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Nuggets Run Away From Suns Late
By: Stefan Swiat, Suns.comWhen the Nuggets were on a win streak earlier this season, it was the Suns that snapped it. And with Denver on an eight-game winning streak, Phoenix would have another opportunity to play the role of spoiler.
Despite coming into Monday’s action hot, the Nuggets were a few degrees hotter, causing the Suns to drop a 108-93 home decision. It was just their third loss in seven games.
“We stopped scoring in the second half,” Suns swingman Jared Dudley said of scoring just 19 points in the fourth quarter. “We just have to learn that when we can’t call a play every single time. We have to be able to move and just play basketball.”
On the flip side, the Suns knew the potency of the Nuggets’ offense. Denver entered the game as the league’s third-best scoring team, as well as first in the league in points in the paint, second-chance points and fast-break points. Before the game, Suns Head Coach Lindsey Hunter stated that limiting the Nuggets on the break would be their first priority.
However, it was the battle in the paint that came back to haunt the Suns. Phoenix was outscored by 42 in the paint Monday, as well as by 11 on the break, which allowed Denver to shoot 51 percent from the field.
“Seventy four points in the paint,” Hunter said. “That sums up the entire game.
“They dominated us driving the ball. They are a good team and we did a good job staying close, but they just tightened the screws and pulled away from us.”
The Nuggets, who were also second in the NBA in points off turnovers at 20 a game, capitalized on 19 Suns turnovers to total 28 points off of those mistakes.
Swingman Wes Johnson led the Suns’ offense by registering a team-high 18 points, while forward Marcus Morris totaled a Suns-high 16 points. Dudley came off the bench to chip in 12 points, while Luis Scola posted nine points and 12 rebounds.
However, the welcome surprise on the attack was supplied by reserve center Hamed Haddadi, who scored a career-high 13 points to go along with his eight rebounds and two blocks.
“He brings length and size to our team,” Johnson said of the Iranian center. “We give him confidence because he knows we are giving him the ball and telling him to do his thing. And it’s paying off.”
The Suns will look to bounce back on the road against Houston on Wednesday. Phoenix recently defeated the Rockets at home on Saturday.
Ladi Dadi, We Love Haddadi
When the Suns acquired Hamed Haddadi at the trade deadline, they didn’t really have many expectations for him at the time. Starting center Marcin Gortat was playing well, and backup center Jermaine O’Neal had rediscovered the fountain of youth.
However, when Gortat was sidelined with a sprained arch and O’Neal left the team to tend to his ailing daughter, Haddadi’s number was called against the Rockets on Saturday. In 28 minutes, the 7-2 center totaled six points, a career-high 11 rebounds, three blocks and a steal in the Suns’ win over Houston.
The outing impressed his coach.
“I really wasn’t paying attention to his stats,” Hunter said. “I was pleasantly surprised by how effective defensively he was in just clogging the middle.
“When you see guards driving that are afraid of going to the rim, that’s an effect (he’s having on the game). And he was unbelievable in that aspect of the game.”
At one point, Haddadi took a shot from the perimeter, looking over to his coach after for approval.
“I’m really comfortable with him dunking,” Hunter said of his center’s shooting range. “But I’ve seen him hit those shots in practice.”
He followed that performance with a career-high 13 points on Monday, also tallying eight boards and two blocks on the night.
“I feel comfortable with this team,” the 7-2 center said. “When you get minutes, you have to show something to them. I have a long way to go, so I have to keep working hard at practice.”
In order to give rookie point guard Kendall Marshall more playing time, Hunter has played him alongside Goran Dragic. The two-point-guard lineup is something he plans on utilizing more during the remainder of the season.
To the delight on Marshall, Hunter went with the duo briefly in the third period Monday.
“I love it,” Marshall said of the two playing together. “I think it takes some of the pressure off of him so he can concentrate on scoring a little bit more. He’s a talented scorer.”
The Dragic-Marshall combo was on full display against the Rockets on Saturday, with the two receiving extended playing time together. Marshall responded by having one his best games as pro, collecting nine points, four assists, two rebounds and a steal in 29 minutes.
“He can run a team,” Hunter said. “The kid is just a natural floor leader. I won’t hesitate to put him in there; crunch time or whatever.”
Hunter has noted growth in Marshall, who is now attacking the rim more confidently than before.
“I think the most impressive thing for me was the fact that when the clock was running down and he had the ball, he attacked,” Hunter said.
Although the form on his shot is sometimes criticized, Marshall drilled 2-of-4 from downtown on Friday. While his motion is a tad unorthodox, Hunter pointed to another shooter with an odd release that enjoyed a pretty solid career as a shooter.
“I’m not big into changing someone’s shot,” the Suns’ head coach said. “Look at Reggie Miller’s unorthodox release.”
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