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Remodeled Suns look to surprise in post-Nash era

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Remodeled Suns look to surprise in post-Nash era

PHOENIX (AP) Meet the Phoenix Suns. Introductions certainly are necessary. This team has undergone an extreme personnel makeover in the aftermath of Steve Nash's departure to the hated Lakers.

Five players return from last year, and only two - center Marcin Gortat and guard Jared Dudley - figure to start.

The newcomers include a pair of former high draft picks, Michael Beasley and Wesley Johnson, looking to thrive with a clean slate.

In Beasley's case, the second overall pick in 2008 insists his marijuana-related issues are behind him. Johnson, the fourth overall pick in 2010, looks to be a designated sharpshooter off the bench for the Suns.

Phoenix also landed Luis Scola, a 6-foot-9 Argentine who gives the team a steady power forward, something they've lacked since All-Star Amar'e Stoudemire packed his bags for New York.

The most significant addition isn't new to the Suns at all. Somebody had to replace Nash, and the Suns coaxed his former understudy, Goran Dragic, back to the desert.

Phoenix, dissatisfied with Dragic's play at the time, shipped him to Houston for point guard Aaron Brooks in February 2010. Brooks was a disappointment in Phoenix and last season, when he moved into the Rockets' starting lineup, Dragic flourished.

Dudley noticed the difference between this Dragic and the one who was traded away.

"I thought him leaving, going to Houston and starting has helped his confidence, helped his maturity," Dudley said. "He definitely is the face of the franchise now. It's his show."

Dragic, always popular with his teammates and the fans, knows that following Nash, one of the best playmakers the game has known, is a daunting challenge.

"My confidence is huge," he said. "I feel awesome. I feel great. I'm in shape now. I just try to find the open guys and just be myself."

Standing 6-foot-3 with long arms and a dynamic, aggressive playing style, the Slovenian playmaker knows the spotlight will be on him.

"I never have avoided that. That's part of the business," he said. "Every night I'm going to go out there and give my hundred percent, try to play as hard as possible, then see what's going to happen. I'm not afraid. I'm comfortable with that role. I was talking with coach and my teammates. They trust me and I trust them."

Coach Alvin Gentry enters his fourth full season with the Suns, but first without Nash. He is counting on effort as a crucial component of this mostly young bunch.

Gentry said that in practices and preseason games, he's been impressed by the "level of intensity and overall competitiveness at every position."

Dudley has been with the Suns since 2008, longer than any other current member of the team. He figures to start at shooting guard and can slide to small forward. The other longtime Sun, forward Channing Frye, is out for the season for treatment of an enlarged heart.

The team will look to Beasley to provide a bulk of the offense, giving the exceptionally talented player a clean slate in a new setting.

The 6-foot-10 forward signed a three-year, $18 million contract with Phoenix after the Minnesota Timberwolves decided to let him go. It's the third team for Beasley since he was drafted so high by the Miami Heat.

The contract was not that big for someone who was expected to be so good. He brings a 15.1-point career scoring average but also carries the baggage of off-the-court issues.

Beasley was ticketed for possessing marijuana and speeding in a Minneapolis suburb in June 2011 and has acknowledged that while playing for Miami, he twice violated the NBA's drug policy and entered a treatment facility in 2009. At the news conference introducing him in Phoenix, Beasley said he realized his drug issues were holding him back.

"I realize 10 minutes of feeling good is not really worth putting my life and my career and my legacy in jeopardy," he said at the time, "so I'm confident to say that that part of my career, that part of my life, is over and won't be coming back."

Gortat will surely miss the pick-and-rolls with Nash that gave him so much success on offense, but he will still often be the target in the Suns' system, which will remain up-tempo but with the ability to play a half-court style when necessary.

As for depth, streak-shooting Shannon Brown will be the backup shooting guard. Markieff Morris, a first-round draft pick a year ago, will back up Scola. At center, Phoenix brought in 34-year-old Jermaine O'Neal to play behind Gortat.

Phoenix's first-round draft pick, Kendall Marshall out of North Carolina, will have to fight his way into the rotation. Sebastian Telfair, who played the best basketball of his career for the Suns last season, opens this season as Dragic's backup.

It's not a cast that can stand up to the powerhouses in the West - Oklahoma City, the two teams in Los Angeles, and San Antonio.

Competing for one of the last spots in the playoffs may be a more realistic goal.

"I think that we will be competitive and we will try to play the right way and we will play unselfishly," Gentry said. "If we can put those three things together, anything that happens we will accept."

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Follow Bob Baum at www.twitter.com/Thebaumerphx

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5 must-see moments from Wizards' blowout loss to Hornets, including Bradley Beal's buzzer-beater

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5 must-see moments from Wizards' blowout loss to Hornets, including Bradley Beal's buzzer-beater

Here are the five best plays or moments from the Wizards' 122-105 loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night...

