The Phoenix Suns had one of their best wins of the year on the road in Oklahoma City when they beat the Thunder 113-110 the day after news of the big trade with Orlando was announced. The Suns were without either their out-going or in-coming players but managed to win behind great games from Grant Hill (30 and 11), Steve Nash (20 and 10) and Robin Lopez (19 and 4).
Suns' Coach Alvin Gentry admitted that while it was a great team win, it also helped that the Suns shot the ball "unbelievably well" and the Thunder missed shots they normally make. In that game Phoenix was 57.5 percent from the field while the Thunder were just 42.9 percent and a miserable 6-21 from long range.
Thunder star and potential NBA MVP Kevin Durant was asked at morning shootaround if his team "owed one" to the Suns. "I think so," he said.
The key to slowing down the Thunder for the suddenly competent Suns' defense is denying dribble penetration by Russell Westbrook and keeping Durant off the foul line.
Gentry's Suns' have held opponents to 43.3 percent shooting over their last 11 games. The head coach credited improvements in both team and individual defense along with having more size in the front court with the addition of Marcin Gortat.
For the Thunder, Durant shared his keys to slowing down the Suns.
"Transition defense is the key. Pick and roll defense, I think we have to do a great job. Gortat is playing unbelievable basketball. Playing like one of the best centers in the league right now. Since he's been here his game has kind of blossomed," the budding super-star said.
Durant also had praise for a childhood hero, "Grant Hill is playing unbelievable for his age. He's playing great. He's playing like a 22-year-old."
"I kind of looked up to him as a player. It's cool to see how well he's playing at such an old age. Sorry to put that in there."
The Suns can improve to .500 with a win tonight, but Alvin Gentry doesn't put too much significance on that number. The goal for his team is to make the playoffs and as he said, .500 in the West is like playing par golf on the PGA tour. It is good enough to earn you a seat to watch the rest of the teams in the post season.
The game tips at 7 p.m. local time and will be broadcast on Fox Sports Arizona and Sports 620 KTAR radio. Fans can follow along with other Suns fans at the live game thread at Bright Side of the Sun.
Other Notes and Quotes
On the All-Star selections:
- "I'm probably a little bias on that but I don't think think you can argue with the guys they selected. I think our problem came because of our record. We don't have a great record right now and that more than anything cost him a chance to play in the All-Star Game."
- "I think (Nash) deserves to be in the All-Star Game obviously, but I think the fact that he won't be in, he'll have four days rest would be really good for him also."
- "I understand all the guys (selected). I think the guy that is tough to swallow is LaMarcus Aldridge because I think he's played great and his team has played well."
- Gentry said he voted for all seven guys that ended up being selected as reserves. He's not allowed to vote for his own players.
On defensive improvements:
- "I wish I had an answer for that, I really don't know. We've done a pretty good job from a team defensive stand point and I think individually we've done a pretty good job on guys. You add the two together and obviously you should be better defensively."
- "But the fact that we are third in the league in the last 11 games behind Chicago and Boston and we've played some really good offensive teams, that tells me that we have made strides and improvements there. We've got to stay consistent there and keep trying to get better in all the categories."
- Start off with two good sized guys with Robin and Channing and then go to Marcin. Size increased. Done a better job overall with dribble penetration. Great challenge tonight with Westbrook.
- Grant Hill has benefited from playing fewer minutes and not playing for such long stretches.
- Wants to see it increased to 15 players on the All-Star Team.
- "Steve Nash is having an All-Star year, of course. He's leading his team. People didn't think they would be up here in the race without Amare but he's doing his job. He's leading these guys."
- I could be a lot better offensively. Missing shots. I am greedy. I want to make every shot.
- I just want to win. If I get 5 or 6 points and shoot 2-30, as long as we win.
- People doubted Russell Westbrook all his career. I'm more excited for it than he is.
- Focused on finished strong before the All-Star break and not having a let-down like some teams do.
- Getting back to where we want to be defensively but not there yet.
On coaching Serge Ibaka in the dunk contest:
- "Really thinking what he can do. He's a guy who can jump so high, he can do about anything. So we just have to use our creative minds and come up with some good things."
- "We watched a couple of dunks (on film) but we don't want to duplicate what guys did already. We want to come up with our own and he does a great job of using his mind and thinking of some stuff. It should be fun for Serge. It's something to get him out there for people to really recognize who he is and I think this will be a good way to do it."
- "I'm a lot more comfortable out there on the court."
- Getting more opportunities and playing late in the game and getting some starts. Trying to take advantage of minutes on both ends of the floor.
- It seems like yesterday I was in high school and those two years at ASU went by so fast.
- "It's a great accomplishment. My teammates are the main culprit for me getting in."
- Learning from teammates helped improvement. Everybody has helped. Playing for Team USA had a big effect as well.
- More confident and able to play more physical.
- Is there are target on your back now? "There might be, I can't see back there. If it is, I'm going to continue to be ready and try to take on the challenge and try to continue to get better."
- Watched Steve Nash. He has a great pace to his game, changing speeds well and playing smart. I would like to add that to my game.
- Kevin Love over Nash for Stern pick. He's done a great job putting up crazy numbers. Not just UCLA love. Across the league people said the same thing. He's done a great job leading his team.
- Any special meaning or honor taking a place on the All-Star team that probably would have gone to Nash?
- "Nah, I mean it's different years, different players do different things. This year my goal was to try and continue to get better and better and God's willing I made the All-Star team and hopefully, God's willing, I'll make more. I just try and continue to work and continue to get better."