PHOENIX — For the reeling Suns, there’s good news and bad news.
The bad news? They’ve now lost five of their last six games, three to middle-of-the-pack teams, forcing the question that maybe the Suns are a middle-of-the-pack team themselves rather than the good team everyone wants to believe they are.
The good news? They get to play the 13-28 Warriors Saturday night. And Monta Ellis, who’s averaging 26.1 points and 5.5 assists, won’t be playing. The Suns have also won four of their last five meetings with the Warriors. And the Warriors, due to tons of injuries, are an eight-man team right now with a couple of D-Leaguers.
Seems like quite an advantage, doesn’t it?
But before anyone gets too confident about a sure thing win over Golden State, let’s consider the Suns’ recent losses to the Pacers, Bobcats and Bulls — teams with a combined record of 55-70. Everyone thought the Suns should have beat the Bulls last night, but Chicago came out scorching hot and the Suns had no answer for Derrick Rose or the Bulls’ transition game.
On top of it all, tonight’s game is the second half of a back-to-back, in which the Suns are notoriously bad this season (2-7). However, they are 1-0 on the second night of back-to-backs when the second game is at US Airways Center, and they will host their first set of back-to-backs since January 2006.
After last night’s demoralizing loss to Chicago, Suns players seemed to be more than ready to just move past it.
“That’s the great thing about the NBA — you’ve always got another game to play and get better,” Suns forward Amare Stoudemire said after Friday’s game. “We need a high-octane offense to just keep going up and down the court.”
Stoudemire is right about that. The Warriors lead the league in pace (number of possessions a team uses per game), two spots ahead of the Suns. So, clearly, the Warriors like to move the ball and play fast. That’s essentially what Chicago did Friday night (Suns coach Alvin Gentry said after the game that the Suns “just really never got them to slow down”), so if the Suns don’t have an answer for that kind of play, they may very well be looking at their sixth loss in seven games.
Right now the Suns just aren’t playing good defense when they need to. Had the Suns played the kind of defense they did in the second half of last night’s game during the first half, they probably would have walked off the court with a win. The Bulls had way too many wide open shots and too many easy baskets.
On the other end, the Suns are getting stifled, particularly in last night’s game. Steve Nash is very rarely held to single digit scoring, but scrappy Kirk Hinirch gave him fits. It was only the third time this season Nash didn’t score 10 or more.
With the exception of the Nets, teams are defending the Suns down to their level. That is forcing close games, which the Suns have blown lately, and has kept the Suns’ high-scoring offense from pulling away as they often do.
But the biggest problem opposing defenses have handed the Suns recently is turnovers. Chicago forced 11 turnovers for 13 points Friday. That was below average for the Suns, but still made a difference in terms of scoring and momentum. They coughed up 15 for 20 points against the Nets, 18 for 23 points against the Grizzlies and 15 for 24 points against the Bobcats. Wow, wouldn’t they love to have all those points back?
So as the Suns look to end their downward spiral tonight against the Warriors, there are plenty of adjustments to make. We’ll see Robin Lopez and Leandro Barbosa in the starting lineup again, which has worked well for Lopez but not as much for Barbosa, whose ailing right wrist is expected to be drained for the second time this season before tonight’s game.
With the season past the halfway mark and a tough stretch ahead that includes Utah, Dallas, Houston and Denver, it would certainly behoove the Suns to win games against teams like the Warriors that aren’t even sniffing .500.
Before the game Friday night, Gentry was asked about a report by ESPN’s Chad Ford that Stoudemire has been a source of tension in the locker room. He immediately called the report an outright lie (but in other, more profane words).
“There’s nothing going on in our locker room,” Gentry said. “Not one thing. Our locker room has been great, and that pisses me off, to be honest with you. That’s very disappointing for someone to say that when they have not a clue about what’s going on in our locker room.”
Stoudemire was visibly confused by the report as well when asked about it at his locker after the game Friday, and he even seemed to be a bit upset by it.
“Whoever that guy is, he’s a liar,” Stoudemire said. “There’s nothing to it. I don’t mind if they tell the truth, but don’t reach out there and make stuff up. There’s no locker room tension. I don’t know where that came from.”