The Phoenix Suns have a well-earned reputation as being a soft defensive team. Players around the league understand that when they play against the Suns they are going to get open looks and it's not going to be a physical game unless they initiate the contact. Marcin Gortat and Robin Lopez are determined to change that.
"If you've got two seven feet guys in the paint, that will be tremendous. You have guys like LeBron James, D-Wade driving to the paint -- they've got to think about us. We are not skinny little kids standing over there. You got two big guys standing there. It will be a something. It will be something on defense for us. It will be a big wall to cross," Gortat said about the physical defensive presence he and Lopez plan to bring on Thursday night against Miami.
For Robin, playing with and against Marcin in practice today already reminds him of home.
"I think it's getting me really excited. It's kind of reminding me of when I practiced against my brother in high school and then at Stanford. Two big bodies, two skilled bodies to really push against each other," Lopez said, who played with his twin brother Brook up until they were both drafted in 2008.
Both of these big guys appreciate what the other brings. Robin said he loves Marcin's aggressiveness on both ends of the floor and Gortat spoke about Robin's skills and friendliness.
"(Robin's) big, he's really long and really heavy body -- not heavy because he's fat -- but just heavy, big body. Pretty skilled, good touch around the basket and he's a good teammate. He helped me out a lot the last couple of days."
They look forward to backing each other up, but also want to play together on the floor at times. Coach Alvin Gentry certainly left that door open, saying he could even possibly play Gortat and Lopez together with the 6-11 Channing Frye.
Robin and Marcin both stayed after practice working on their mid-range shots, with Gortat volunteering himself to the extensive tutelage provided by Suns Developmental Coach, Nenad Trajkovic, who has a reputation for working long hours with players.
The extra spacing provided if both centers can be reliable mid-range shooters would allow Gentry to play them together more frequently. And the jumbo lineup with Frye at the small forward could be used to counter the Lakers Pao Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom trio or could be used against teams like Portland, who don't have small forwards known for their ball handling skills.
Mostly, though, the pairing of Lopez and Gortat gives the Suns a much-needed boost of toughness. Each alone are physical players, but when paired together, they don't have to worry as much about being in foul trouble.
"Definitely not (allowing layups) even if I have to sit down with six (fouls). I'm going to be waiting over there for LeBron and D-Wade," Gortat said with the kind of big man bravado Suns fans haven't heard since Shaq left.