Time: 6:30 p.m. MST
Winning typically cures all in the NBA, except when you’re a team 20 games below .500 and forced to play the second game of a back-to-back on the road against the the league’s best team less than 24 hours after an overtime contest.
Those are the circumstances facing Lindsey Hunter and the Phoenix Suns Wednesday night when they face the San Antonio Spurs for the second time in four days. And while the Suns interim head coach joked after Tuesday’s game that the team likely wouldn’t even arrive at their destination until after 4 a.m., the punch line might not be a laughing matter for Phoenix once it hits the court at 6:30 p.m. Arizona time.
The Suns are coming off a win Tuesday night, which by itself is noteworthy considering their effort level over the previous three contests. However, the team’s performance was not pretty by any means and if not for a second half lapse where it blew an 18-point lead against a depleted Minnesota Timberwolves squad, the projected 4 a.m. arrival time in San Antonio might have been far earlier.
“Any time you win in this league it feels great,” Goran Dragic said after the 84-83 overtime victory. “Maybe this one feels even sweeter because we lost such a big lead. Maybe because it showed we could come together and battle back.”
While Dragic’s optimism is commendable, Phoenix experienced a similar lapse in their 97-87 loss to the Spurs Sunday night at US Airways Center. After taking a 21-19 lead into the second quarter, the Suns allowed Gregg Popovich’s squad to reel off a game-changing 20-3 run and never were really competitive the rest of the night. San Antonio won with ease on a night Tony Parker was held out of the lineup, and although Patty Mills and Nando de Colo filled in admirably, the five-time All-Star is expected back Wednesday.
While Popovich has proven this season, even maybe more so than other years, that he can mix and match with the best of them and still get the most out of a team that has played 27 games without its Big Three (Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Parker), Hunter has not found that same formula for success 17 games into his coaching career.
Before Tuesday night’s contest, Hunter said the Suns’ main goal for the remainder of the season should be building trust with one another, especially when a team like the Spurs goes on a big run like it did Sunday night.
“I think [the ball] sticks at times, especially when we get behind,” Hunter said. “We start pressing — everybody wants to do it. I think if we start developing trust in each other we will play better.”
San Antonio has the league’s best record largely because of its star-studded veterans but also because general manager R.C. Buford has committed to putting together a roster that fits its prolific coach. Whereas Hunter is still trying to figure out the potential of guys like Kendall Marshall, Michael Beasley, Wesley Johnson and Markieff Morris, Popovich has already made tremendous strides in developing the likes of Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter. Reason being that the Spurs’ unproven players have had no problem buying in to a no-nonsense coaching style.
Throw in the fact that Popovich has continued to get the most out of outcasts Boris Diaw, Stephen Jackson and Patty Mills, and it’s no wonder the Spurs have title hopes on the horizon.
On the flip side, the Suns’ horizon is primarily focused at this point on June’s NBA Draft. Phoenix’s win over Minnesota coupled with a double-overtime loss by Sacramento has the Kings and Suns tied for the fourth-worst record in the league entering play Wednesday.
- What was once considered the premiere rivalry in the Western Conference has quickly turned into a one-sided affair. Phoenix has lost six straight against the Spurs and is in danger of being swept for the second consecutive season with a loss Wednesday night. To make matters worse, the Suns have also lost seven in a row at the AT&T Center, while the Spurs have won 18 straight in San Antonio this season.
- While Marcus Morris has only played 32 minutes in a Suns uniform since being acquired last week, his new head coach has been impressed with his mentality both at practice and in games. “He’s been good, and I love his edge,” Hunter said Tuesday. “He brings a serious edge to the game, and even in practice he gets after it. That’s been a great shot in the arm for us. He has a dimension to his game and a capability of leadership that we haven’t seen.”
- Lost in the shuffle of a disappointing weekend were comments made by former Suns point guard Sebastian Telfair, who was shipped to Toronto last Thursday for a second-round pick and Hamed Haddadi. While Telfair was a pro’s pro despite sitting in seven of his final 13 games in Phoenix, the eight-year veteran didn’t hesitate to take a shot at the purple and orange from 2,000 miles away. “You’ve got a goal to win and if you’re not winning you at least want to be out there competing at the highest level,” Telfair told the National Post. “We weren’t doing that over there in Phoenix this year. I’m happy to be a part of a team that got a goal for themselves and night in and night out they’ve got something to achieve.”