Denver Nuggets 132, Phoenix Suns 98 — Below rock bottom


After a superb first quarter, Jared Dudley and the Suns fell flat on their backs. (AP Photo/Barry Gutierrez)

After a superb first quarter, Jared Dudley and the Suns fell flat on their backs. (AP Photo/Barry Gutierrez)

Marcin Gortat did not believe it could get worse than the Sixers loss before the worst team in basketball came from 12 down with six minutes left to beat the Suns.

After an encouraging loss to the Lakers, the thrashing at the hands of the Knicks represented another low point and then a squeaker against a Cavs team that almost got doubled up by the Lakers tonight did nothing to increase anyone’s confidence in Phoenix.

After tonight’s 132-98 loss to the Denver Nuggets it might be about time to start considering this a rock bottom season rather than just a series of rock bottom moments.

The Suns opened up tonight’s contest with a tease of a first quarter in which they scored at will and played solid defense to run out to a 32-20 lead. It was the kind of quarter we are used to seeing from this basketball team — in prior seasons — in which Nash deftly orchestrates the offense and the defense forces enough stops for the Suns to spurt.

Nash scored nine of the team’s first 13 to get Phoenix off to a nice start, and Vince Carter and Marcin Gortat both chipped in with seven during a period good enough that the Suns appeared to be shaking off their doldrums.

But what a mirage that quarter ended up being as the Suns were outscored 112-64 the rest of the way after being outscored by 21 points in BOTH the second and third periods. Yes, that’s not too far off from Cavs versus Lakers territory right there, as the Suns suffered their ninth-worst loss in franchise history in a game they once led by 14.

The most surprising part to me is the lack of fight the Suns showed in this one. This defeat was immeasurably worse than the Knicks loss (which was pretty bad) because in that game the Knicks just hit a barrage of threes and that was that. This was a game thoroughly controlled by the Suns during the opening quarter, but once they lost that grasp they never came close to regaining it as the Nuggets shot 61.3 percent and the Suns 27.7 percent the rest of the game, according to The Arizona Republic.

This all came against a Denver team embroiled in the turmoil of incessant Carmelo Anthony trade rumors, a squad that had lost three games in a row, with two of them coming against the lowly Clippers and Kings. Half the team was potentially getting ready to pack up for New Jersey yet the Nuggets still showed a ton more fight than this Suns team.

“We can talk all day long, but it doesn’t change anything if you don’t play hard and play well,” Steve Nash told reporters. “I think there are times where we just didn’t play competitively.”

It’s stunning to me how far the Suns have fallen, and it just goes to show the importance of chemistry once again.

There’s no question the 2009-10 were more talented with Amare Stoudemire and J-Rich carrying the load offensively, but it wasn’t this much better. That team came a couple breaks away from the NBA Finals and this team is falling apart during one of the easier stretches of the schedule.

“There is a lack of cohesion and chemistry,” Nash said. “I don’t think that we are at a performance or effort that we are accustomed to.”

With Grant Hill out with a sore right knee and ankle, ending a streak of 70 straight regular season appearances and 132 of 133, the Suns went with ANOTHER new starting lineup, this one replacing Hill with Josh Childress at the small forward spot after Childress received a dreaded DNP-CD in four of the last six. Alvin Gentry has been talking a lot lately about the need for continuity but Hill’s injury prevented that from happening this evening.

However, I think time for Childress should be seen as a positive development. The Suns led 28-15 when he departed after playing some really solid defense on Carmelo. This isn’t to say at that things fell apart because Josh Childress left, but I think he’s more part of the solution than the problem.

With Childress getting the starting small forward spot, Mickael Pietrus moved to roster oblivion, as he didn’t enter until the Suns trailed by 27 with three minutes left in the third quarter.

It’s really roster roulette right now. We have no idea who will get time at the wings on a daily basis, and it must be even more impossible for the players. I don’t fault Gentry for continuing to search for a spark somewhere, but tonight was anything but the start of a steady rotation.

The game devolved to the point that Zabian Dowdell played the entire fourth quarter of his NBA debut, scoring four points on 1-for-6 shooting, and we even got to see six minutes of Garret Siler time.

