Steve Nash was a game time decision for Sunday's matinee against the Orlando Magic, but Alvin Gentry made the decision about an hour before tip-off that Nash would sit this one out. With Channing Frye already on the shelf thanks to a dislocated shoulder, the Phoenix Suns simply didn't have enough horses to run with the deep and talented Magic, and were crushed by a final of 111-88.
"I think I could have played today, but at the expense of not being 100 percent and jeopardizing my health for the rest of the season," Nash said afterward. "I'm giving us a chance to hopefully have everybody as healthy as possible to get into the playoffs. I figured it was the best thing not to play."
It might end up being best in the long run, but on Sunday, it resulted in disaster.
Aaron Brooks filled in admirably for Nash in his first start with the Suns, and finished with 19 points and 10 assists, on 8 of 14 shooting. But most of the damage he was able to inflict was done by halftime: Brooks only took four shots in the second half, and didn't score after the break.
"He's got to be a little more aggressive," Gentry said of Brooks afterward. "I thought he was very aggressive the first half, I thought not so much the second half. He's got to stay aggressive and he has to look for his shots. We want him to be a scorer; I think in the second half a little bit he wanted to be a facilitator. He's still learning."
Brooks agreed with Gentry's assessment, but seemed more upset by the blowout loss than by his own subpar second half.
"I don't know, I just got out of my rhythm," Brooks said of his second half. "I don't think it was anything they did defensively. I'm going to watch the film and figure out what's going on, because there's no reason we should get beat by that much."
Jared Dudley, who was excited for the chance to try to dunk on former teammate Jason Richardson, didn't exactly get the opportunity. But he did blow by J-Rich twice to get to the rim for scoring chances, and finished with as many points (10) on seven fewer shots, and in 10 fewer minutes.
"The first one it was like Moses, the whole sea just parted, it was crazy," Dudley said. "It was too far to dunk that one, and the other one was on the fast break where I thought he was going to foul me, but he ran out of the way because he said he had two fouls. That's just J-Rich for you, though."
On the Orlando side, Dwight Howard scored 26 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and blocked five shots for the Magic, who ran away with this one in the third quarter, turning a nine-point halftime lead into a 22-point laugher by the time the period had come to a close. Orlando punished the Suns on the boards with Frye out of action, and outrebounded Phoenix by a margin of 57-40.
Marcin Gortat played well against Howard defensively, and made him work for most of his shots, while hitting six of his own nine attempts for 12 points. Like Brooks, Gortat was effective only in the first half, when he scored 10 of his 12 points on 5 of 6 shooting. Afterward, he seemed unhappy with his lack of touches in the second half.
"It's hard when you play the first half and try to be aggressive, and you hit a couple of jumpshots, and then the second half, I kind of disappear," Gortat said. "I don't know what the reason is, I've just got to watch the (film) and talk to the coaches and I've got to figure out a way to, in the second half, be more aggressive. Because that's not the first time I score 10, 12 points in the first half, and only maybe one bucket in the second half."
On his battle with Howard, Gortat felt he did a decent enough job, and talked about the difference between facing Howard in practice and matching up with him when it counts, as he did on Sunday.
"I've seen him in practice, he will hit me twice as hard and (play) more dirty," Gortat said. "In the game, I think he knew I was going to wait for the offensive foul, and he knew I would probably try to take a charge. It's really, really hard to guard this guy. It's hard to say and judge, but I would say I had a pretty solid defense on him."
While many of the players were seen chatting and exchanging pleasantries during the game -- especially in the first half -- there was none of that between Gortat and Howard. I asked Gortat afterward if he and Howard were still on friendly terms.
"We didn't say to each other one word," Gortat said. "We didn't shake our hands, we didn't talk to each other, we didn't say anything. And that's fine, at the end of the day he's on a different team, I'm on a different team, and I'm a grown-ass man, I don't need him any more."
Gortat may no longer need Howard, but it's clear that the Suns still need Nash. Phoenix moved to 0-3 on the season without Nash, and are now a combined 9-20 without him since the 2004-05 season. With Nash in the lineup during that time, the Suns have a record of 356-171, good for a winning percentage of .676.
"I feel really positive I'll be back by Wednesday, at the latest," Nash said afterward. "I just feel like I'm making progress. If I don't play (on Monday), I feel like in a couple more days I should be ready to go."
Gentry made it clear that the team isn't in a position to wait.
"We can't worry about the guys that are out, they're not going to be with us," Gentry said. "We can't have a pity party for ourselves, we have to have guys step up and play. Obviously that didn't occur (today), so the result, that's what it is."