Suns Top Mavs Under the Stars in 2011 AutoTrader.com Open

By Stefan Swiat, Suns.com
Posted: Oct. 9, 2009

While the Suns may have played outside and under the stars in the 2011 AutoTrader.com Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, CA, they still managed to shine brightly in their 98-90 win over the Mavs on Saturday night.

The third AutoTrader.com Open appeared to be the charm for the Suns, who were on the losing end of the previous two outdoor games. However, in front 15,617 fans, Phoenix captured its first win of the preseason.

“We made some improvement but I still think we have a lot of work to do,” Suns point guard Steve Nash said. “We just have to keep putting good days together in practice and good exhibition performances. We have to try to build (on that) because we only have 15 or 16 days left (to the regular season).”

As opposed to the previous two preseason outings, Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry elected to give the lion’s share of minutes to the starters in the first half. Although both teams shot the ball poorly in the first half (40 percent for the Suns and 31 percent for the Mavs), the Suns moved out to an eight-point lead at halftime.

But then Phoenix came out in the second half on fire, hitting 6-of-8 shots to stretch the lead out to 14 points. Gentry continued a limited rotation in the third period, using only Channing Frye and Josh Childress until there was just 3:43 left in the period.

“We’ve got a lot bigger fish to fry than winning a preseason game, but I think we needed to make steps in the right direction, Gentry said. “I thought that the first group that was in there – the one that is going to play a lot of minutes for us - did a great job both offensively and defensively.”

In that third quarter, it appeared that the Suns finally figured out how to shoot outside. In the first year of the event, the Suns shot a mere 32 percent from the field before improving to 40 percent last year. Saturday, Phoenix knocked down 47 percent of its shots through three quarters, before the third unit cooled the team down to 40-percent shooting by the end of the night.

“We’re not shooting it real well, but at the end of the day we’ll be a top 5 team in field goal and three point percentages,” Gentry said.

As advertised, Gentry put forth a rotation that possessed a resemblance of what is to come in the regular season. As opening night beckons, Gentry is looking to establish more continuity.

“I think we needed to play together a little more with Hedo (Turkoglu) out there,” the Suns’ skipper said. “We’ve got to get ready to play because it’s not like a typical team where we have everybody coming back, we’re going to have five or six new players on the roster. A couple of those guys are going to be very important so we have to see if we can mesh them in with our guys and get them acclimated.”

Grant Hill led the team with 16 points, while Jason Richardson scored seven of his 15 in the third period. Steve Nash was able to get the Suns into a rhythm offensively, racking up 10 assists to go along with his seven points.

Phoenix outscored Dallas 15-7 on fast-break points and 36-26 in the paint. The Suns led by as many as 22 in the contest.

“We did cut down on the turnovers and when you cut down on turnovers you don’t have as many run-outs and you don’t give up as many easy baskets,” Gentry said.

Providing a nice spark off the bench was forward Hakim Warrick, who hit 3-of-4 shots from the floor and 4-of-5 from the line to total 10 points in 15 minutes. Channing Frye added 12 points and five rebounds, while Robin Lopez collected 11 points, six boards and two blocks.

For all the talk of the Suns being undersized again this season, Phoenix was only outrebounded by seven. After turning the ball over 32 times Wednesday against the Raptors, the Suns only coughed it up 12 times on Saturday.

“Overall I liked our energy, our defense, we limited our mistakes and we didn’t turn over the balls as much,” Nash said. “I feel positive and optimistic because I really like the guys and I think we’ve got a lot of skilled and talented players. We’re really trying to figure out how we can best exploit each other’s abilities and what lineups suits us best.”

The Mavs, who were led by J.J. Barea’s 13 points, turned the ball over 22 times. The Suns’ next preseason game is Tuesday against Utah at US Airways Center.

Making Gaines

As a head coach, there isn’t one person on the Suns coaching staff that has led his team to a world championship. But that may change.

Phoenix Mercury Head Coach Corey Gaines, who was also a former NBA point guard, has been working with second-year forward Earl Clark over the summer. Since the beginning of the preseason, Gaines has been traveling with the club, spending his time before and after practice working with the players.

“We don’t have any long-range plans we just thought that with his season being over, he has some good input and brings some positive things to the table,” Gentry said. “It’s just good to have him around.”

Gentry said that he’s known Gaines since the young coach was a sophomore in high school. Gaines won a WNBA Championship with the Mercury in 2009.

The Matrix's Take

Former Sun Shawn Marion was traded half a season before Phoenix began playing in the AutoTrader.com Open. The 6-7 forward said he enjoyed the experience of playing outdoors Saturday.

“It was real interesting,” he said. “It’s been about 15 years since I’ve done that.”

The four-time All-Star, who holds career averages of 17.8 points and 9.9 rebounds, likes the make-up of this Suns squad. Marion noticed similarities to the team he once ran with, but recognizes a team that is adjusting to a bunch of new pieces.

“We know Steve is going to get that ball up the floor,” Marion said. “But they’ve got a lot of new faces over there.

"They’re going to get up-and-down and shoot a lot of threes and they’re going to be the Suns. The same feel but different faces.”

Did Not Dress

Dallas Head Coach Rick Carlisle, who fainted at team practice Friday, didn’t make the trip to Indian Wells wih his team. Although all tests were negative for Carlisle, who may just have been suffering from dehydration, he elected to rest over the weekend in Dallas.

In addition to missing its head coach, Dallas also was two short on its roster for Saturday’s game. Former MVP Dirk Nowitzki didn’t get off the bench against the Suns.

Although he warmed up, the 7-foot forward did not dress. After scoring 30 points in their last preseason game, Nowitzki decided to take the night off and let some of his teammates get minutes.

Mavs shooting guard Jason Terry also decided to rest and not dress.

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