Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves (23-43) at Phoenix Suns (23-46)

Time: 7 p.m. MST






PHOENIX — Tough love for the Phoenix Suns under interim coach Lindsey Hunter has come in the form of benching. He preached after a 88-79 loss on Wednesday to the Washington Wizards that effort should be the focus before execution. After all, effort is needed for execution.

“I think everybody is out there trying to give it their all, and stuff doesn’t go your way, I think players just naturally … they always want it to go their way,” said wing Wes Johnson, who was one of the Suns not on Hunter’s bad side on Wednesday. “But when stuff starts (not) going their way, the other team is executing, stuff is falling for them, players tend to react to that.

“Sometimes it be negative,” he added. “We don’t need that. (Hunter is) trying to get players out there that’s going to try to fight through that.”

Outsiders may view Hunter’s reactions as a sign he doesn’t know how to handle rotations in his first year of coaching, but with this assembly of a roster, who would?

The round-robin rotations could continue Friday night as the Suns host Johnson and Michael Beasley’s former team, the Minnesota Timberwolves, at U.S. Airways center. Phoenix’s erratic rotations are just as unpredictable as their stunningly impressive victories followed by blowout losses.

Yet, to say it’s OK for Hunter to play youngsters like Kendall Marshall, Beasley and the Morris twins through glassy-eyed periods would be silly.

Johnson’s own performance (18 points and four rebounds) and effort against the Wizards was proof that floor time being taken for granted isn’t a part of his own game. Benched for a good portion of the season, Johnson has proven to be a more-than-capable scorer. Even during Johnson’s off-nights, he’s seen less than 20 minutes only once in the past 12 games because he’s crashing the glass and playing sound defense.

The third-year swingman is averaging 12 points and four rebounds over than span.

So Johnson knows that so long as he stays aggressive and plays hard, he’ll have an opportunity.

“(Hunter) made the statement that he’s going to play five guys or whoever wants to be out there,” Johnson said on Wednesday.

Timberwolves continue freefall

Minnesota has lost 12 of its last 15 games, and injuries have been the biggest issue, of course. Like Phoenix, the roster has depth of so-so talent — whether the bench unit or the starting unit shows up is always an issue.

A boost came on Thursday when Chase Budinger returned from a knee injury that had kept him out of all but six of the T-Wolves’ 66 games this season. For the NBA’s worst three-point shooting team, the return of the swingman is much-needed. Minnesota shoots 29.4 percent from beyond the arc, a good three percent lower than the NBA’s second-worst three-point shooting team — Phoenix.

Flu-bug hits

Paul Coro reports that Jared Dudley and Jermaine O’Neal will miss the game against the T-Wolves with flu-like symptoms.

Dudley was already ill for Wednesday’s game. He gutted through the second half as Hunter also opted to play a sick Wes Johnson rather than younger players who drew criticism from the coach after the game.

O’Neal strained his left calf during Wednesday’s game, so sitting would give him more rest from that end as well.

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