PHOENIX — Inconsistency.
It’s an issue that’s plagued the Phoenix Suns for countless seasons. For a quarter they look like the best team in the NBA, but soon enough the wheels fall off and all hope is lost.
In past seasons, however, the Suns have been able to remain a respectable team despite that inconsistency. But this season it’s worse than ever, continually holding the Suns back from capturing big-time wins and maintaining leads against teams they should take care of.
“My goal right now is that we’ve got to try and find a way to get consistent, consistent in what we think we’re going to be able to do night in and night out,” said head coach Alvin Gentry. “I don’t feel that we’ve reached that yet.”
That inability to sustain runs and find a solid identity as a team stems from the bench struggles. The Suns scored only 12 bench points in Thursday’s loss to the Heat, and no Phoenix reserve scored more than four points.
Steve Nash and the starters jumped out to a 21-12 lead against Miami, but when Nash went to the bench the offense stalled. The Suns scored only three points in the next six and a half minutes and the Heat held a 32-28 lead by the time Phoenix’s starting five was back in action.
The Heat loss magnified the Suns’ bench issues that have been a problem since the season opener. While they’ve shown flashes of the unit that propelled the Suns deep into the playoffs last season, the inconsistency remains.
“The thing we still keep harping on is the consistency with the second unit,” Gentry said while shaking his head.
“We’ve been struggling all year. We struggled last night. We turned the ball over, taking bad shots, defensively we’re terrible,” added Jared Dudley. “I think we miss Lou’s energy, his blocks, making up for our mistakes. Hopefully now with Gortat, he can help fill that role. Offensively we just need to get into a better rhythm because the rhythm is terrible out there.”
That lack of rhythm has a lot to do with the new faces in new places, and that may not improve quickly with Marcin Gortat, Vince Carter and Mickael Pietrus now in purple and orange. But ultimately it falls on the shoulders of third-year point guard Goran Dragic, who’s scored only seven points on 3-of-11 shooting in the past two games.
“I can’t play Steve 48 minutes, I can’t play Steve 40 minutes because that’s unfair to him to try to ask him,” Gentry said. “As much as he does and as hard as he plays, it’s hard to play him 40 minutes. Somewhere along the line we’ve got to get somebody running the team and getting it done, 17, 18 minutes.”
Dragic is clearly that “somebody” but he has yet to show it. But the third-year backup point guard and the Suns can find that consistency against the Clippers — winners of three of their last four — on Sunday afternoon. They’re still working out rotations with the new guys, and it becomes even more difficult if Carter plays as he’s a game-time decision.
But as Dudley said, the Suns are running out of time and for Phoenix to become a complete team the bench needs to right the ship against Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon and company this afternoon in Staples Center.