Mike D’Antoni wouldn’t come right out and say it, but the first of what should be several tweaks to the starting lineup this season likely will come tonight against Utah.
Looking to get more speed in the lineup, create more mismatches and light a fire under Boris Diaw all at once, D’Antoni was leaning toward starting Leandro Barbosa at shooting guard. That would shift Raja Bell to small forward and Shawn Marion back to the power forward spot he played last season — a unit that was very effective to begin the third quarter of Wednesday’s 112-104 win over the Clippers.
That would make Diaw and Amaré Stoudemire the first players off the bench and give the team a better balance of speed through the first quarter. “I tinkered with that because I wanted to play Kurt (Thomas) and still play fast,” D’Antoni said. “That sped things up and gave us a better flow.”
With shooters like Bell (6-for-18 in the first two games, 2-for-10 from 3-point range) struggling and the team missing 11 of its 15 3-pointers against the Clippers, quickness and getting to the basket is paramount until shots start falling.
Diaw struggled in a season-opening loss to the Lakers and had two points in 14 first-half minutes against the Clippers. But he rebounded with an active second half, hitting six of his seven shots after intermission.
“Boris’ first instinct is to fit in, but sometimes you have to be a little more selfish to get yourself going,” D’Antoni said.
After a rough preseason, Bell hit four of six shots in a nine-point first quarter against the Lakers and appeared ready for a quick start. But he has made only two of 12 since and admits he’s struggling in several areas to find his early-season groove.
Bell was perplexed early last year by the system before finding his niche. This time, he’s searching for the problem.
“There’s work to be done. I’m not in midseason form,” he said. “Things haven’t really clicked yet, not just with my shot, and my play has been inconsistent. I’m trying not to dwell on it."
Unfortunately, Bell has a tendency to do just that, and D’Antoni thinks that could be part of the problem.
“We’re just trying to make sure he doesn’t commit suicide,” D'Antoni said. “He’s just thinking about it too much. He’s the heart of our team. I don’t care if he’s scoring; he’s so valuable to us on the floor."
After facing the likes of Lamar Odom and Elton Brand in the first two games, the Suns have another physical customer to contend with tonight in Utah’s Carlos Boozer, who had 24 points and 19 rebounds in a 107-97 win over Houston Wednesday.
“They’re going to try to pound it in on us. Everyone will until we answer the questions,” Bell said. “We’ll just try to take them out of what they want to do.”
Backup point guard Marcus Banks had 13 points and only two turnovers in 15 minutes against the Clippers.
Jazz at Suns
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: US Airways Center
TV: FSN Arizona
Radio: KTAR (620 AM, 92.3 FM)
Records: Jazz 1-0, Suns 1-1
Line: Suns by 7