Sacramento Kings 116, Phoenix Suns 113 -- Season in a nutshell

Phoenix Suns forward Channing Frye reacts after a play against the Sacramento Kings on March 29, 2011 at Power Balance Pavilion in Sacramento, California. Copyright 2011 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Frye and Gortat combined for 38 points and 20 rebounds, but the Suns once again couldn't pull out a victory. Copyright 2011 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

If you’re looking for an explanation why the Phoenix Suns won’t make the playoffs this season, pop in the tape of tonight’s matchup with the Kings — or their last three games against Sacramento for that matter.

Once again the Suns collapsed down the stretch — crippled by turnovers, poor defense and lack of a go-to scorer — as they lost hold of an 11-point, second-half lead to become the only team to lose to the lowly Kings three times this season, falling 116-113 in Sacramento.

Meet the 2010-11 Phoenix Suns.

The Kings have now outscored the Suns by a total of 32 points in the fourth quarters of their last three meetings, making them 10.6 points better than Phoenix in the most important quarter of the game.

But it’s not just the Kings that give the Suns trouble in crunch time.

Blowing leads, looking lost offensively and struggling to come up with big stops late in games has become the mantra of this year’s Suns team, and it’s no wonder Phoenix is 36-37 and all-but eliminated from the playoff race.

Because of these glaring deficiencies, the Suns are under .500 for the first time since Feb. 7, have lost four of their last five, eight of their last 11 and plan on watching the playoffs from home. Phoenix is now 10-13 in games decided by five points or less, and all 13 of those losses can be attributed to the Suns’ lack of ability to close out games.

As was the case in their previous two games against Sacramento, the Suns were in the driver’s seat for the majority of the contest and rattled off a 9-0 run midway through the third quarter to take a 78-67 lead with 7:22 remaining in the period. The Kings fought back, but the Suns kept their distance and led 91-84 when Steve Nash headed to the bench with 1:06 left in the third.

Phoenix seemed to be rolling, scoring at will in transition (33 fast-break points on the night) as Jared Dudley (17 points, five rebounds, five steals) and Marcin Gortat (17 points, 11 rebounds) thrived in their new starting roles.

The bench even built the lead to 98-88 with 10:12 left in the game and the Suns were on pace to finally get the better of the Kings and end their two-game slide.

But like most losses similar to this, Aaron Brooks (1-for-6, four turnovers) and company couldn’t keep their foot on the gas as the Kings cut the Suns lead to 102-100 just over two minutes later.

Phoenix had only committed six turnovers through the first three quarters, while allowing only six fast-break points. But the Suns committed four turnovers in the first 4:04 of the fourth quarter and the Kings converted on run-out dunk after run-out dunk, ultimately finishing the game with 19 fast-break points.

Soon after Nash came back the Kings took a 106-104 lead that lasted only a minute as Dudley tied things up with 5:07 left. But from that point on the offense stalled, as the Suns went 2-for-10 from the field and scored only seven points in the final five minutes of play.

Despite the late-game struggles the Suns still led 110-109 with just under a minute to go when Marcus Thornton (24 points and 11 rebounds) drilled a triple and the Kings didn’t look back as four more free throws put the game on ice and capped off their dominance of the Suns.

Yet another one that got away for Phoenix against a team it should have beaten. Tis the story of the 2010-11 Phoenix Suns. They shot 7-for-21 in the fourth quarter, allowed the Kings to shoot 11-for-18 in the fourth (hitting nine of their first 10), were outrebounded 50-39 and couldn’t muster up enough points or defensive stops to take the first step in an improbable playoff run.

They played well enough for 40 minutes to win the game. They shot 50 percent from the field and turned the ball over only 10 times, but it’s those final eight to 10 minutes that’s killed this team all season long.

The Suns have always been a team, because of their reliance on shooting and the pace they play at, that lets teams back into ball games. But it’s never come back to haunt them as badly as it has this year.

Not only do teams creep into the game with ease, the Suns’ offense looks absolutely lost with nowhere to go as the game comes to a close. Nash (13 points, 14 assists) no longer has the offensive firepower to put the team on it’s back, and you can only run so many sets for Channing Frye (21 points, nine rebounds).

It’s only fitting that this is how Phoenix’s season will end, with questions from the preseason still left unanswered. Who will take over late in games? How will the Suns get stops late in games? Will they be OK without a legitimate interior scoring presence?

None of these questions ever received a positive answer, and thus, the Suns sit 4 1/2 games behind eighth place Memphis with only 11 games to play.

