PHOENIX — The 76ers throttled the Suns in US Airways Center for the second consecutive season days before New Year’s, but the two losses could not have been more different.
Last season’s defeat stemmed from a pitiful defensive effort that frustrated new center Marcin Gortat so much he spewed a verbal postgame rampage bemoaning the kind of feeble resistance that so often plagued the Nash era.
But to score 34 points in the first half and then go scoreless the first 6:12 of the third? That’s not the way the Phoenix Suns are supposed to lose.
“What can I say?” head coach Alvin Gentry asked. “Obviously it’s not what we anticipated. We’re struggling mightily right now offensively, and because of it everything is just kind of so hard for us to get a shot off and so hard for us to get into any kind of a rhythm.”
The Suns have lost games many ways over the years, but I can’t remember a time when the offense looked less potent than in Phoenix’s 103-83 loss to the Sixers Wednesday night.
After a 19-0 Sixers run to begin the third Phoenix trailed 67-34, and it seemed possible that the Suns could score a franchise-low point total (68, in case you’re wondering).
The starters could not buy a bucket, bricking their way to 24 combined points (including 14 from Grant Hill) on 7-for-35 shooting. Channing Frye continued his slump with an 0-for-4 night, Jared Dudley did not score in 24 minutes and Gortat was quiet with a 1-for-6, but as is the case with most things for the Suns’ offense tonight’s struggles began with Steve Nash.
Nash scored just four points on 2-for-11 shooting and dished one assist to six turnovers in 17 minutes of play before Gentry pulled him when the game got out of hand.
Nash said the way the Sixers played the pick-and-roll made it important for him to make them pay as that would have opened up the defense and created openings for his teammates.
“If I don’t make them pay when they’re playing us that way, they are just going to feel more entitled to play that way,” Nash said. “There were some openings there that I didn’t make the most of, and I think that hurt us.
“That was about as bad a game as I’ve had personally, and team-wise it’s obviously as well. It’s shown over the two games we’re just struggling offensively to find a connectivity and rhythm together.”
The Suns once again found no consistency from deep, hitting just 2-of-11 three-pointers on the game. Phoenix shot also just 41.3 percent, including 30 percent from beyond nine feet.
The bench came in and played well during garbage time when the game was long decided.
After earning a dreaded DNP-CD in the opener, Hakim Warrick provided a nice offensive boost with 14 points on 7-for-13 shooting, and Ronnie Price matched a career high with 16 points on identical 7-for-13 marksmanship.
“There were a few bright spots. I thought Hakim Warrick and Ronnie Price and Robin and those guys, they did a good job,” Gentry said.
Now the Suns must go back to the drawing board to figure out how to jumpstart an offense that’s lagging for the first time in the Nash era.
A game after recording an unimpressive 93.3 offensive efficiency, the Suns were even worse by averaging 90.2 points per 100 possessions in this one. Phoenix’s defense will never be good enough to combat that kind of lack of offensive execution.
“I believe the guys in this locker room can shoot better from the field and finish at the rim,” Hill said. “Sometimes when it rains it pours, and certainly it was pouring out there tonight. I’m not sophisticated enough to figure out why, we just weren’t in a good rhythm and our offense is rhythm based. We’ve just got to do a better job of finding it.”
Nash feels the Suns’ struggles are a combination of many things, including the shortened training camp and a lack of familiarity.
Gentry cautioned not to blame the offensive ineptitude on the team’s focus on defense, as ideally the Suns want to push the tempo as they have in previous seasons.
The Suns are used to doing what they had to do after the last Philly home loss, which is to return to practice to figure out a way hold down opponents just enough for their elite offense to prove victorious.
With the defense still a work in progress (112 defensive efficiency tonight), the Suns for once must figure out a way to score without a dominant unit on the other side of the ball to mask their deficiencies.
“I’m really disappointed, but you can’t stay there,” Gentry said. “I’ve got to start thinking about what we are going to do in the next game and try to build from there. We don’t have time to linger in pity or anything like that. We’ve got to regroup and figure out what we can do.”
Suns expected to sign Michael Redd
The Phoenix Suns worked out Michael Redd on Wednesday and are expected to sign him on Thursday, according to The Arizona Republic.
I’ve been on the Redd bandwagon for quite some time because he’s a former 20 ppg scorer, and the Suns clearly need somebody who can stroke it as we’ve learned in the first two games. We don’t know how much he has left in the tank after his knee surgeries, but it’s hard to see how taking a shot at catching lightning in a bottle with Redd could hurt.
- The Suns are now 0-2 for the first time since 1996-97, when they started a franchise-worst 0-13 but reached the playoffs anyway. They have reached the playoffs five of the previous eight times they began a year 0-2 and even reached the conference finals twice. … The Suns also lost by 20 or more during the first week of the 2007-08 and 2009-10 seasons and ended up qualifying for the playoffs both years. … Philly has won two straight in Phoenix for the first time since 1984-85.
- Dudley recorded a -32 +/- in 24 minutes. Nash and Hill were both -22, and Markieff Morris was plus five in 27 minutes. The rookie from Philly scored nine points and hit 4-of-5 shots.
- Hill said Philly beat the Suns “in all facets of the game” and that the Suns at least “competed for a half.”
- Nash moved into fourth on the franchise’s all-time games played list (684) on Wednesday. He’s one behind Dick Van Arsdale for third.