Six games under .500 after another wretched performance, the Suns should worry about fixing themselves rather than pondering their playoff situation, but one silver lining remains. The Suns are only two games behind Portland in the loss column for the No. 8 seed and have the Blazers coming to town Friday after a Wednesday visit from the Nets.

“You either grab yourself by your boot straps and you pull yourself out by competing like crazy or you don’t,” Gentry said. “Those are the only two options that you have. There is not anything else out there, you either compete, you find a way to make things better, or you have a pity party for yourself and that is it.

“I would hope that we have enough character on this team that we will find a way to pull ourselves up and compete and find a way to right this ship some kind of way. It is not going to come from anybody but us.”

The mood around the team remains depressing and its play on the court is worse. With the midpoint of the season just around the corner Phoenix can’t afford any more rock bottom games before this becomes the year in which the Suns finally hit rock bottom.

  • HankS

    A while ago we wondered if it was time to panic yet, and I agreed we migh wait five more games and see what happens. Well, after the Knicks, the Cavs and now the Nuggets, I’m afraid we can forego those two more games…

    It’s mind-boggling, though, how the team folded _after_ the Orlando trade. I’m sure the Suns aren’t missing either Hedo or Earl Clark, so what the heck? Was J-Rich so indispensable, after all? With his defense, or rather lack thereof?

    With all the talk of “chemistry”, this downturn is downright shocking. The Suns haven’t looked this hapless since the 0-11 (?) start of the season back in… whenever that was.

  • Mel.

    I foresaw many outcomes in the post-STAT season; becoming the Western Conference’s version of the Cavs definitely wasn’t one of them.

    How a team with so much serviceable and potential talent can be so utterly gutless is beyond me. The axe is definitely, *definitely* being raised… and if it isn’t? It damn well should be.

  • Josh Hansen

    Hey guys–love the site. I wanted to write you a little note to let you know a few things I saw tonight in Denver. I sat right behind the Suns bench in the first row. Here are a couple of observations (not rants)

    1. Sitting courside I was amazed as to how Vince was not part of the team at all tonight. During tv timeouts he was talking to opposing players. While Nash and Gortat (more on him later) were trying to motivate the team, Carter was not a part of it. As Vince went in to do his pregame ritual with the chalk on the sidelines, Channing came along and ran his hands along the chalk breaking Vince’s routine. Carter stood there and glared at him and then shook his head and cursed at him. When Vince got “hurt” in the 3rd quarter he asked to get taken out and put on quite a show. Gentry did not even look at him or talk to him until he missed a couple shots and decided not to play defense–then he went out–no words there. The thing that upset me the most, and even my six year old noticed, was during the technical situation with Dragic, Vince came over to us and looked at the TV screen by the seat–he mocked Goran… not good. I wonder on a team that is suppose to be built on chemistry if there is a problem here. You cannot tell on TV, but when you essentially sit on the Suns bench as a fan you notice little things.

    2. Gortat on the other hand was wonderful. Even down 30 he was cheering and encouraging the scrubs during game play and timeouts. He paid special attention all game to Pietrus. (As one would expect.) The poor guy was very upset he was not playing. Gortat may not have earned the right to be a leader yet, but I think he is well on his way.

    There were several other things I noticed as well, but I will stop here. My and my family love the Suns and will continue to follow them no matter what. Tonight was fun (b/c of the great seats) even though the game was not. And also–the perspective one gets sitting right with them is more than one could ever get from watching them on TV and even reading the blogs (no offense of course.) I feel as though I now understand the “chemistry matters” mantra of last year.

    Keep up the good work guys! Great write up! Lets get New Jersey and turn the corner!

  • Charlie Hustle

    I want to see more fight from this team. Last year this team found ways to come back with scrappy bench play. I know STAT is gone but this is ridiculous. I will continue to follow the Suns but something needs to change. Maybe trading Vince and a wing for a young PF or something like that.

    On a side note, I enjoyed Josh Hansen’s take on the game. After all I have heard about Vince, Josh seems to confirm it. Please share more about your time at the game Josh. Go Suns!

  • http://www.twitter.com/arturbm Artur Mascarenhas

    I would be sorry for Cavs fans if I wasnt myself a Suns fan.

