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Suns set to begin shortened season

The Phoenix Suns open their 2011-2012 campaign Monday night at U.S. Airways Center against the New Orleans Hornets.

The lockout-shortened season features a grueling 66 games in 121 days which could prove to be especially difficult for a veteran Suns bunch. The average age of Phoenix’s roster is 28.

Could this be something the Suns use as an excuse if the season goes in an unfavorable fashion? Head coach Alvin Gentry won’t have any of it.

“We play 66 games, everybody else does,” said Gentry. “We play 33 on the road, everybody else does. You need to concentrate on the things that matter and that is how are we going to get better.”

Just because the expectations stay the same doesn’t mean aspects of the team won’t be adjusted. Steve Nash is 37-years-old and Grant Hill is 39. One of the biggest problems Gentry has to deal with this season is balancing the two veterans’ minutes.

“When you’re playing 10 games in 16 days Steve is not going to be able to play 35 to 40 minutes a game,” explained Gentry. “I think it’s going to be really important for everybody to stay focused.”

Nash only played 33.3 minutes per game last season, but in January and February, when it looked like the Suns still had a chance to make the playoffs, the two-time MVP averaged 34.95 minutes per game.

With Grant Hill the goal is to keep him off the court for long periods of time.

“I think I just got to be a little careful monitoring what he does,” Gentry said. “Most of the time this year you’re going to see him play in six or seven minutes stretches and that’s going to be it.”

Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers had a similar plan with his veteran forward Kevin Garnett. The goal was to keep KG to three, five-minute stretches each half. In the Celtics first game, he played 37 minutes.

In a results-oriented business like the NBA it can be hard to keep your word about limiting your best players’ minutes.

Will Alvin Gentry have more patience with his key players than Doc Rivers was able to muster together on Christmas day?

We find out tonight as the Suns look to begin a new season with a win over a New Orleans Hornets team they should defeat.