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76ers 108, Suns 91 – Mailing it in early

Iguodala and the Sixers practically staged a dunk contest against the Suns. (AP/Tom Mihalek)

Iguodala and the Sixers practically staged a dunk contest against the Suns. (AP/Tom Mihalek)

Many times over the past month the Suns have appeared to be giving up through their uninspired play.

Then came Monday’s 108-91 loss in Philadelphia, in which the Suns literally gave up. And I’m not even talking about their effort on the floor, which wasn’t exactly stellar in its own right.

Shaquille O’Neal and Grant Hill exited the game with 7:11 remaining in the third and the Suns down 13. Steve Nash followed about a minute later at the 5:54 mark of the quarter with Phoenix trailing by 14.

They remained chained to the bench the rest of the game.

Nash, who made just one of eight shots, at least has an excuse, according to The Arizona Republic, with his shoulder, back and hamstring ailing him and his game clearly off. But Hill said he was willing to return and O’Neal wasn’t available for comment.

The Suns certainly didn’t play well in this one after the first eight or so minutes, but it’s not like the Boston Massacre a few weeks back in which they had no chance heading into the fourth.

In fact, despite relying on Goran Dragic and Alando Tucker along with Matt Barnes, LB and Amare to end the third, the Suns only trailed by 11 with 10:30 left in the fourth and 13 with 8:49 remaining when Porter elected to bring back Jason Richardson but none of the other veterans.

I understand this was the second game of a back-to-back and I understand the Suns arrived in town at something like three in the morning. I also understand that Shaq and Hill are 36, and they both played fairly heavy minutes in Detroit, but what harm would it do to give them say five minutes to make a push and if they don’t make a run then rest them?

They have 48 hours to recuperate before playing the Cavs, a game they’re probably going to lose even if those guys played all 48 minutes, and then the Suns have five whole days off with the All-Star break.

Playing Dragic and Tucker and later Lopez and Dudley just makes no sense when you could have one more good run in you.

You don’t have to look back too far to see a game with crazier runs. If it seems like only yesterday that the Knicks trailed by 17 midway through the third, then led by 12 halfway through the fourth only to lose in Portland it’s because it was only yesterday.

However, the way the Suns were playing maybe coach Porter knew playing Shaq and Hill was a losing proposition anyway, so no reason to push them.

“I guess it gets to a point where you are who you are,” Hill told Suns.com in reference to the team’s struggles of late. “We’re off tomorrow and then get ready for Cleveland and LeBron and we will be well rested.”

After looking so crisp on Sunday while assisting on over three-fourths of their baskets, the Suns often just went one-on-one while assisting on about half their baskets.

Phoenix played a solid first quarter by running at will and scoring all 12 baskets in the paint, following a run of scoring at least 60 points in the paint the past four games, but no such flow existed the rest of the contest.

The Suns turned the ball over 12 times in the first half, and even worse Philly got to every loose ball, looking like the hungrier team that wants it more while winning the battle of the boards by 13 for the game.

“I think our energy tonight is what got us down,” Amare told Suns.com. “I think for the most part we played decent. Sometimes it’s just tough getting those wins on a back-to-back.”

Nobody on the Suns really went off after J-Rich’s 10 first-quarter points. Shaq grabbed 10 boards in 21 minutes and Amare went for 19 and six, but it wasn’t enough.

“Back-to-backs are tough, especially against a team that has a lot of athletic energy and likes to run,” Porter told The Associated Press.

That’s the kind of quote opposing coaches used to say after being run off the floor by the Suns, but instead on this night the Sixers looked much more like the Suns of old than the Suns. They ran whenever they had the opportunity, and the Suns were often defenseless against Andre Miller, Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young and Co.

The most impressive Sixer was Marreese Speights, who scored a career-high 24, including 16 of 18 in one stretch, and did the Suns really draft Robin Lopez in front of that guy?

The 6-foot-10 Speights hit 11 of his 16 shots, grabbed seven boards (four offensive) and blocked two shots all in 24 minutes, looking like the type of guy who would fit great as the Suns’ backup big. Meanwhile, the only stat Lopez recorded in his six minutes of garbage time was one foul, otherwise doing his best impression of an invisible seven-footer who I’m not sure even touched the ball.

The Suns are starting to become awfully predictable, and that’s not a good thing. They have not won four in a row all year or three in a row in a month, and after two solid performances you just knew the Suns weren’t going to play well in this one.

Too bad the starters didn’t have a chance to do something totally unpredictable in the fourth quarter.

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