Playing their fifth game in seven days, without Steve Nash, against one of the NBA’s biggest teams, one night after being blown out in Miami, the Phoenix Suns were never expected to blow past the Magic Thursday night in Orlando.
But even the Nash-less Suns have enough talent to at least put up a fight against Dwight Howard and company. That talent never translated, however, as the lifeless Suns looked like a JV team against the Magic on their way to an embarrassing 105-89 loss in which Orlando led by as many as 32. Phoenix was dominated offensively, defensively and everything in between.
The Suns’ depleted and soft front line was again exposed as Howard went off for 20 points and 12 rebounds on 8-of-9 shooting in only 30 minutes. Double teams meant nothing to Superman, as he skied above Suns defenders, catching alley-oops or drop-stepping for easy dunks.
Phoenix played some of the worst defense it had all season, with the Magic getting everything they wanted at any time in the shot clock resulting in 54.7 percent shooting from the field and 10-of-25 from distance.
The Suns were expected to struggle against the Magic front line. But where they could have showed some life is offensively. This was a perfect chance for Goran Dragic to prove he’s ready to start in this league and for Hedo Turkoglu to flourish as a playmaker.
But neither Dragic nor Turkoglu stepped up. Although he finished with 10 points, four boards and four assists, Dragic looked scared in the first quarter, committing five of the Suns’ seven turnovers first-quarter turnovers as they trailed 31-15 after one.
Turkoglu, who was cheered by Orlando fans, was an even bigger disappointment against his former team. He settled for fadeaway jumpers and finished with more turnovers (three) than points (two) by way of 0-of-8 shooting from the field and 0-of-5 from three.
When the Suns acquired him they expected Turkoglu to be a point-forward who creates for himself and others. The only thing that was supposedly stopping him so far this season was Nash dominating the ball. But with Nash in street clothes, Hedo was still a ghost, taking bad shots, lacking aggression and remaining a liability on the defensive end.
The entire Suns offense looked lost without Nash, further reminding Suns fans how Two Time truly is the engine that makes this offense run. They turned the ball over 18 times, resulting in 24 points for the Magic. Phoenix also shot only 45.6 percent from the field and 3-of-18 from three to score a season-low 89 points.
“Can they play without Dwight (Howard)? Can the Lakers play without Kobe? He’s our Kobe. He’s our Dwight. He’s the engine that makes the car go,” head coach Alvin Gentry said of Nash. “But, we’ve still got to do a better job of competing. We can’t turn the ball over seven times in the first quarter. We’ve got to be able to get shots at the basket. We didn’t do that.”
Jason Richardson, who had been playing like one of the best two-guards in the league, suffered most without Nash spoon feeding him wide open triples. J-Rich scored a season-low seven points on 3-of-7 shooting.
But J-Rich wasn’t alone, as none of the starters played well outside of Grant Hill, who once again proved age is not a factor, racking up 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting. Although he was booed by the Magic fans, Hill was the only Sun to show any sort of life from start to finish.
This game was over before it even began, however. The Magic dominated the first quarter and gave the Suns no chance for a comeback, as they held a dominating 51-29 lead with 3:53 left in the first half. Jameer Nelson (15 points, 12 assists), knifed through the Phoenix defense and the Suns had no answer.
Phoenix looked like it was in preseason mode and Orlando continued to pound it down the Suns’ throats, going for the knockout blow before halftime. The Suns showed a little life early in the second half, but by that point the deficit was too large and it was garbage time for the scrubs soon enough.
It’s hard to put too much value in the embarrassing loss due to Phoenix’s tired legs and Nash’s absence. The Suns also went 2-2 on their brutal four-game swing against the Lakers, Nuggets, Heat and Magic, which Gentry will take any day.
But there are still a ton of glaring weaknesses that the Suns can’t shoot their way out of. Although they ended up only losing the battle of the boards 37-34, they made up a lot of those in mop-up duty and were manhandled on the glass for most of the game.
Someone needs to emerge as a threat down low or the Suns will never be able to maintain a consistent winning streak, as you can only make so many threes.
Again, this was an expected loss before the game even started and the Suns will take a .500 record against four very good teams. But with two more road games in the next four days, the Suns need to tighten the screws and buckle down defensively and on the boards if they want to remain a consistent threat in the Western Conference.
For the first time all season Earl Clark showed some life. Although it was in garbage time, Clark scored 12 points and grabbed six boards on 5-of-9 shooting. The Suns need anyone with size who can contribute and Clark’s aggressiveness was a great sign for the Suns. “It was an opportunity for me to go out there and play some minutes,” Clark said. “That is what I have been wanting so I just played as hard as I could mainly on the defensive end. I know I have a lot of guys including former All-Stars and they can put the ball in the basket, but we need help defensively and that is what I tried to do.” … Ilan Shamos is the winner of Phoenix Suns cufflinks after winning the tiebreaker round of our giveaway. Shamos thought the Suns would lose the rebounding battle by eight (they lost by three), which was closer than Eddie Kurtz’ second-place guess of -11. Congratulations Ilan. …The NBA also announced Thursday that the Suns have five players on the 2010-11 All-Star ballot. It happens to be the starting lineup the Suns started the season with, as Steve Nash, Jason Richardson, Grant Hill, Hedo Turkoglu and Robin Lopez all made the ballot.