PHOENIX – Twice in a row have the Phoenix Suns lost – no, gotten walloped – by teams draggling like torn nets on the bottom of the NBA’s riverbed.
After they made a respectable score out of a dominating first half by the Washington Wizards on Wednesday, the Suns pulled out another strikingly poor home performance Friday against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Down with Jared Dudley out with a bug and Jermaine O’Neal dealing with sickness and a calf injury, Phoenix went small and without some of their key playmakers.
But the rebounding margin wasn’t the issue.
Neither was a zone implemented by the T-Wolves that forced a bad shooting team into 22 three-pointers.
Nor did it matter the Suns got made 10-of-21 free throws while Minnesota hit 31-of-40 in the 117-86 loss.
“I don’t even look at that,” interim coach Lindsey Hunter said, specifically answering why the free throw discrepancy was such. “That had nothing to do with that to me. There was no intensity in the beginning, there was no ball pressure, there was no sign of that we were going to fight, in the beginning. So I don’t care what the free throw (attempts) was.”
It was the second game in a row with such problematic effort.
Phoenix trailed 31-18 after first quarter as the T-Wolf who you’d guess as having a stark energy contrast with the lackluster Suns, Andrei Kirilenko, scored 11 quick points en route to 20 points and seven rebounds on the night. Then in his second game back from a knee surgery, T-Wovles forward Chase Budinger dropped in three quick jumpers in the first minute-plus of the second quarter as Minnesota went ahead 38-18.
On the other end, the T-Wolves used a 2-3 zone to disrupt Phoenix’s offense. Though the Suns made it a point to attack the interior of the zone, it often resulted in turnovers. And either way, the Suns’ three-point opportunities that were there – Minnesota did a good job of running at them – didn’t drop. They hit 1-of-9 three-pointers in the first half, and shot 4-of-22 for the game.
“We prevented them from scoring inside and forced them to take outside shots, and they shot a lot of shots,” Kirilenko said.
The defense by Minnesota kept the Suns so off-kilter that they had 13 turnovers leading to 15 points in the first half (Phoenix had only three turnovers and six more points off the miscues afterward), and they also lost the fastbreak battle off turnovers and misses 15-2.
Phoenix trailed 67-39 at halftime as Minnesota shot 58.1 percent to 38.6 for the Suns.
“They had it going,” said Wes Johnson, who struggled with his stroke and his 2-of-12 shots on Friday. “Our shots weren’t falling, all the little bunnies weren’t going in, the free throws, everything wasn’t going our way.”
After a team-only huddle before the half, point guard Goran Dragic came out gunning in the third quarter, scoring five consecutive points in the heart of the period and then dishing three assists in a row as the Suns went on a 13-6 run to make it 82-63. The Suns point guard accounted for 15 straight points on four assists and two buckets, but Phoenix wouldn’t pull the T-Wolves’ lead within thick, 19-point buffer.
Dragic finished with 13 points and 10 assists.
And on a night where they only had Hamed Haddadi as a true center, Hunter dismissed the size problem as being an issue. Luis Scola started against Nikola Pekovic at center, and the Argentinian scored 17 while grabbing 12 rebounds.
The Suns only lost the rebounding battle 40-31, perhaps because they shot 37.9 percent to Minnesota’s 53.2 for the game.
And despite having foul trouble on the frontline, well, Hunter again pointed back to the effort being an issue rather than any apprehensiveness because of the lack of big bodies – or bodies at that.
“Well, you know, I don’t think that (foul trouble) affected it at all,” he said. “In the third quarter they had the same amount of fouls, and they came out and played aggressive. Our guards were up, our guards were into guys, fighting over screens and we weren’t making excuses. You have to bring it every single night.”