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.

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