The Suns these days seem to be trying to reinvent modern cultural beliefs. Can smaller really be better?
For a little while it looked that way Friday night, as their small lineup pulled to a narrow, late lead over the Portland Trail Blazers in the two clubs' final preseason game. But in the end, it was more of the same, as the Blazers pulled out a 95-92 win.
With the loss, the Suns finished 2-6 in these exhibition games, their worst mark for the preseason since their 2-7 mark way back in their expansion season of 1968-69. Suns coach Frank Johnson, examining the stat sheet after the game, nodded approvingly at most of the numbers, except for one, increasingly old, sore point: They took a 45-32 whipping on the boards from the tall, athletic Blazers.
"Here we go again: rebounding, rebounding, rebounding. . ." Johnson moaned, pointing to the Blazers' 21-11 edge in second-chance points.
"I told our guys, ‘If you don't box out, you'd better get (the rebound).’ And right now, we're not doing either one."
Pointing to the upcoming season, which starts Tuesday, he said, "The West got bigger and stronger.
“And it looks like I'll have many sleepless nights."
In particular, the Suns’ leaping forwards, Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion, had only 10 boards between them.
Of Stoudemire, Johnson said, “I'm really not happy with his defense or his rebounding.”
Agreed the second-year player, “Guys are focusing on me and boxing me out.
“But that doesn't matter. I need to crash the boards a lot more.”
Johnson said the Suns “right now are kind of a fragile group. We don't want to be physical and we don't want to touch anyone.
“I've got to find somebody who can rebound the basketball.”
If the Suns solve this puzzle, “Then we can run,” he said.
Oddly enough, when the Suns went with Stoudemire in the middle, with Marion and Joe Johnson at forward and point guards Stephon Marbury and Brevin Knight in the backcourt, it wasn't their defense that suffered.
Instead, as they plodded to an 88-85 lead, they stopped scoring for more than 3:00 on the clock, until Marbury hit a layup (but missed a free throw) with 22 seconds left.
By that time, the Blazers had gone on a 7-0 run to take a 92-88 lead.
After Marbury's score cut it to 92-90, the Blazers (4-4) hit their free throws to close it out.
The Suns suffered two critical turnovers after taking their narrow lead, failing to get a shot off in the required 24 seconds, then having Johnson dribble the ball off his leg and out of bounds.
BONUS SHOTS: Leandro Barbosa sat out with a bruised hip. Penny Hardaway missed with a sore back but said he should be OK to practice on Sunday.
The Suns last had a losing preseason in 1988 (3-5). That was the year Kevin Johnson and Tom Chambers led them to a 55-27 regular-season record.