Road-weary Suns hit season's first roadblock

CLEVELAND — Coach Alvin Gentry offered not a single excuse. He had watched with a front-row seat as his Suns got pounded on back-to-back days, and Gentry knew his team hadn’t played well.

“We’ve got some work to do,” he said last night after a 107-90 loss to the Cavaliers. “We’ve got to get some things solved.”

It would be hard to dispute Gentry after sitting inside The Q and looking at how his Suns performed against LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal and the Cavs. To watch the Suns fall behind here by as many as 30 points would do more than just suggest Gentry had it right.

But he pointed out — again, not as an excuse, mind you — that the travel might have caught up with his Suns.

“We’re going to play 41 road games,” Gentry said. “But we have been away from home a lot.”

A lot?

In 19 games, the Suns have played 13 on the road. They have piled up more miles than Greyhound. Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” might well serve as the team’s anthem, but being on the road wears on an NBA team.

So the Suns are looking forward to the schedule keeping them at home for a while, Grant Hill said. But like Gentry, Hill didn’t use the overload of road games as an excuse. Nothing, he said, could excuse the team’s sorry play.

“I think you have those valleys during the course of the season,” Hill said. “A few weeks ago, Cleveland was trying to figure out its way, struggling the first few games. This is part of it.

“We’ve got to stay together. It’s a test; that’s what Coach said.”

Hill did see things that were troubling; and so did Gentry. He thought the Suns needed to play better defense, an area in which the Suns have never been considered great. They needed to hit more shots and needed to find their rhythm.

“We’re a team that’s a rhythm team,” said Gentry, whose team headed back to Phoenix after the game. “We’ve got to play with a rhythm, and we’ve got to make shots.”

A few days at home will allow Gentry and the Suns to work out their kinks in practice — to get the Suns revving at 10,000 rpm. But it hasn’t been easy to get that work in on the road, which can explain the un-Suns-like play in one-sided losses to the Cavaliers and the Knicks this week.

Yet this rough stretch, as Hill said, is just a valley, and all NBA teams go through valleys.

At 14-5, the Suns still have the second-best record in the Western Conference, and they also have a remaining schedule that will be more home friendly. It should ensure they stay near the top of the conference.

In their next 15 games, they play 10 at US Airways Center, a schedule that should let the Suns shake any road weariness. They will have a stretch that looks even friendlier: 12 of 16 at home after their road games Sunday (Lakers) and Tuesday (Mavericks).

Gentry hopes so.

“We’re just struggling right now,” he said. There are “things that we have to get corrected, but it’s not anything that we can’t do when we get a couple of practice days.”

Justice B. Hill runs the general sports blog Justice is Served as well as the web site Czar Justice. He’s a former Cleveland Indians beat writer for who also ran the internship program for MLB’s official site.

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