Winners but not contenders [11/25/08]

Over the past few days, both the Suns and the Cardinals played “Big Games” against legitimate conteders within their respective leagues. The Suns played the Los Angeles Lakers Thursday night, while the Cardnials played the New York Giants Sunday afternoon. Both teams had an opponent with the best record in the league in their home building. Both teams put up respectable efforts through 3 quarters, only to get steamrolled in the fourth. The Suns were holding defensively but could not buy a bucket in the early fourth quarter. That’s a problem when you’re already down by thirteen, because eventually, Kobe’s going to score no matter what you do. And he did. The Cards, likewise, had a defense that seemed simply out of steam, and then compounded their problems with a disastrous on-side kick attempt that essentially put the contest out of reach.

* Both the Suns and the Cardinals are likely to be in the playoffs (see note below), but are not contenders. They are not, as teams,pacing themselves for a full-game contest. I fear this goes back on coaching. Not so uch for Cards coach Weizenhunt, who is actually exceeding expectations at this point, but Suns coach Terry Porter is running out of time. The Suns were contenders when he walked through the door.

You can’t really force players into your system in the NBA. Players are too expensive. You have to modify the system to accommodate the players you have. None of the Suns (except Raja Bell) will ever talk openly about the power struggle going on in practice, but they don’t have to. It shows on the court. Now every other fourth quarter is a flurry of turnovers and short jump-shots.

In just about every metric other than defensive FG%, the Suns were putting up better numbers under D’Antoni. Terry Porter knew what he was walking into.  In a lot of ways, this Sns squad is similar to the Trailblazer teams he played on in early nineties. Duckworth=O’Neal. Wallace=Stoudamire. Cliff Robinson = Boris Diaw. And while Leandro Barbosa is a poor substitute for Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter, even in his prime, is no Steve Nash.

So what we’ve learned is that I’m still a frustrated sports writer.

Now you know.