1. This was a tough one for the Wizards. For the third time this season, they got beaten by the Hornets and for the second straight time it was in a blowout.

They still had their moments, though, including this alley-oop from Tomas Satoransky (11 points) to Markieff Morris (13 points, eight assists, six rebounds). It was the second alley-oop connection for those two in as many games:

PODCAST: WHAT THE SESSIONS SIGNING MEANS FOR SATORANSKY

2. This was a play that encapsulated the Wizards' night. Jodie Meeks drew a flagrant foul on Michael Carter-Williams, but took a hard shot to the head:

3. Kelly Oubre, Jr. had a solid game with 11 points, including this big dunk:

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4. Speaking of Oubre, he helped the Wizards close the first half with a late surge. The real highlight was Bradley Beal stealing the ball and hitting a corner three at the buzzer:

5. Beal ended up with 33 points, six assists and six rebounds. Here's an and-1 he got to go down in the second half:

All in all, it was an ugly performance for the Wizards. To cheer you up, we'll leave you with this young fan who had a great time at Capital One Arena despite the result:

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Wizards suffer lopsided loss against Hornets, who have had their number this season

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Wizards suffer lopsided loss against Hornets, who have had their number this season

The Washington Wizards lost to the Charlotte Hornets 122-105 on Friday night. Here's analysis of what went down...

Bad matchup: Despite their poor record, there is something about this Charlotte Hornets team that gives the Wizards trouble. The Wizards lost to the Hornets (26-33) for the third time in three tries this season on Friday night and, aside from a push in the third quarter, they were never really in it.

All in all, it was a dud of a game for the Wizards who were probably due for one. They had won three straight games and eight of 10 since John Wall got injured. They were also coming off a huge road win the night before in Cleveland, a game that started an hour later than usual.

It was a tough turnaround and the Wizards sure looked like it. It was evident in their defense and unforced errors. They did, however, have a decent shooting night. They shot 49.4 percent from the field 16-for-17 from the free throw line.

The Wizards' second unit didn't provide a lift outside of Kelly Oubre, Jr. (11 points). Mike Scott, one of their best bench options, was held scoreless.

PODCAST: WHAT THE SESSIONS SIGNING MEANS FOR SATORANSKY

Ugly first half: The Wizards only trailed by 12 points at halftime, but that score was skewed by a five-point push in the final seconds. The Hornets dominated for much of the first two quarters and did so by hitting threes and forcing turnovers. Those mistakes dug the Wizards a hole they never recovered from.

The Wizards had 10 turnovers in the first half, the same amount they had in their entire game the night before. Limiting mistakes was a big reason they beat the Cavaliers, yet the script was flipped by Charlotte.

The Hornets capitalized with 23 points off those 10 first-half turnovers. The Wizards had 14 giveaways for the games that led to 28 total points. 

Charlotte was 7-for-11 from three at one point in the first half and finished 17-for-39 (43.6%) for the game. That is very uncharacteristic for the Wizards, who entered the night second in the NBA in opponents three-point percentage.

Again, though, the first half ended well as Oubre and Bradley Beal gave the Wizards a jolt in the final seconds:

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Bad defense: The Wizards have played some great defense in recent weeks, but they just didn't have it on Friday night. Most surprising were the guys that hurt them most.

Dwight Howard was limited to 11 points and six rebounds and Kemba Walker didn't score his first points until the final minute of the first half. But others like Frank Kaminsky (23 points), Marvin Williams (15 points) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (14 points) got pretty much anything they wanted.

For Walker, it was a tale of two halves. He was held in check by Tomas Satoransky in the first half, but broke out in the third quarter and finished with 24 points and seven rebounds. Maybe it was tired legs on the Wizards' part, but Walker just kept dribbling until he got space and once he did, he knocked down shots.

Much like Kyle Lowry did a few weeks ago, Walker made adjustments to find success against Satoransky. We haven't seen that happen much since Wall went out, but those two have given him some trouble. Both guys are considerably smaller than Satoransky and very quick. Maybe there's something to that.

Add it all up and this was one of the worst defensive games of the season for the Wizards. They allowed their most points in a game since Jan. 17 against, you guessed it, the Hornets. Only three times this year have they given up more than what they allowed on Friday.

No Sessions: The Wizards did not debut their newest player on Friday night, which was probably to be expected given Ramon Sessions has not had any practice time yet. That is part of why he didn't play, but it's also another indication that he is unlikely to play much with the Wizards. Sessions is on a 10-day contract and is not expected to supplant either Satoransky or Tim Frazier at point guard. Frazier would seem to be the guy in danger of losing minutes, but it was business as usual for him against the Hornets.

Up next: The Wizards are off Saturday before returning to action at home against the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday night. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington.

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