I’d count the Suns’ 105-100 victory over the Hornets Wednesday night among their most disappointing performances of the season.
You may wonder why I would write such a statement after the Suns yielded 33 points in the second and third quarters combined to fight back from an early deficit and fended off a furious New Orleans rally down the stretch with clutch offensive execution.
My question is, where the hell has that been all season in road games against good teams?
If the Suns hadn’t been eliminated a couple hours later when the Mavericks routed Utah, this would go down as one of the most encouraging games of the season, particularly against an opponent in New Orleans that has had Phoenix’s number six times in a row over the past two seasons.
But if the Suns could play with a sense of urgency in what was essentially a meaningless game, why could they not muster up just an ounce of that same purpose in their biggest game of the season Sunday in Dallas?
This was a completely different basketball team than the one that yielded 81 points over a two-quarter stretch on Sunday, 48 more than they gave up over two quarters in this one.
For most NBA teams, that 48-point difference would make for a good couple of quarters by itself.
If the Suns had played like this in Dallas to pull out a victory and then won this one as well, with the upcoming schedules as they are with Phoenix facing no more good teams the rest of the way, the playoffs would be more than a mirage in the desert.
Instead, of course, the Suns will have lots of time to ponder why they were so damn inconsistent this season.
The one place where the Suns were consistent this season – consistently bad – was on the road against good teams, at least before Wednesday, as even with this victory Phoenix will finish with a 3-17 mark against winning teams away from US Airways Center. This win broke a 10-game losing skid on the road against plus-.500 teams dating back to Jan. 25 in Atlanta.
The Suns also won just their second road game in 11 chances since Amare went down one road game into interim head coach Alvin Gentry’s tenure.
This version of the Suns looked like a completely different squad than the Phoenix team that suffered lengthy scoring droughts and never could get a stop when it counted on the road over the past month or so.
The team fell behind by 10 early in the first and eight late in the second, but they always fought back.
“We could have mailed it in,” Grant Hill told The Associated Press. “We got down early, but we just kept our composure.”
After Nash said Sunday’s loss took the Suns out of their misery, Phoenix played this one with the looseness of a team playing a game that doesn’t matter. There was no pressure and you could see it through the team’s body language.
If only they could have somehow performed this way when the games did matter, we wouldn’t be talking about such things with five games remaining on the schedule.
On one hand, you can take this performance as a huge positive in that the Suns didn’t quit despite playing a team they typically struggle against in the first meaningless regular season game many of their stars have played in years.
Yet still Nash went for 24 and 13 and Shaq 17 and 11 while the team as a whole played some pretty solid defense. That says something about their character that they would give such an effort.
On the other hand, you can take it as a negative. How can they be this bad on the road all season and then come up with what would be an otherwise monumental victory when it doesn’t count anymore?
Unlike before a certain other game that should have been kind of a big deal, Shaq wasn’t out partying until 1 a.m. (at least not before a 2:30 p.m. local tip) this time around and the Suns once against teased all of us by looking like a no-brainer playoff-caliber basketball team.
Oh well, wait til next year, right?
The Suns won this game by basically limiting everyone outside of the Hornets’ top three players. CP3 torched them as usual for 29 and 16, David West went for 28 and 12 and Peja Stojakovic bombed home 18 with four three-pointers.
The rest of the Hornets scored 25 points on 11-for-30 shooting (36.7 percent).
The Suns, meanwhile, got some solid play out of some of their young reserves, although the bulk of the minutes still went to the starters. Jared Dudley, though, once again played more minutes than Matt Barnes and tallied 10 points in his 29 minutes.
Robin Lopez added four boards in 11 minutes although his touch around the basket once again was lacking, and the Hornets probably don’t recognize Goran Dragic, who scored three points and committed a pair of turnovers during the Suns’ home season opener against New Orleans and didn’t play in their Dec. 3 tilt by coach’s decision.
Dragic scored nine points, grabbed five boards and dished a pair of assists in just 14 minutes this time around. Most impressively, he scored seven points in the first 2:30 of the fourth as Nash rested to ensure the Suns kept pace with New Orleans during Nash’s breather.
The rookie point guard darted through the Hornets’ defense and looked like a player I want to be a part of the Phoenix Suns’ future. I was saying the exact opposite thing a couple months ago.
Evaluating how Fropez, Dragic and Dudley fit into the Suns’ future will continue to be priority numero uno on the team’s agenda during its final four games of the season.
I certainly didn’t expect to ever be writing that a couple months ago.
I wouldn’t be if the Suns hadn’t waited until it didn’t matter to finally beat a good team on the road.