PHOENIX — It’s no stretch to call the 2010-11 Phoenix Suns an enigma. From beating the NBA’s contenders to getting abused by the league’s worst, the Suns have seen it all this season.
On the heels of a five-game winning streak and an ensuing three-game losing streak, the Suns seem to have found a consistent level of play that’s keeping them in each game regardless of who’s on the opposing bench.
The Suns have won four of their last five games, including wins over good teams (Boston, New Orleans), a bad team (Milwaukee) and a near equal (Golden State). Now, as the All-Star break and trade deadline approach, the Suns are looking to maintain that consistency as they near the .500 mark.
“It’s not about who we’re playing, it’s about what we do,” Suns center Channing Frye said after practice Wednesday. “We’re just trying to get better and continue to win.”
Over the last five games, the Suns have shot better than 43 percent from the field. Outside of that, the statistics are relatively inconsistent, from rebounding to turnovers to three-point shooting.
Consistency in the stats, however, hasn’t been the key to sustaining the level of play required to beat the best and the worst. Rather, it’s been the team’s ability to play each opponent as if it were a conference leader.
“To me, you just play the schedule as it falls and try to do the very best you can,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said.
While the Suns have been able to bring the same game to the floor each night over the recent stretch, even in a losing effort against Oklahoma City, the problem has been swoons down the stretch. In four of the past five games, the Suns have been outscored in the fourth quarter, and against Boston, both teams tallied just 13 points.
While the late-game struggles only cost the Suns the game against the Thunder, they have also prevented the Suns’ veterans from resting late in games. Despite holding a 25-point lead at one point, the Suns allowed the Bucks to climb back into the game, cutting the lead to nine and forcing Steve Nash and Grant Hill back into action to seal the game.
“When we have trouble scoring — I think we get in a little slump at the beginning of the fourth — we need to go back to posting it up,” Frye said. “We need to get those easy shots and get into the bonus.”
Gentry didn’t get into such specifics when asked about the team’s fourth-quarter struggles, but did offer his opinion as to what’s causing them.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of energy,” Gentry said. “I think sometimes we become a little bit too conservative. We’ve got to keep the flow and the pace of the game up.
“There will be timing clock situations where we’ve got to slow down, but eight-minute area all the way up into the three-minute area, we’ve got to keep the pace of the game up and I think sometimes we’ve become a little too conservative in those situations, especially when we have a lead.”
The Suns know that in order to have a shot at the playoffs, they must sustain intensity for 48 minutes on a night-to-night basis.
“Obviously we’ve got a mountain to climb to get into the playoffs,” Gentry said. “We’ve got to try to find a way to continue to win games.”
Perhaps most important to the Suns’ continued consistency is how they play on the defensive end. The team’s notoriously porous defense has accomplished a number of lofty feats of late.
The Suns held the league’s top shooting team (Boston) to 34.2 percent shooting, lowly Milwaukee to 31.1 percent and kept both Boston and Golden State, the NBA’s top three-point shooting team, to a paltry 11.1 percent from deep.
The defense’s first test of consistency comes Thursday night as the Warriors come to Phoenix looking for revenge. If the Suns can again play as they have the past five games and again limit Golden State, they will be looking at .500 for the first time since Dec. 19.
“It’s been an interesting, difficult season at times, Hill said. “But we’ve improved and we’re playing a lot better.”