Rookie Meyers Leonard was abused by Gortat, O'Neal
If you watched the Phoenix Suns' 114-87 win over the Portland Trailblazers, you noticed a lot of scoring inside. That would be because they scored a lot inside, and it was by design in part. Regular starting center J.J. Hickson was out with a strained left shoulder and rookie Meyers Leonard started in his place.
Leonard was overmatched and the Suns centers took advantage. Centers Marcin Gortat and Jermaine O'Neal combined for 37 points on 18/23 shooting. Add in Markieff Morris at power forward and the three combined for 27/36 shooting (75 percent!) and 58 points.
As a team, the Suns took 77 shots. Almost half came from their big men.
Watching the game, you could tell that both O'Neal and Gortat were making a concerted effort to get the ball inside on the young Leonard. Both, but especially O'Neal, looked like they wanted to eat him alive.
But no one would say that they wanted to pick on the rookie.
Alvin Gentry said,"We just felt like J.O. when he was in the game, we could post the ball to him."
"The matchups did a lot of it," Gentry explained. "We try to go where we think we've got a big advantage."
Translation -- pick on the rookie. Especially when you get results. "If your centers are going to make 18 field goals, you're going to be in pretty good shape," said Gentry.
Gortat said O'Neal was "unstoppable," noting that he showcased everything in the book. But he didn't go so far to say that it was game planning or matchups. He said it was a personal effort to score more. "I tried to put myself in a better position to score and make myself available to my teammates," he said after the game."
"We have this rule that if you're scoring inside, they're going to keep throwing you the ball," he explained.
That's a good rule to have, especially when you have it going like the Suns did.
It also helps when you can play against a rookie center not known for his defense.
The new lineup was successful.
The team shot 63.4 percent in the first quarter. Before Wednesday's game, they had shot a combined 44.9 percent in the first quarter of games. In their last game, the Suns starters logged 37 points, a season low. The starters put up 71 points and didn't play in the fourth quarter. They averaged 63.5 points as a unit before Wednesday.
In his previous three games, Gortat scored a total of 21 points. He had 22 in three quarters on Wednesday.
Goran the thief
Goran Dragic had three steals, making it the seventh straight game he has had multiple steals. The team record is nine.