PHOENIX — Well, at least they aren’t the Cardinals.
On a day the Valley’s football team suffered its worst defeat in franchise history (and that’s quite an ignominious history), the Suns weren’t that bad but it felt that way nonetheless after their seventh straight loss, 98-90 to the Magic.
The Suns played well in spurts but with Goran Dragic missing the game with the flu, they were inconsistent far too often to pull out a win against a mediocre Orlando squad winding down a long road trip.
Needless to say, head coach Alvin Gentry was infuriated by the result.
“It’s a real frustrating loss and a real disappointing loss,” he said. “You know, we are playing spot basketball. We play good for two minutes, then we’re bad for five, then we play good for seven and we’re bad for three, and you just can’t have any consistency and you just can’t win any basketball games in this league when you play that way.
“We are not doing a very good job of making basketball plays, cuts and shot selection and things like that, we’re just not playing very good. I know we shot 46 percent, which is not horrendous, but we’re just not making the plays we need to make to win basketball games, and we’ve got to get better at it.
“We’ve just got to do a much better job of playing better basketball. That’s it. It’s not anything complicated, we’ve just got to play better, we’ve got to be able to rebound the ball better, we’ve got to be able to make better basketball decisions, and we’ve got to stop turning the damn ball over.”
With Dragic and P.J. Tucker (knee) out, Gentry had to mix and match his rotation and the bench unit he tossed out there just didn’t work. The Suns started the second quarter up three but trailed by five by the time most of the reserves had departed, an advantage the Magic took into halftime.
The starters proceeded to pummel Orlando with a 19-4 run early in the third quarter to take the lead back, yet the Suns trailed by five by the time they brought most of their starters back with 8:45 left in the contest.
Gentry vehemently refused to blame the loss on being shorthanded — noting that the Magic were missing players as well and the Suns just didn’t get the job done — but I will do it anyway.
Although Bassy gave the Suns all he had and did a nice job facilitating with eight assists, he made just 1-of-7 shots and hardly made the Magic respect him as a scoring threat. Combine that with the fact that Tucker has been such a vital cog in the Suns’ usually productive bench unit, and it’s not hard to come to that conclusion.
“He was sick, and other guys have to step up,” Jared Dudley said of Dragic. “We definitely missed him out there, but we still had a great opportunity to win this game, and that’s kind of been the theme, off and on through this losing streak.”
Of course, it would be a gross oversimplification to blame this all on missing players. The Suns were playing a talent-starved Magic squad that had won just three of 10 away from the Magic Kingdom and had just dropped a game to the anemic Sacramento Kings.
Yet the Magic pounded the Suns on the glass by a margin of 44-29. The Suns pulled in five offensive rebounds the entire game, and three different Magic players recorded more boards than the Suns’ high rebounder (Gortat with six).
J.J. Redick exploded for 17 of his 20 points in the first half, and he added nine assists to boot. He went on a personal 7-0 run with a trey and then a four-point play before later being fouled by Wes Johnson on a three again. Johnson did not return after playing just 4:10 once he fouled Redick on both those long balls.
Rookie Andrew Nicholson also chipped in with the game of his life with a career-high 19 points and nine boards on 9-for-11 shooting as Luis Scola had a tough time handling him.
The Suns got five players in double digits, led by Shannon Brown’s 17 on 16 shots, but it was not enough as too many lapses led to the Orlando victory.
“It looks like at times we’re moving in the right direction, and we do something like this and we go back to square one and then we start playing better and then something like this happens again,” Scola said. “It’s been like that the whole season, our record’s pretty, pretty bad. Teams are running away from us.
“We’re not even playing all the playoffs teams. We’re losing games to other teams with a losing record. This is just not working. We’ve got to find a way to change things around or it’s going to be a long year.”
Scola is absolutely right on that last count. It would be no surprise for the Suns to lose seven in a row to superior Western Conference teams, but they have now lost to the Pistons, Raptors, Mavericks without Dirk and Magic during this stretch, teams with a combined record of 25-54 (.317) when taking out their wins over Phoenix.
What is going to happen when the schedule stiffens and they play some of these Western Conference powers?
The Suns had not lost seven in a row since dropping eight straight from Feb. 4-22, 2004, in the last year before Nash. Only the Mavs and Spurs have avoided a seven-game losing streak during the eight seasons of the Nash era as well, and only those two teams plus the Nuggets and Rockets have avoided eight-gamers since 2004-05.
Gentry was beyond frustrated about this development, sounding like an angry parent with his voice raising in intensity when he said, “We’ve got to be able to step up our defense and be able to come up with stops, and not have guys just lay the ball in the basket in the lane when we’re trying to make a comeback time after time after time. It doesn’t work out.”
Gortat, for once, did not have much to say, adding that the Suns are “not playing tough enough” but not much else. You know things are bad when the Polish Journalist’s Best Friend has run out of things to say.
The Suns are now eight games below .500 a little more than a quarter of the way through the season. They have lost home games and road games to squads good and bad. They have altered their rotations and tried to move the ball better.
Gentry will have his work cut out for him figuring out what to do next, starting with Monday’s practice on a day that was originally scheduled for the team to be off, but at some point management must come to the realization that the Suns just do not possess enough talent to legitimately compete for a playoff spot.
“Every game we’re finding different ways to lose, and that just tells you we’re a young team,” Dudley said. “For us we’ve just got to find our identity, keep our substitution patterns and you’ve got to build on it. We’ve got to just be confident and play together.”
- In answering a question about Bassy, Gentry said, “I know that he gives he everything that he can. We’ve got to have 12 guys that are doing that, not four or five.” Who do you think those four or five players are?
- More Gentry: “We will force the ball to move from side to side. We’ve just got to do a better job. When we pass the ball more than three times, we’re a very good team. We shoot in the mid-50s. When we pass one or two times, we shoot 33 percent. We’re not an iso team, we’re not a hold it team, we’ve got to move the basketball. So we’ve got to get the ball moving.” I wonder how far off we are from the Suns instituting youth basketball-style rules whereby they need to make a certain number of passes before taking a shot. All joking aside, nice to see Gentry knows this is most certainly not an iso team.
- Michael Beasley once again didn’t do much by scoring just three points in 15 minutes, during which time the Suns were outscored by 17. So much for the injection of talent from a former No. 2 and No. 4 pick in the draft.