    Anyway, isnt this a good time to point some fingers? Every loss brings the same excuses “oh, we didnt play hard”, “oh, we are missing chemistry”, etc.

    I know Nash and Hill are too much of classy dudes, but c’mon – its now or never.

    If the lockout for next season is true, it will be one year less for Nash and Hill. They gotta do something about this time.

  • Abhijit Bordia

    Channing frye is busy fighting with givemydickback.com, so we cannot win. End of story

  • http://cavalierthoughts.wordpress.com Rich

    As a Cavs fan visiting, I can tell you w/o a shaddow of a doubt, it can get much, much worse.

  • Maynard

    playing more with Gortat:
    with clippers – Gortat 27 min, 11 points, 5 points loss with clippers
    with LA – Gortat 35 min, 12 points , 4 points loss with LA
    with kings – Gortat 35 min, 16 points, 4 points loss with Kings

    Gortat playing less
    with NY – Gortat 13 min, 0 points, 25 points loss
    with Denver – Gortat 18 min, 11 points,34 points loss

    any question?

  • Iceman

    Wow John, that is a great analysis of the team. Really insightful. I knew that Carter was a prima donna, but now I am convinced that he needs to get the “Starbury” treatment. That will also open up minutes for Pietrus and Childress to play more.

    I have noticed Gortat trying to rally the team and I really appreciate that he isn’t quitting on the team.

  • Shaqita

    Keep Nash, Hill, Dudley, Childress, Dragic, draft picks and trade everyone else.

  • KJ Loyalist

    Everybody, including Vince, knows that he is just a rental. PHX is not picking up his option, so why would he be serious? At this point you’d have to imagine Sarver wants to give him as much time as possible to try and trick another team into taking on that structured deal in another trade of some sort, (possibly another draft pick / future backup point?).

    Gortat, on the other side, is going to go as hard as possible with the time he is given because he thinks that he can be the starter here. I would not bet against him.

    Far as the wins and losses go, I’m not worried about that.

    I just want to know what has to happen to give Dudley the starting job and true-starter minutes at the 2, (or the 3 while G Hill is out).

  • binkfooter

    is it me or when nash goes to do the pick and roll either it be gortat or lopez he does not want to throw it to them. I am not blaming him of anything he does not trust them. And every one talks about amare not being here and all that but does the year he got hurt and we use no dunk diaw and we still played suns basketball the same way with diaw. So what is the real problem. They did not play d then. Are you telling me diaw was that good?

  • Ryan

    Wow not shocked about the comments on Vince. This team is in the tank but Nash and Hill won’t ask for a trade. The team needs to decide if they want to blow up the team for the future or continue to try but they won’t get anywhere with this group.

    There is no chemistry here. I saw a look on childress’s face in the 3rd quarter that kind said “I should have stayed in greece.” I laughed.

    O well, time to pay more attention to the Coyotes!!

  • Fan From NYC

    Hey fellas I first got to say I am a diehard fan of the suns and now a extreme diehard fan of this site you guys insight and information are on the money

    IMO I feel that this team needs to trade away some pieces and get a new identity cause the ” NBA’s Niceguys” act is getting them Punked nightly they need some Charles Oakley/Toughness if I could have re done that deal they made with Toronto (in which I would have NEVER MADE IT) i would have asked them for Reggie Evans…it may not seem a big deal to anybody who doesn’t know who he is but he is rebounder and is considered the NBA’s dirtiest player…after seeing that Lil scuffle last night against Denver the only thing going thru my mind was we need a player(s) that would’t back down and show some friggin’ teeth
    If Gentry is on the hotseat in which I know he is then I will automatically say that signing frye to that kinda years and money is a waste (Regardless if he stays I think he is a waste anyway lol) but that’s gentry’s boy so he is always going to find minutes even when he struggles smh
    Everybody execpt for Nash,Hill,Dudley & Gortat should be available on the trading block….just my opinion

  • Steve

    First things first, it can always get worse. Don’t ever believe things are “as bad as they could be.” They never are.

