By all counts, the Phoenix Suns’ preseason finale against the Denver Nuggets on Friday night was over by halftime.
In their final tuneup before the season begins Tuesday, the Suns shot 30.8 percent in the first quarter and allowed 49 points in the second en route to an embarassing 144-106 loss.
At the midway mark, the Suns were losing by 17, getting outshot 62.2 percent to 46.9 and outhustled altogether.
“They got us on our heels in the second quarter and we never recovered,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said after the game. “We just never slowed them down.”
The worst part? Denver’s best six players didn’t even set foot on the floor. Carmelo Anthony, Nene, Chauncey Billups, Kenyon Martin, Chis Andersen and Al Harrington all sat out injured or resting, yet the Nuggets still rolled the Suns who were only without Josh Childress (finger) and Hedo Turkoglu (rest) and played starters until late in the third quarter.
We’ve said it before, but it seems that nearly every preseason game has to be qualified with this: It’s only the preseason. But still, Gentry worried about the loss.
“I don’t know where any positive can come from out of this,” Gentry said. “I don’t think we’ll be giving up close to 150 points in games, but it’s an alarming thing. It’s something we’ve got to solve and we’ve got to solve it soon. We’ve got three days to do it.”
The Suns have struggled to a 2-6 record in the preseason and have lost some games by pretty embarrassing margins, but Friday’s no-defense, poor-shooting, clumsy-looking loss takes the cake (even with the loss by 50 to Toronto). It may just be preseason and the Suns may have been loafing to conserve energy for the start of the season (didn’t look like it), but there was no shortage of reasons to be concerned.
“It’s still an exhibition game,” Gentry said. “The disappointing thing is that it’s the last exhibition game and we need to be making progress, and obviously there’s not a whole lot of things you can point to as progress or positive from this game.”
Nuggets guard Ty Lawson torched the lifeless Suns defense for 22 points in the first half and finished with 29 points while forward Shelden Williams added 27. Three other Nuggets scored 20 or more points.
Before the game, Gentry said he thought the defense was improving, though the statistics don’t show it. This game proved at least half his point.
“Defensively, I don’t know what this team is going to be or what we’re going to have to do,” Suns forward Jared Dudley said “You can’t just talk about being a good defensive team, you have to practice it.”
The Nuggets got plenty of open looks and drained them all, not to mention hitting what seemed liked every tough shot, as they finished with 64.1 percent shooting from the field.
The Suns, meanwhile, seemed like they couldn’t buy a shot at times. Shot after shot seemed to clang off the rim as the Nuggets pulled away just before halftime. Dudley notched 12 points and five rebounds in the first half, including 2-of-3 from deep, and finished leading the team with 17 points.
Even with the starters still on the floor to start the third quarter, the Suns couldn’t find a productive energy. The Nuggets opened the half with a 10-0 run, shooting 5-of-6 while the Suns went 0-for-3 with a turnover.
“I think we’re trying to play hard,” Gentry said. “The big thing for us is not so much that we’re not playing hard or competing, we’ve just got to be much more physical.”
While they may not have been terribly physical, the Suns’ bigs were productive. Robin Lopez contributed 12 points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes while Warrick added nine points and three boards.
It seemed that Gentry was intent on making his starters work and get court time before the season starts (or make them right their awful second quarter) as he left them in later than usual for a preseason game. But as the third quarter neared its end with Denver up by 25, the Suns threw in the towel.
“It’s still going to take a little while before we get it figured out,” Gentry said. “It’s not going to be easy. We’ll continue to work and we’ll find a way.”
Rookie guard Matt Janning got 14 minutes on the floor and made the most of it. Janning totaled seven points, including a three-pointer, but what was more interesting was his minor flap with Nuggets guard Arron Afflalo.
With Janning playing tight, scrappy defense even down significantly, Afflalo threw a shoulder into Janning and got called for an offensive foul. On the ensuing Suns possession, Afflalo again shoved Janning while defending for another foul, which prompted Gentry to yell down court to Janning to stick up for himself if he wanted to make it in the NBA.
The pair went back and forth scoring the rest of the game, and the undrafted rookie clearly got under Afflalo’s skin … apparently by playing hard.
The Suns open the 2010-2011 season with a lot of unknowns Tuesday in Portland. This team is still trying to find its chemistry and a road matchup with a consistently good team like the Trail Blazers will be a difficult first test.