Phoenix Suns Face Another Big Test With Portland Trail Blazers

The Phoenix Suns are seemingly faced with a big game every night. Sitting in the 11th spot in the West with a 16-21 record will do that if your goal is to somehow make the playoffs. The Portland Trail Blazers (20-19) currently are the eighth seed and despite all their injuries are the team the Suns need to beat. With Portland already having won the season series (3-0) the Suns need to finish the season with a better overall record to pass them in the playoff standings. A win tonight, therefore, counts as both a victory for the Suns and a loss for the team the Suns hope they are chasing.

All that playoff math aside, the bottom line is the Suns need to play better basketball of talk of the playoffs is nothing more than a pipe dream. The team beat Cleveland at home on Sunday and instead of using that momentum they promptly got embarrassed in Denver and took yet another huge step back.

"We have to start playing well. That's the bottom line," Coach Alvin Gentry said, emphasizing the bottom line again.

Last night's strong finish against the New Jersey Nets could be another opportunity to gain some confidence and upward thrust or it could prove totally meaningless if the Suns once again can't defend home court against an injured Portland team that always plays hard against Phoenix.

In what may turn out to be a lucky break for the Suns, Portland's Wesley Matthews is listed as a game time decision after spraining his ankle in practice yesterday. With or without Matthews, the Suns will still need to find more consistent play. At this point, the opponent hardly matters.

"I don't think it's anybody that's dogging it, I'm not saying that. I think collectively as a team we haven't clicked and the chemistry hadn't come together like we were last year. We have to have that kind of consistency to be good," Gentry said today in response to a question about individual effort.

At the same time, he repeatedly said he would go with the players who bring consistent energy and give the kind of predictable performance the team needs. 

"Whatever it is, we're going to find guys with energy. We have to play with energy and we have to be consistent in what we're doing...We got to be consistent in our whole, overall game with that second unit and we've got to continue to try and find guys that's going to do that. And if not, then we are going to have to play guys 40 minutes. That's just the way it's going to be."

The most recent change to Gentry's revolving rotations has Mickael Pietrus on the bench. He didn't play at all in the last game and played limited minutes in the previous few. Gentry said that the decision to start Josh Childress over Pietrus was to help with rebounding and defense and leaving Dudley on the bench to start the game was to help with consistency for the second unit. 

Pietrus is taking it all in stride. He says that as a nine-year veteran he's been through this before and it just focused on doing whatever the team needs him to do.

"I believe even if you're not playing you still come in and work hard for your team, good thing is going to happen," Pietrus said, adding, "Don't worry, MP will be back."

Grant Hill Update

Hill was reported to be moving well and in is expected to play tonight. "I'd be shocked if he doesn't," Gentry said.

This game is scheduled to tip at 8:30 p.m. local time and will be broadcast on ESPN nationally and Fox Sports Arizona. Fans can follow along at Bright Side of the Sun.

Other Notes

  • Gentry made an emphasis on the 3rd quarter. Averaged giving up 30 points in the third quarter to poor offensive teams. "We have to come out in the third quarter a lot more focused than we are and then obviously we have to be able to close out games."
  • "We have to figure out a way to get these guys playing better and more consistent."
  • Asked if the team was playing up to its talent level, Gentry said, "I would say we have to figure out what our talent level is and then we have to play up to that."
  • Not seeing the "blue collar desperation". Have to play consistently hard to to win games.
  • We don't have LeBron or Dwyane Wade where we can turn it on. The individual parts have to equal more than the sum.
  • Josh playing over Pietrus to help with rebounding and defense. Can't play 10 or 11 guys like last year. Can't do it this year. We tried and it hadn't worked out. Trying to get consistency to put guys in position so they know where they are going to play. Not permanent.
  • Have to establish consistency. We can't try and play everyone. It won't work out for us.
  • Playing small late in game was about finding energy. "Whatever it is, we're going to find guys with energy. We have to play with energy and we have to be consistent in what we're doing."
  • "We have to have consistent play and guys that we have a pretty good idea we can count on."
  • "You've got to be able to do your job and guard guys, I understand we may struggle a little bit scoring, but if you give up 44 points in a quarter, it doesn't matter what you do offensively. We got to be consistent in our whole, overall game with that second unit and we've got to continue to try and find guys that's going to do that. And if not, then we are going to have to play guys 40 minutes. That's just the way it's going to be."
  • Vince Carter is still trying to learn to play with Steve. Consistency thing with him is being out there and putting in the minutes -- guys knowing where he likes the ball. He's doing a good job with that but is going to get better.
  • Pietrus talking about staying positive and having fun, "Life is short, so you have to enjoy it anyway."
  • MP was not happy being asked about the play of the Orlando Magic. He's focused on being a Sun.

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