    The Suns are a pretty pathetic basketball team, and I think what this points to is general discontentment from all sides in the locker room. I get the feeling this team would be better off forsaking half of the roster and going to a 7-man rotation. If we had 7 happy guys, it would be better than having 12 unhappy guys. I think the fact that nobody knows who is going to get the minutes, who is going to get the chances on a given night, is killing the team morale. There is no reason why any NBA team with the talent the Suns have shouldn’t be able to compete on a nightly basis. But as of right now, it looks like half the guys out there want to be traded and the other half just want to collect a check.

  • Jason

    Josh, thanks for the insight. Good stuff right there. I sat courtside a few times last year and saw exactly the opposite of what you saw last night.

    Last night’s game was the worst Suns loss I can remember and I’m thoroughly depressed about it. My team is finished. They flat out quit last night. My only hope is that some trades come quickly to either salvage the season or to start the rebuilding process.

  • KJ Loyalist

    binkfooter:

    Diaw, (then), you know – when he was actually in some form of shape, actually had time in the system and understood how things worked. Plus he was a great passer within that system, so teams couldn’t dive on him as hard as they would have liked to.

    RoLo is a terrible dive man off the PnR. As much as they try to get him to pivot properly and dive right away, (or fade slightly then dive off the proper foot), he is still taking 3 extra steps to turn and dive and by that time the defense has recovered.

    Also, teams know that if they stay a bit softer on the big man they can bottle up Nash when he penetrates because there is no mid range jumper to worry about at the 4 or the 5. That means the perimeter guys can stay at home, so Two-time finds himself taking more shots because he has to.

    **The above reasoning is why i still think Warrick should start with Gortat.

    I’d be upset if I were Childress as well. He is terribly out of position on the defensive end and that’s a lot of punishment to take.

    I feel most sorry for Dragon. the “scraps” he is left with on the second rotation are all out of position and have no idea what they’re supposed to be doing and in turn, teams are just smothering Dragic with no fear of anybody else hurting them.

  • Auggie5000

    I think Gentry has been asked to weather the storm until they can manufacture another trade. At least I hope he has. It kills me to see my team playing like this.

  • Zak

    Well, I’m now officially pessimistic about the rest of this season. The Suns need some stability and as Steve indicated, Gentry needs to find the guys who still have the fire in their eyes and shorten the rotation to 7 or 8 players if necessary. I also agree with KJ that Gortat and Warrick should start. When Hill recovers the starting lineup should be Nash, Dudley (at SG), Hill, Warrick and Gortat. Dragic, Pietrus, Childress and Frye should be given most of the bench minutes. VC and Lopez should get some minutes too but only when necessary. From what I’ve heard about Vince, it seems like he thinks he’s too good to be on this team. If we can’t find someone willing to trade for him then he should just ride the pine until the Suns can buy out his contract next year… and then maybe he can get himself a contract to play in Turkey alongside Allen Iverson.

  • Hiatus

    Good Insight Josh. Actually, I wish we could get more reporting of that nature more often. I know that when I’ve had opportunities to sit close to the bench on the lower levels you learn so much about team chemistry and player personalities. There is no excuse for reporters to not include this kind of information, particularly when a team is clearly struggling with chemistry issues. GOOD JOB JOSH!!!

  • Kevin

    I’ve been a Suns fan since I was alittle tike. I’ve never seen a Suns team just quit like they have over the last few games. I think it is time to pull the trigger on some trades. They need to unload Carter, I believe he doesn’t want to be here and we want his contract off our books. I really believe the Suns need to target Kevin Love, either by trade or free agency. He has said he wants to win and is looking to explore free agency. They also need to bring in a few sharp shooters with the speciality of knocking down the 3pt shot. With a few moves, I believe we can right the ship and start competing.

  • Steve

    @Kevin:

    Love is a pipedream. It’s not going to happen. Anything can be had for a price, but the price is going to be steeper than any team in the NBA can afford. The Wolves would likely require multiple quality players plus multiple first-round picks, in my opinion, and that’s something no team I can think of is going to be willing to give up.

