PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns just can’t stand prosperity.
Back to November form during their five-game winning streak, the Suns had a chance to put some more distance between themselves and the bottom of the West playoff picture Wednesday night with Portland in town.
Instead, the Suns played with no heart or energy and dropped a 108-101 decision to a banged-up Blazers squad missing All-Star Brandon Roy.
“We got our ass kicked, plain and simple,” Suns head coach Alvin Gentry sternly proclaimed. “There’s no excuses; they outplayed us in every phase of the game. They outhustled us, they came up with big plays, they made shots, they made passes. They made everything that we didn’t do.
“It’s that simple. We didn’t do a very good job, we weren’t ready to play and we didn’t play with a whole lot of energy and passion. When we don’t do that, we’re not very good. We become a very, very, very average team.”
After looking like a top-four seed in the West during their 4-0 road trip, the Suns reverted back to very, very, very average form. And that’s putting it nicely.
The Suns’ defense was non-existent after going four full days without a game. The Blazers shot a Suns opponent season-high 58.4 percent, and they weren’t far off from 70 percent midway through the third.
“There was no sense of urgency,” Channing Frye said. “We allowed them to go where they wanted to go, and they just kind of picked us apart. Yeah, we sucked on defense. Guys were trying, it just wasn’t there. It was like running in mud tonight, and we just didn’t come through.”
Added Gentry of the Suns’ defense, “We sucked in all phases of it. They drove it to the basket, they made jump shots.”
Going into the game one would have thought the Suns’ four days off and Portland’s second game of a back-to-back situation played into Phoenix’s hands. As it turned out, it may have been the opposite way around.
Gentry said that with a coach like Nate McMillan, he knew there was going to be a reaction from the Blazers after they shot 40 percent in an 89-77 home loss to Oklahoma City Tuesday night.
The Suns, meanwhile, had Saturday and Monday off altogether and had not played since polishing off Sacramento on Friday.
“We felt like we hadn’t played forever, and I think it showed,” said Steve Nash. “I hate to use that excuse, but that’s how it looked out there. It’s just a shame. We had that time off, and we looked like a tired group rather than a group that had days off.”
Added Amare Stoudemire, “I think we were just a little rusty from all those days off and we couldn’t quite get it going, and they took advantage of that.”
Portland jumped on a sluggish Suns team with a 10-2 run to start the game and then spent the better part of the next three quarters lengthening it. The Blazers led 24-10 with three minutes left in the first, 58-41 a minute before halftime and then 83-61 before the Suns finally woke up with a couple minutes left in the third.
Then all of a sudden the Suns stormed back with a 15-0 run to cut the lead to seven, punctuated by Amare and Goran And 1s and a Jared Dudley three during the first three possessions of the fourth.
Of course, the Suns promptly allowed the Blazers to answer with an 8-0 run of their own, so a late furious Phoenix rally went for naught.
“We can’t be a team that decides in the middle of the third quarter that, ‘Oh boy, we better crank it up right now,’” Gentry said. “We’re not that kind of team. I don’t know if we were reading [The Republic’s] headlines because we won five in a row, or what, but it doesn’t work. We’re a team that we have to play extremely hard and we have to play with a lot of intensity to be able to beat teams period, and if we don’t do that, we get ourselves in trouble, and that’s exactly what happened tonight.”
Gentry was predictably peeved because the Suns seemed to sleepwalk through the game before their isolated fourth-quarter bursts.
The Blazers certainly hit some tough shots as you have to do to shoot 58 percent, but they also got way too many easy looks at the basket. From the tip, Portland played with passion, looking to avenge Tuesday’s loss and rally together playing without B-Roy and Oden, et al.
The Suns, meanwhile, looked like they knew they had won five games in a row, knew they were a rested squad going up against a theoretically tired team and knew they were pretty much at full strength against an undermanned Blazers squad.
The Suns played like they thought they could win just by showing up, and they really did look like a team that had gotten fat via the newfound praise over their winning streak.
This team needs a chip on its shoulder. It needs people doubting them, it needs nobody to believe in them. Once people start saying and writing nice things about them they morph from a top-four West seed into, again, a very, very, very average basketball team.
“It’s very disappointing, especially when you look at the playoff race,” Gentry said. “Next week you can be out of the playoffs. It’s not really hard to figure out. If you keep losing home games [and] have to go on the road to try and win games to stay in the playoff race, you’re going to get yourself in a bunch of trouble.”
That’s exactly what happened last year. The Suns became unbeatable in US Airways Center, but when they were forced to win crucial games late in the season in places like Portland, Utah and Dallas, it just didn’t happen and they missed the playoffs despite playing relatively well overall from the middle of March on.
With this loss the Suns dropped percentage points behind Oklahoma City for fifth, just two games out of third but three games ahead of 10th. The West is that close that teams Nos. 5-8 are separated by one game, and the Suns missed a chance to put one more game of separation between themselves and current No. 8 seed Portland.
What will that one game mean for the Suns come April?
It’s not every day that two players from the same high school and college oppose each other in the NBA, but a battle of former St. Mary’s Knights and Arizona Wildcats ensued when Portland guard Jerryd Bayless got switched onto Frye. Channing promptly took Bayless to the hook for a hoop and the foul. “Jerryd knows better than that,” Frye said. “He’s a buff little guy, but I can’t let him box me out like that.”