Preview: Phoenix Suns (12-23) at Milwaukee Bucks (16-16)

Milwaukee Bucks 108, Phoenix Suns 99

Suns

Bucks

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns have not won a road game since late November after dropping nine straight away from downtown Phoenix.

That could be an issue for the Suns this week as they hit the road for four straight against four East playoff teams starting tonight in Milwaukee having lost eight of nine games overall.

“Right now for us the road can bring you together, but I heard we lost seven or eight or nine in a row, and we’ve got to stop that,” Jared Dudley said. “The road is supposed to bring you together, bond you, but playing these good teams it can break you.”

Thus far playing anybody not named Charlotte or Cleveland has broken the Suns, as only the woeful Washington Wizards sport a worse mark than Phoenix’s 2-14 record away from home.

With the Suns being a mediocre 10-9 home team (well, that’s still the second-worst home record in the West but pales in comparison to their road mark), the biggest difference comes in their defense. The Suns score at a similar rate regardless of venue (101.3 points per 100 possessions at home compared to 100.0 on the road) but their defense falls apart away from the Valley as they yield a whopping 111.5 points per 100 compared to just 100.0 at home, according to the league’s advanced stats site. For comparison’s sake, Charlotte’s league worst ‘D’ gives up 107.9 points per 100.

If the Suns’ defense cannot stop the Bucks they will most certainly be in trouble as despite the dynamic backcourt duo of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, Milwaukee ranks 27th in offensive efficiency by scoring a mere 98.8 points per 100 possessions. Their defense comes in at ninth at 100.6.

The Bucks could receive a shot in the arm because they have reportedly decided to part ways with hard-driving head coach Scott Skiles. The first game with an interim coach, in this case former assistant Jim Boylan, often gives teams a bit of a boost, but they could also end up looking lost without their leader.

As for the Suns, the team has continually been right there in most of its games before ultimately falling short. This trend has persisted as Gentry has adjusted his rotations, which currently includes P.J. Tucker in the starting lineup and last game at least Wes Johnson instead of Michael Beasley.

Gentry is also leery of playing his starters and bench as a unit too often, so in Sunday’s game he brought some reserves in earlier but still started the second and fourth quarters with full bench groupings. Since he’s tried just about everything else, why not take say Dudley and Scola out early in the first quarter and then play them with the bench corps to start the second?

Of course, at some point this is just about Phoenix not being as talented as most other NBA squads, and while at times the Suns can beat more talented teams at home by playing with more energy, thus far that has not been the case on the road.

“We’ve just got to figure out what’s it going to take to get over the hump and finish games,” Tucker said. “We’ve got to get some wins in a row, one at a time. We’ve got a really tough road trip coming up, so we’re just going to take it one game at a time and try to get some wins.”

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