With Amar'e Stoudemire playing for the New York Knicks this season, the big question was: How will new acquisition Hedo Turkoglu fare as the Phoenix Suns' new, star power forward? Can he be anywhere near the impact player that Stoudemire was for the team?
Based on last night's performance against the Trail Blazers in Portland, he ain't no Ama're offensively. He had six points in 27 minutes in the Suns' 106-92 defeat. Most of the time, he looked lost when he had the ball in his hands.
On defense, he may have been as good as Stoudemire, which isn't saying much.
He guarded Portland power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, whom he held to eight points. Turkoglu had a nifty steal. So the night wasn't a total loss for the 6-foot-10 Turk, acquired from the Toronto Raptors in the off-season.
Turkoglu had just three rebounds and two assists, plus he amassed five fouls. If anybody espected him to be the answer, he wasn't. The $10-million-plus-a-year man should improve as the season progresses, but as he did last year with the Raptors and in the off-season with the Suns, he under-whelmed at the Rose Garden.
But we can't blame the loss on Hedo alone.
Only three Suns were in double figures: point guard Steve Nash had 26 points, shooting guard Jason Richardson had 22, and another new hire, reserve forward Hakim Warrick, had 10, including a couple of rim-rattling dunks. (The guy looked pretty good.) The other three Suns starters, including Turkoglu, combined for a pathetic 14 points.
As for rebounding, as expected, the Suns sucked.
They were beaten on the boards 48-30 overall, and 18-7 on the offensive end. It's hard for any team to recover from giving a talented rival that many second-chance opportunities. We watched on two occasions as the Blazers pulled down three offensive rebounds before finally scoring.
Yet the Suns were in the game (they led 81-75 at the end of the third quarter) until midway through the fourth, when the Blazers' Nicholas Batum lit them up. The small forward wound up with 11 points (six of them on three-pointers) in the fourth; he had 19 points on the night.
Other Blazers in double figures were superstar guard Brandon Roy, 24 points; center Marcus Camby, 13 points; and point guard Andre Miller, 10 points.
Turnovers were another huge problem for the Suns. They had 19 overall. Nash had nine in his ball-handling-sloppy 35 minutes.
Which brings up a crucial point about Phoenix this season. Nash will be 37 soon. He can't do it all.
Unless Turkoglu and the others get better in a hurry, Nash will continue to have to carry the offensive load for this team, with no Stoudemire in the mix anymore -- which he did last night. When he does this, the rest of his game often suffers. When Nash carries the scoring load, the Suns lose historically much more than they win.
But it was the first of 82 regular-season games, and there's no reason to think -- at this point -- that Coach Alvin Gentry can't work another miracle. Hey, nobody expected him to take the Suns to the Western Conference finals last season, but he did.
The Suns travel to Salt Lake City to play Deron Williams/Al Jefferson and the Utal Jazz on Thursday night. Tip-off's at 7:30. TV: TNT. Their home opener is with Kobe Bryant/Pao Gasol and the Los Angeles Lakers beginnng at 7:30 p.m. Friday. TV: ESPN and Fox Sports AZ. For more information, go to www.phoenixsuns.com.
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