    Besides, we’re not going to get anywhere by giving our draft picks away. We need to do the opposite, and try to acquire as many draft picks as possible, hoping that one of these days we’ll hit our Tim Duncan, Kevin Durant, or LeBron James. Amare was a very high quality draft selection, as was Marion, but outside of those two, the Suns have got nothing from their draft in the past couple of decades. The Suns have always tried to build through FA, but that’s just not the way to do it. The Bulls drafted Jordan. The Lakers drafted Magic, and kinda Kobe. The Spurs drafted Duncan. The Heat drafted Wade. I realize you have to suck in order to land one of those picks, but it has been worth it to every one of those teams.

  • Kevin

    @Steve:

    You are probably right, it would take everything to include the kitchen sink to trade for Love. It pretty much is a pipedream at this point. But the guy is a 20/20 machine. I also would have to agree we need to continue to stock pile draft picks as well as stop trading our own away like we have over the last several years. Having multiple 1st picks avaliable, gives the FO flexability to either package them for trades, or allows them to target who they want in the draft. But to get the guys your talking about (the Kobe’s, Duncan’s, and Lebron’s of the league) you have to be picking in the top-5. you have to get lucky with the draft lotto balls to have a chance to pick one of those talents.

    Are there any 3pt sharpshooters that are free agents or sitting on another team’s bench that would be a great fit to our team? I also believe we need some bruisers. Guys that can come in and be very physical with the other team, and play tough defense and rebound. I think we have too many softies at the forward and center position, except for Gortat. I’m really tired of seeing Frye stink it up out there on the defensive glass. The guy is as tough as charmin.

  • Markus

    Steve’s right; the Suns have never been a good drafting team, and it’s really starting to hurt them. On a nightly basis, the hardest-working players are also the oldest in Nash and Hill.

    What’s really hurt this Suns team, aside from the obvious in losing Stoudemire, is the loss of character players like Barbosa and Amundson. The kinds of guys who fought hard to make up for their shortcomings and gave everything they had every night. It almost seems as if many players on the roster (Pietrus, Carter, Frye, Lopez) are playing as if they deserve minutes, rather than trying to earn them.

    Also, the Suns simply don’t pass the ball as much as they used to. Last year’s Suns would often swing the ball three or four times across the court around the perimeter… then swing it BACK three or four times before someone was wide open for a short. Now, too many possessions end in an isolation jumper or a two-man post-perimeter contested jumpshot from Carter or Frye.

    Realistically, there is no reason that Marcin Gortat shouldn’t be starting every night and playing 30 minutes. He’s in great shape, he fights for everything, and he acts as though he truly wants the team to succeed. Warrick should start at the 4, and Frye should play alongside Lopez with the second unit. The best possible outcome with Carter would be some kind of season-ending surgery, because while his skills fit this system like a glove, he doesn’t like playing pass-first, no-man-for-himself basketball. Dudley has earned a starting job, and Childress can back him at the 2. With Carter out of the way, there’s no reason the Suns can’t be one of the fastest hustle teams in the league, and this would do wonders for chemistry; nothing makes guys want to reward each other quite like diving for every loose ball and really giving 100% every night.

  • Sean

    Josh Hansen – great comments. I’ve been saying for a week now that VC needs to go. I was at the Lakers game, and I said to my buddy in the 3rd quarter, “We need to cut Vince Carter…now!” Of course we shouldn’t cut him, we should look to trade him as his near-expiring contract can be a valuable trade chip. But he just looks disengaged, and we have good hustle guys like Dudley and Childress riding the pine behind him.

  • Zak

    Regarding some other comments in this and other threads… why the hell isn’t Gortat starting? Steve might not be comfortable with him on the PNR yet but NOT playing him isn’t going to cure that. Lopez has disappeared, Frye is content to shoot 3′s and Warrick hasn’t been given enough time to work himself into the offense… probably because he can’t shoot the 3 (not playing great or even good defense shouldn’t really count against him on this team). Gentry keeps changing the starting lineup and rotation so often that it’s no wonder that this team can’t develop any chemistry/identity. In the military there is a very old saying that roughly translates as, “The worst leaders aren’t those who make bad decisions. The worst leaders are those who make NO decisions.” Gentry needs to pick a starting lineup and rotation and STICK WITH IT no matter what. Sure he can make adjustments to it later but the players need some sort of consistency and to know what is expected of each of them and who they are going to regularly expect to be playing alongside each night before any of them can give their best efforts.

