Barnes struggling off the bench

The Barnes Scowl has practically become a permanent fixture on the Suns forward's face the past eight games. (AP/Jim Weber)

The Barnes Scowl has practically become a permanent fixture on the Suns forward's face as he's struggled during the past eight games. (AP/Jim Weber)

41, 41, 38, 37, 32.

Those were the minutes the Suns’ starters played Sunday against the Clippers, the type of time I’d expect in Los Angeles only if Phoenix was facing the Lakers.

Leandro Barbosa led Suns reserves with 10 points and 19 minutes, but that was about all the positive contributions off the bench aside from six more rebounds and some hustle from Sweet Lou Amundson.

Amundson missed some bunnies around the bucket and seemed to overextend his range a bit in his 1-for-8 shooting effort from the floor for two points.

On one hand, it’s good to have a hustle guy in his first real NBA rotation show the confidence to take shots even while he’s surrounded by a bunch of former and current All-Stars, but on the other hand, he really should just stick to shots around the rim and do what he does best.

The offensive struggles of Matt Barnes also continued in this one, as the former Warrior missed all four of his shots (all threes) in 16 minutes for another goose egg. He still contributed four rebounds and a pair of assists, but his shot just isn’t falling.

Barnes has reached double figures in just one of his past eight games, and he’s twice gone scoreless.

Aside from his 19 points against Oklahoma City on Dec. 29, he’s averaging a mere 4.6 points per game over his previous other seven, a time in which he’s hit 4 of 27 threes (14.8 percent). That’s after averaging 12.8 points per game on 44.0 percent three-point shooting before the slump.

You could call this Barnes regressing to the mean because if the season ended today the swingman would still be shooting a career-best 38.7 percent from deep. In fact, aside from his career-high 36.6 percent long-range shooting for Golden State in 2006-07, Barnes has never reached the 30 percent barrier from three.

Another reason for Barnes’ struggles and possibly a byproduct of his slump as well is that his time has dropped precipitously during this stretch, culminating in 17 and 16 minutes in his last two games and an average of 21.1 minutes per game over these rough seven contests after averaging a shade under 30 minutes per before that.

Clearly J-Rich is eating into his time a bit and so is the starting lineup switch with Grant Hill.

Hill’s minutes have increased as Barnes’ have dropped and so has his production, as the former Blue Devil has scored in double figures in eight in a row (14.4 ppg) and 12 of 13. It took Hill until December to record his first eight double-figure scoring games, as he struggled off the bench and averaged just 7.9 ppg in November.

His minutes have also spiked in the last eight, averaging 33.3 minutes per contest after playing 26.5 mpg up to that point.

So basically what this means is the Hill-Barnes starting lineup switch has meant an increase in minutes and production for Hill and decrease for Barnes, and nobody’s raving about Barnes’ ability to play as well off the bench as he did as a starter anymore.

I think Barnes will eventually work his way out of this slump, but he needs more playing time to do so.

And although Hill has not missed a game due to injury this season, he’s still Grant Hill, and I wouldn’t mind seeing his minutes in the 20s to preserve himself and accommodate Barnes.

The Suns struggled with Barbosa (minus 16) and Barnes (minus 15) on the floor against the Clippers, but head coach Terry Porter has got to let at least those guys play a little more, especially with a trio of mid-30s guys in the starting lineup.

I’m more than fine with an eight-man rotation with the starters, Barbosa, Barnes and Amundson (possibly combining with Robin Lopez in certain situations in the backup big role), but Porter’s got to trust Barbosa and Barnes more than he has of late.

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