Does the new Suns coach want to use up his diesel fuel tonight near the Jersey Turnpike, or Wednesday near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway? Will he ask extra minutes out of his other thirtysomething veterans to run with the Bulls in Chicago, or preserve them for the young bucks in Milwaukee on Saturday?
Welcome to the dilemma that will face Terry Porter all year, but one that reared its head even more as the Suns begin a four-game, five-night Eastern road swing, a trip that includes two of Phoenix’s 19 back-to-back game tests during the season.
When the second unit slipped a gear Saturday against Portland, Porter sat guard Goran Dragic, tucked Shaquille O’Neal inside a zone defense and employed Matt Barnes and Grant Hill as ballhandlers to nurse home a win over the Trail Blazers. The latter was a lineup Porter made up on the fly and hadn’t used once in the preseason.
“Hey, I’m just trying to win, baby,” Porter said, laughing. “I trust Matt and Grant in that situation. In the second quarter (with Hill and Dragic joining Boris Diaw and Leandro Barbosa on the floor) we just didn’t have a good flow. So I said, 'Let’s try this combination.’ It’s always the game within a game.”
Porter also had the luxury of two dark days on the schedule when he shortened his rotation at halftime and stuck with proven commodities. But with a lot of games and travel on the docket this week, Dragic, fellow rookie Robin Lopez — who had his first pro DNP on Saturday — or Louis Amundson have to eat up some minutes without costing their team on the scoreboard.
Porter said he will restrict or even sit O’Neal on back-to-backs, and the Barnes/Hill duo will have a tough time against the quicker, slicker point guards the Suns will see.
And while Phoenix won’t have to deal with a team the caliber of New Orleans on the back side during this trip, they have to come back with more energy to achieve their goals on this first extended trip.
Perhaps the chilly Eastern weather will make Dragic feel more at home.
Perhaps the first-ever matchup with his twin brother, Nets forward Brook, will bring out the best in Lopez.
Facing four teams the Suns swept last year (8-0), and teams that haven’t made many tremendous upgrades since, won’t hurt either.
“We play against four teams and I think we can beat all four if we do what we’re supposed to,” O’Neal said.
“No team on this trip really worries me. We just have to do everything right.”
Four games are too far ahead for Porter, who is taking things day by day.
So far, so good.
“If you asked me (before the season) would you take (winning) two of the first three games, I would have said 'Yes, sign me up. I don’t care which two.’ ”
BONUS SHOTS: After a week of rest did nothing for his aching left knee, Alando Tucker will undergo a quick arthroscopic surgery by team physician Thomas Carter today. Carter will smooth out some roughness that might be leading to a fluid buildup Tucker’s been dealing with.
What started as cramping in his calves during a training camp scrimmage will now keep him from playing until around Thanksgiving. The good news is an MRI showed no other damage to the knee.
“It’s been tough on Alando. He looked very good early in camp but he hasn’t been able to get back on the court,” Porter said. “He’s been pretty frustrated.”
Porter praised Barnes and Raja Bell for their defense against Portland’s Travis Outlaw and Brandon Roy.
“Guarding those positions are going to be tough every night in the West, and they did a heck of a job,” he said.