  • Mel.

    What strikes me–especially after reading these comments–is the realization that the merit-based sense of chemistry which was so crucial to the team’s success last year has evaporated.

    On paper, our talent level hasn’t diminished THAT much since the previous season. Losing STAT hurt, and its resonance with the franchise’s confidence has been the biggest scar left from his departure; overcoming that–especially in our current straits–will be a challenge.

    But Gentry created dynamic line-changes based on merit; our bench mob chomped at the bit to get on the playing floor, and when they did, they performed like they had something to prove. Guys like Lou and Dudley were prime-time reserves because they were secure in their understanding of that role; their mutual appreciation of that purpose was what made them a threat.

    Of course, our current bench is just as stacked; with Gortat and Pietrus, even moreso. The problem is that these guys aren’t convinced that they should BE on the bench (And why the hell would they, when Lopez is flopping around as a foul machine, and Pietrus is capable of putting up numbers on par with any starter in his position?). Gentry obviously isn’t even convinced that they should be, as his swap-tastic lineups are capable of putting the eleventh guy in the rotation on the floor as a starter on any given night.

    Last season, that was a carrot for performers to chase. This season, it’s a completely fractured strategy. VC gets the nod over Dudley because he’s VC, not because he’s the right player to start; Lopez and Frye get stuffed into the starting lineup based on what they did for the team a year ago, not because they’re the right players in a situational sense.

    The team doesn’t need to be blown up. The player’s sense of identity needs to be blown up. Screw ego; go with the guys who want to be out there, and leave the barnacles on the bench. They can either acclimate to their backup role, or get shoved further down the line. God knows we’ve got enough capable hands slugging it out for minutes to do so, and it’s not like there’s a lot to lose at this point.

  • Mel.

    Whoops, I missed Zak’s post while writing mine; now there’s an echo in here. :D

  • ghost of Darko

    this season was over before it started & Sarver conceded when he bailed out of Hedo’s hideous contract for Vince Carter’s expiring (option buyout included). VC’s behavioral patterns are well-known throughout the league & I’m sure PHX is hardly surprised. those who believe this current Suns roster is talent-rich need to stop kidding themselves. having a bunch of role-players & having a lot of talent are two very different things.

    the only question now is will Sarver & crew continue this death spiral of a half-way demolition or do they have the stomach for a full tear-down? given where they are, they are years from acquiring anywhere near the talent/pieces needed to be competitive with Nash & Hill at the core. this will be the ultimate test of Sarver’s wallet & ego. does he for the good of the franchise’s future sacrifice his most treasured asset (Nash), in the process becoming the most reviled man in the desert? can he suffer the thousands of empty seats while this 2-3 year project takes shape? my hope is ‘yes’; my read on Sarver is ‘no’. I suspect he instead chooses the cowardly path, Nash plays out his deal & a 2-3 year recovery instead becomes 5.

  • VCancerous

    Couldn’t agree more. Give Vince Carter the “Starbury Treatment.” Dude’s a chucker, career loser and has no heart. Now, he’s trying infect Planet Orange with his mentality. Gentry! Listen to us! We love you, seriously, we do. But, you don’t have to put up with VC’s bullshit. Send that mufucka home. Screw his “production”! We got like 8 SG/SF on the team to take his place! We’re gonna drop that dickface after the season ends anyway! What’re we gonna trade ‘em for, a pack o’ marbles? Send that gutless punk home! It will send a clear message to the team that it’s all about chemistry, not ego. Set the precedent now. Even if Suns don’t make the playoffs, they’ll start progressing in the right direction for the future.

  • George Z.

    Am I the only one that notices Fyre missing every jumpshot he takes when he doesn’t have his feet set? He is one of those players that cant shoot unless he has a good shot at the rim and some space to set up. One thing I have noticed through out this disastrous losing streak is that the Suns are horrible on the rotation. I dont really notice them being bad at the one on one approach, but in rotations I can almost always just wall who is going to be left open on the rotation and sink a shot. Maybe Phoenix needs to go to the zone defense again so they wont have to worry about the rotation issue. Hopefully they can get rid of carter to bring in something worthy of being in a Suns uniform.

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