Suns Still Solidifying Their Spots

Suns swingman Wesley Johnson has taken full advantage of his opportunity this season.
(Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)
In various forms, the question has been raised around this Phoenix Suns team numerous times: What is it playing for?

What can’t be questioned is that the team is indeed playing. The losses have hung with this group, and players like Goran Dragic, P.J. Tucker and Luis Scola have provided a blueprint on how players should remain engaged through a difficult season.

Yet the question was brought up again as the team enters the final month of the season. This time it was posed to interim Head Coach Lindsey Hunter in the form of whether or not he was worried about a case of “senioritis.”

In the short time Hunter has been in control of the Suns, one thing he has made clear is there will be a demand for consistent effort. With that in mind, it was obvious what Hunter’s response was about to be.

“You’re playing for your job,” Hunter said. “You can get senioritis if you want, but you’ll be graduating prematurely from this team. I think guys understand that, and they showed that last game (against Indiana on Saturday).

“They competed. We just have to continue to work on our execution to better understand what to do. That’s kind of been our theme, and we’ll continue to do that until it’s over.”

So after three days off, the Suns head to Los Angeles to take on the suddenly struggling Los Angeles Clippers, and here are a few things to keep an eye on before this 7:30 p.m. contest:

  • Cementing Their Status

    In the second half of the season, Hunter has opened up the player rotation a little bit.

    Although, players like Wesley Johnson, Michael Beasley and Markieff Morris have a little time under their professional belts already Hunter still considers them young. That is why he has pushed each to realize their potential, to become complete players and to evolve – especially on the defensive end of the floor.

    “I have to stay on Markieff, I have to stay on Wesley, I have to stay on Beasley about being constantly where you’re supposed to be, rotating when you’re supposed to and being aware of what’s going on defensively,” Hunter said. “They’re still young, because most of them would just be getting out of college, so it’s all relative. In my day, you knew you were (in college) for at least four years, unless you were Chris Webber or Penny Hardaway.”

    Thus far the coach has been pleased with the progress shown by each of these players, but he admits that Johnson has taken the most advantage of the opportunity he’s had.

  • Complications in Lob City

    That perfect month of December and perch upon the top of the Western Conference is becoming a little bit of a blurry memory for the Los Angeles Clippers.

    Following a third-consecutive loss on Monday that lowered the team’s record to just one game above .500 following the All-Star break, Clippers Head Coach Vinny Del Negro took his team to task for a perceived lack of effort.

    Any recent struggles aren’t clouding the Suns’ judgment of the Clippers, though. Preparation for Los Angeles has remained the same, as players like Wesley Johnson continue to respect the game-changing acrobatics this opponent can display at any moment.

    “They’re still playing pretty much the same, but right now they just can’t seem to get into the same kind of flow that they had going on early in the season,” Johnson said. “The focus is still on trying to take away those spectacular plays they can make, and then try to limit Chris Paul weaving through the pick-and-rolls.”

  • Gortat Sets Sights on Playing

    The walking boot that has covered Marcin Gortat’s right foot since he suffered a Lisfranc sprain on March 6 could be coming off in the next couple of days.

    The center is anxious to get the boot off, as he aims to possibly return before the end of the season. The team has indicated it will make sure of the center’s complete health before he steps that foot back on the court again.

    Prior to the injury, Gortat had started 138 consecutive games for the Suns, and his frustration over the foot sprain has been apparent.

    The center is even looking forward to sitting behind the bench once the boot has been taken off. Part of the reason he isn’t behind the bench, Gortat admitted, is because he can’t dress to the standards he’s used to when he’s wearing the boot.

    “You know my swag,” Gortat said.

  • Asking a Lot of Scola

    In Gortat’s absence and while reserve center Jermaine O’Neal deals with a strained calf, Luis Scola has drawn a couple of starts at the center position.

    Banging against the bigger bodies of opposing centers has been a tall task for Scola, one his coach respects the 6-foot-9 forward for meeting.

    “I mean, a lot of times he’s overmatched size-wise, so that’s tough because I know that wears on him with all those big guys leaning on him,” Hunter said. “But he’s handled it well.”

    The job doesn’t get easier tonight considering Scola will have to help hold off the frontcourt pairing of DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin.

  • Rested Up

    The Suns rested Goran Dragic for two games last week, and his return was just as solid as would be expected from the team's best player this season.

    Going up against Indiana on Saturday – just the league’s No. 1 ranked defensive club, by the way – Dragic recorded 38 minutes, scored 21 points, handed out nine assists and pulled down four rebounds. He was 8-of-13 shooting and made both of his three-point attempts.