  • Rich Anthony, (KJL)

    No guy to go to down the stretch? That’s what happens when you force it to Vince Carter for 2/3 of the season in those situations late in games or when the game is on the line.

    Also, (and I love Steve Nash), when the team is built around two-time you have to live with bad perimeter defense and without a real second option teams will focus on him late in games.

    Gortat should have been the starter. It is true he finishes most games but he loses a lot of time with Nash. Also, in a bench role you know that nothing was really designed for him. If he is in the starting rotation from the jump then by now there would be plays installed for him and Nash.

    JMZ is a stud, and people forget about his time in college. He is quite fearless and he too got robbed of his opportunity once JRich left.

    And again, Nash is a legend, but bad luck or not he couldn’t bring home a title and this year he couldn’t even get this team through the playoffs, (I have a deeper opinion which I dropped in the last article).

    Might be time to look at the writing on the wall.

  • Kevin

    Our only shot for next season is to keep Nash and Hill and go for a good PF in the draft and a SG in the 2nd round. Get a good trade maybe with Lopez, Pietrus or other accessory players and pick up a good FA.

  • Kyle

    Kevin- I’m kinda with you, but not all the way. Our only hope next season revolves around Nash & Hill staying, at least Nash for sure. Depending on what position they plan to start Dudley at (SF or SG) and what the best available talent is at the end of the lottery would determine who they should draft.

    If Nash & Hill stays, then our starting linup is:
    PG- Nash, SG/SF- Dudley, SF- Hill, PF- Frye, C- Gortat. I think our huge need is a “go to” guy. This should be either a SG or PF, depending on what the best available talent is.

    Alot of people have been saying we need to draft our next PG, but I just don’t see us hoping to develop another young PG for a year with Nash still starting. Dragic learned the hard way we don’t wait around for development. So, I see the Suns trading or signing their next starting PG after Nash leaves.

  • Steve

    I would always draft for value, not for need. Drafting for need tends to cause overvaluing of players, whereas if you draft a truly valuable player, you (or someone else) will be able to find a use for him.

    But just for the heck of it, I’ll play along with the assumption made above that we should draft for our needs. We are one solid starter deep at PG, SF (two-deep here), PF, and C. What does that leave us with as our position of need? SG. Right now, we have ZERO start-worthy 2s on this team. Even if we were going to draft according to our needs, PF is not our biggest need.

    If we draft according to value, we will find someone useful in ANY position, because we could use help everywhere. We need another 1, 2, and 4 unquestionably, and we could use more 3s and 5s as well.

  • Ryan

    I wonder if the Suns trainers can keep Greg Oden on the court and if he would solve some front court issues. Hmm

  • Kyle

    I agree Steve. Sounds like we could use help everywhere. Haha. I’d draft first at SG but would take a hard look at what available talent there is at PF.

    Any particular SGs of interest in the draft at about picks 12-14 you guys like?

  • Mike Meez

    The finish to this season only demonstrates that this era is over. There’s no more retooling or tinkering. It’s REBUILDING time. It’s best for all parties to trade Nash and Hill over the summer.

    I’m biased but let’s move up in the draft and get Derrick Williams. Assuming there is a draft and that Williams enters it, he will end up being the best player of that draft. You can take that to the bank. Other guys in the draft are talented, but none of them makes the NBA-type plays that Derrick makes every single game.

    Sorry for my college basketball talk, but only talking about the Suns is depressing these days.

  • Kyle

    Mike- Makes sense. Williams is good, but I wonder how much we’d have to give up.

  • Cam

    I think we do have a blessing in disguise here. JMZ can start as either a SG or SF and I think Childress and Pietrus are seviceable backups at those positions (if we pick up pietrus’s option). That will give the Suns the ability to draft the best available player for SG, SF, or PF, in essence drafting for a need and drafting the best available player too. That’s if we keep Nash and don’t re-sign Hill. Go Suns.

  • Zak

    Yep, the Suns’ need isn’t really for a position, it’s for an attitude and the talent to back that attitude up. They need a creator, a “go-to” guy who can create his own shot and wants the ball in his hands at the end of the game. And yes, those guys with real talent are few and far between but that’s what the Suns should be looking for in the draft. It doesn’t matter what position he plays. The position doesn’t matter as much as the talent and the attitude. And that kind of player we just are NOT going to get through a trade.

  • Zak

    And for those people who keep saying we need to trade Nash and/or Hill… at this point in their careers all we would be able to trade them for are role players. I love ‘em both but that’s just the truth. And we already have plenty of role players.