Alvin Gentry knew the extended week-long All-Star break would allow his team to rest their their legs and minds during the strike-shortened season, but I’m not even sure he expected this type of turnaround. Following a disappointing 106-104 loss to the Warriors on February 22, a frustrated Gentry cursed the effort of his team who, at the time, had lost six of nine.
Fast forward a month and suddenly the Suns find themselves knocking on the playoff door after rallying together as a unit and winning eight of their last nine at US Airways Center and nine of their last twelve after falling to the Heat, 99-95, in Miami.
One big improvement has been the play of the Phoenix bench who has contributed big minutes in key situations during the streak.
“Our starting five has been pretty good all year long, but we were having a big drop off with our second unit,” assistant coach Dan Majerle told ‘Big Guy on Sports’ Tuesday. “I think [the bench] is starting to figure out what kind of unit they are and how they have to play. That’s a big key for us.”
Even when the playoffs initially looked bleak (7-15 heading into February), the Suns relied on their veteran core, particularly Steve Nash and Grant Hill to provide leadership and character through the rocky times. As frustrating as it was, both understood a re-focused team could make a playoff push if they stayed together and tweaked some things along the way. It was Gentry who initiated the change.
“He had a great idea one day,” Majerle explained. “He said we’re going to let [Nash and Hill] sit down and watch the film. The coaches are going to step out of the room and you tell us what you think. They really took it to heart. We talked right before the all-star break and we had to decide what kind of team are we going to be. Are we going to continue to be mediocre and not make the playoffs or are we going to make a push here.”
The Suns have remained tight-knit throughout the season with many players gathering to go to dinner, movies and concerts both on the road and at home. Chemistry plays a key role in professional sports, especially this NBA season with less days away from one another due to the work stoppage which started last summer and extended into the late fall.
Majerle understands there are still plenty of big games ahead, starting with their current four-game road trip.
“You have to have an ‘us against everybody else’ mentality and you have to go out as the road team and play hard every night and do what you have to do.”