Defense Remains in Hunter’s Crosshairs

Suns Head Coach Lindsey Hunter described P.J. Tucker as his defensive "pit bull" following Monday's win.
(Barry Goassage/NBAE/Getty Images)
Since Interim Head Coach Lindsey Hunter has been in charge of the Suns, he has left little room for doubt when it comes to what his main emphasis has been to the team.

His focus has been placed on defense, and there might not have been a game yet this season that best exemplified what he is trying to get out of his players than on Monday night against the Lakers.

There also may not have been a game where the team was less effective defensively than just one game prior to that, on Saturday night against the Wizards when the Suns gave up 127 points in the nation’s capital.

The conundrum for Phoenix is to eliminate the hiccups, and Hunter’s group is hoping to use the Lakers game as stepping stone to finding consistency.

Exacting a little revenge during tonight’s game, as John Wall and the Wizards come to US Airways Center for a 7 p.m. tip off, could provide a little extra motivation. Here are five things to watch entering this contest:

  • On Saturday against Washington shooter Martell Webster found a way to get loose for a career-high 34 points on 7-of-10 shooting from behind the three-point line. Despite the team breakdown defensively, Hunter hoped his players would first look inward when trying to improve defensively rather than simply relying on more help defense.

    “I think we put more emphasis on not just totally depending on our help; instead we focused on taking the challenge first as an individual,” Hunter said. “If you meet that challenge first, then the rest of it is made easier.”

    He felt the team accomplished that during the 99-76 win over the Lakers, especially considering the opposition only had 10 points in the fourth quarter.

  • In hopes that the team responds defensively and earns its way to more stops, Hunter first turned to forward P.J. Tucker.

    “I think P.J. really set the tone for us,” Hunter said. “He came out and was being the pit bull that we’re accustomed to. When he does that it energizes our whole team, so I’ve challenged him by saying, ‘That is exactly what we need you to do.’”

    More often than not Tucker is asked to stop the opposition’s best scorer. Against Washington, he will be charged with making sure the Wizards' shooters don't have the open looks they did just two games ago.

  • The other player who made his presence felt the most against the Lakers was forward Luis Scola. The most obvious effect was that the Argentine poured in all 14 of his points in the fourth quarter.

    The less obvious was the defensive job he did on Dwight Howard. Scola said he took it upon himself to try to front Howard in an effort to deny the first possible entry pass. He said that if the Lakers were to swing the ball to the opposite side of the court to lob it into Howard, that strategy probably would not have worked.

    But Los Angeles never effectively did that, and he continued to pester the league’s best center despite the height and athletic advantage Howard held in the matchup.

    “When you look at it – and I was looking at it – I just thought, ‘This is not a good matchup,’” Hunter said. “I really just didn’t want Scola to get overpowered by him, but I know – and this is something I’ve learned for a long time now – you can’t measure a person’s heart.

    “That’s what that was. That was purely, ‘I’m not going to lie down. I’m going to battle you.’”

  • One person the Suns head coach said he never really worries about is point guard Goran Dragic. Often looked upon to spark the team by setting the tone with either his scoring ability or ball distribution, Dragic has recorded double digit assists in 8-of-15 games since the All-Star break.

    “The Dragon” did that again on Monday against the Lakers, with 12 points and 10 assists. The highlight of the night belonged to Dragic, who hit a streaking Jared Dudley with a perfect bounce pass that came from just inside the half-court line. The fact that the pass also went through Steve Nash’s legs earned Dragic a quick glare from his former mentor.

  • Tonight, though, Dragic will have his hands full with Washington's John Wall. The former No. 1 pick has found his stride again following a three-month absence to start this season due to a stress injury in his left knee.

    Statistically, Wall has taken off this month. Including his 17-point and 11-assist game against the Suns on Saturday, Wall has averaged over 20 points, seven assists and four rebounds per game in March.