Based on their 102-101 loss to the Dallas Mavericks tonight and their performance during the last five games, the Phoenix Suns may want to consider schizophrenia treatment.
They have quickly shown that this is a team with two sides: the side displayed in the first 17 games of the season that resulted in a 14-3 record and the side that has this team sputtering to the tune of four losses in its last five games.
The Suns are struggling to find a rhythm, and that uphill battle was on display tonight against the Mavericks.
“We don’t have a rhythm to our game – we haven’t the last three games,” Alvin Gentry told Suns.com.”We’ve got to get back to a rhythm where we’re running screen-and-roll and if it’s not there we’ve got to be able to move the ball and move people and keep the game going.”
Phoenix came out of the gates nicely. They got Jason Richardson and Amare Stoudemire involved early (12 combined points in the first eight minutes), and were up 29-23 heading into the second quarter. But the Suns struggled to score early in the second quarter and showed how much they miss the instant offense of Leandro Barbosa.
The Suns only scored six points in the first 4:30 of the second quarter, which is often the time that Leandro shines most. The offense seemed out of sync and the second unit really got no production besides the shooting of Jared Dudley.
The Suns again failed to produce much offense from the 2:15 mark of the third quarter until the 8:48 mark of the fourth, scoring only four points during that five-plus minute stretch. With LB in street clothes, the team has really struggled during these stretches of games, making them unable to build on any runs they may make.
The Suns eventually went off for 31 fourth-quarter points, but it wasn’t enough. Every time this team needed a stop, Josh Howard — 20 points and 6 rebounds — came up with a big play or Dirk Nowitzki — 33 points and eight rebounds — went to work. Howard scored 18 of his 20 in the second half and was too much for a tired Suns team to handle.
“We got in trouble and let them get too much separation there,” Gentry told Suns.com. “… You’ve got to come up with stops where they don’t get that kind of separation.”
The Mavs got that separation by way of an 11-2 run at the end of the third and a few minutes into the fourth. The Suns were never able to fully recover. They downed three long balls in the final 47.9 seconds, but it wasn’t enough to steal a victory. Phoenix continued to prove that without necessary stops and big-time shooting, this team will struggle.
The offense broke down in the halfcourt on numerous occasions, and the Suns were forced into tough jump shots, which they missed more often than not. Richardson and Stoudemire, the Suns’ most effective halfcourt players, came up big down the stretch, combining to score 21 of the Suns’ final 40 points of the game.
But the defensive stops were few and far between, and the clutch shooting wasn’t there until the final minute of play.
The Suns shot 44.3 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from distance. Remember when this team was shooting at close to a 50 percent clip from three for the first 15 games of the season? They were connecting better from distance than most teams were from inside the arc and it seemed like it was going to last forever, but this team has finally hit a wall.
Based on how poorly they have shot over the last couple of weeks, those days seem like a distant memory. The biggest reasons for the drop off come from the aforementioned absence of LB and Channing Frye’s disappearing act.
Through the first 17 games of the season Frye nailed an amazing 45 three-pointers on 91 attempts (49.5 percent). During the previous five games in which the Suns are 1-4, Frye has only connected on 10 of 28 attempts (35.7 percent).
While Frye was there to spread the floor and hit big threes during the first 17 games of the season, his confidence seems to be wavering and he can’t really find his stroke away from US Airways Center. But the Suns as a team haven’t been able to win away from home either. Their 7-0 home record is a drastic contrast to their mediocre 8-7 record on the road.
The Suns that went 14-3 in their first 17 games while facing a bunch of sub-par teams early won games they were supposed to, showed they were road warriors and even surprised a couple of upper-echelon teams. But the Suns of the past five games have been blown out by good teams, bad teams and lost to some ball clubs somewhere in between.
Tonight it was a loss to one of those clubs somewhere in between. In a game that the Suns of the first 17 games would have persevered through, they couldn’t shoot their way to a win and certainly couldn’t lock down on defense in crunch time.
These type of games against Western Conference foes are critical, especially versus a team like Dallas that the Suns may be fighting for a higher playoff seed against down the road. The Suns proved that they need to shoot the ball well to win games, unless they find a way to get some stops down the stretch.
Resiliency was the word that best described Alvin Gentry’s Suns through 17 games of the season, but during these last five contests the Suns have proven that the resiliency that carried them to the top of the NBA for the first month of the season was clearly short-lived.
This team needs above-average shooting and a handful of clutch stops to win games against a team like the Mavericks, and they were 0-for-2 in those categories tonight.
- The Suns lost their first game of the season in which Jason Richardson scored over 16 points (9-1). J-Rich posted an impressive 25 points tonight, but it wasn’t enough to top the Mavs.
- Steve Nash quietly scored 27 points and handed out eight helpers. His return to Dallas was successful on a personal level, but the team lost, and that’s all that matters.
- Aside from Nash, STAT and J-Rich, the rest of the Suns shot 9-for-30 from the field. That just isn’t going to get it done.
- Nowitzki enjoyed his seventh 30-point game of the season, and the Suns have now dropped three in a row to the Mavericks.