered the professional ranks with limited expectation, highlights of Sunday's business-like performance included another Steve Nash assistant bonanza. With the Bucks' defense attempting to defend the Suns' pick-and-roll scheme by dispatching helpers to corral Nash, the senior point guard handed out 10 dimes in the first quarter. "Steve did a good job of opening up the offense," Gentry said before explaining that any point-guard, spoon-feeding drop-off with the Suns' second unit is tough to avoid. "Steve is just a whole different animal in there." Moving freely through his natural habitat, Nash finished the game with 17 assists in only 27-plus minutes of energy-saving work. Had Milwaukee presented more than a 39.7-percent shooting threat through three quarters (the score was 91-66), Nash may have been forced to play enough to threaten the NBA's all-time, single-game assist record (30) held by Bucks coach (and former Suns sideline boss) Scott Skiles. Oh, the irony. Or is it convenience? Well, 30 really is a pretty crazy number. Anyway, speaking of defending Nash in screen-roll, the Suns will see how the Lakers attempt to deal with Phoenix's signature plan of attack for the first time since Phil Jackson rode his motor scooter into the sunset. Jackson's preferred pick-and-roll defensive strategy (against anyone) featured the defender guarding the screener to hang back and maintain defensive rebounding position. The player guarding the ballhandler would be required to deal with the screener while defending the dribbler, too. Since Nash is one of the world's elite shooters, adjustments sometimes were necessary. Jackson's successor is former Mesa Community College player Mike Brown, who likes a more aggressive approach to defending PNR. Speaking of the new Brown, Tuesday's game will include the first L.A. return of an old Brown ... former Lakers reserve guard Shannon Brown. Brown gave the Suns 14 points off the bench against Milwaukee, cashing in on 10 of 12 attempts from the free-throw line. Gentry said his back-up shooting guard seems to be adjusting to a different style of basketball. "I've never really felt too uncomfortable here," Brown said of picking up the Suns' open-floor strategy after playing within the dimensions of Jackson's triangle offense. "Everybody has bad games and mine happened at the start of the season." To avoid anything bad on Tuesday at Staples Center, Brown is hoping to keep things in perspective. "I'm looking forward to it," he said, "but I can't let anything get in the way mentally. I have to let the game come to me, just play basketball." For the Suns' collective, Tuesday should provide an interesting look at just how much better they really are than the team that opened 1-3. "Oh, definitely," Suns guard Jared Dudley said. "Any time you play them (Lakers) there it's a big game. And it'll be a good test to go on the road and see if we can continue to play well." Playing well against Milwaukee included another strong effort on defense. But that 109 registers as the Suns' highest offensive output of the young season, an accomplishment that was coaxed along by 55.8-percent shooting -- including 10 of 22 from 3-point range. The relative eruption included a big night for Channing Frye, who dropped all four of his 3s, made 6 of 7 shots overall and finished with 16 points. Six other Suns scored in double digits, including each starter and another double-double from rookie reserve Markieff Morris (3 of 4 from 3, 13 points, 10 rebounds). "For the first time this year, we shot the ball like we're supposed to," Gentry said. The first time they played the Lakers in L.A. last season, the Suns shot the ball like nobody's supposed to, dropping 22 3-pointers. If anything close to that happens Tuesday, we'll see (once again) there's more than one way to fail in dealing with Nash.
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