OK, so it’s time to throw out all the clichés about it not being over until it’s over and that there’s hope so long as you’re fewer games back than there are games left on the schedule.
But for those of us who live in the real world, as much as I hate to admit it, the Suns’ season ended on a lonely Sunday evening in ARCO Arena after their 126-118 defeat at the hands of the NBA-worst Kings, a team that lost by 18 to Memphis on their home floor last time out.
Sure, you can be optimistic and say that if the Suns win their remaining eight games than Dallas only needs to lose three against a moderately difficult schedule as well as their April 5 showdown against Phoenix for the Suns to overtake them.
Phoenix’s schedule the rest of the way opens up for a nice run with only Wednesday’s tilt against Houston, the Dallas must-win and a contest in New Orleans being tough games, but if this Suns team can’t muster up the guile to earn a win in Sacramento even if it was their fourth game in five nights, who thinks such a run is a legitimate possibility?
“If we want to be in the playoffs, this is a game we have to win,” Steve Nash told Suns.com. “If you ask me do we deserve to make the playoffs after a performance like tonight, you’d have to say we didn’t earn it. It’s not over yet, but we can look back on this if we don’t make it.”
Nash has talked about the Suns needing to win to earn the right for their April 5 matchup in Dallas to be considered a “showdown,” but instead Phoenix has wilted on its 0-3 road trip, all the while wasting opportunities to make up ground as the Mavericks lose to the Nuggets and Cavs.
The lead now stands at 3 1/2 games (four out in the loss column), and my oh my what a difference that is from 2 1/2 games.
All of the momentum, all of the team of destiny feel the Suns built up on their last homestand has been erased quicker than Francisco Garcia darting through the lane for another deuce.
The first thing you can blame this loss on is fatigue. Yes, the Suns were playing their fourth game in five nights in four different cities, just a brutal stretch for a team relying on a trio of mid-30s performers, especially after Nash went for 45 minutes and Grant Hill 43 in Saturday night’s overtime affair.
As usual, though, those three were the Suns’ best players Sunday night, with Nash going for 31 points on 12-for-21 shooting to go with 14 assists, Shaq 24 on 9-for-13 to go with nine boards and Hill 19 on 9-for-15.
Defensively, though, Phoenix allowed Sacramento’s players to do whatever they wanted on their way to three 35-point quarters to start the evening and 51.6 percent shooting for the game.
And this, of course, isn’t the first time the Suns’ much-maligned defense has been an issue on the road, with the Suns losing eight of nine away from Arizona.
“I don’t know what to say,” Nash said. “Last night we were up seven with a short clock and lost it. We couldn’t make shots and made mistakes. Tonight, the fourth game in five nights, we laid an egg. It’s frustrating. We were playing for a lot tonight and we didn’t show that with attitude or desperation. We just didn’t get it done. I would have liked to see us find a way to get it done tonight.”
Aside from more struggles from Matt Barnes, the rest of the Suns’ starters played pretty well offensively, but they got nothing from the bench aside from Jared Dudley, as every reserve recorded a negative plus-minus rating.
Dudley shined again with 17 points and 11 boards (six offensive) in 27 minutes, but after him the bench went as deep as the Arizona Wildcats’ reserve unit with a combined seven points coming from five other players in 36 minutes led by Stromile Swift’s three points.
During their six-game winning streak, the Suns’ bench would at least provide energy and often would keep the Suns even or be a positive. Tonight they just didn’t have that spring.
“Usually our bench brings a lot of energy and keeps us afloat, but that didn’t happen tonight,” Suns head coach Alvin Gentry told Suns.com.
You’ve also got to wonder how much the Suns are missing LB at this point.
They managed to win their first four games without him and got destroyed in Portland so badly that he wouldn’t have made a difference.
However, you’ve got to think LB may have been able to keep the Utah game a bit closer in the first half by being a one-man offensive attack while his teammates struggled or possibly make a big play late.
Same thing tonight, with the bunch lacking so much energy and offensive punch, it’s more than reasonable to wonder if the Suns would have won this game with a healthy Leandro Barbosa.
The Suns cut the lead down to four late with Nash at his best but never managed to overtake a team that entered play 41 games under .500, the type of squad that usually wilts at the first sign of adversity because it’s not used to winning.
I understand the Suns were supremely fatigued, but this is one of those times where you just need to find that extra gear, and despite Nash’s valiant effort of playing 42 minutes (and 87 for the weekend), they never could get over the hump.
“It’s disappointing,” Gentry said. “We know the magnitude of every game we play. It’s very disappointing. It was such a letdown. We need a lot of help along the way. Now we have to scoreboard watch and take care of business on our end. Every game is very important.”
After this one, the rest of the season may have just lost its importance.