PHOENIX — Recently, the Phoenix Suns have turned in drastically different ball games against very different teams. Just last week they’ve blown out the Los Angeles Lakers at home, then been on the receiving end of such lopsided games against Washington and Minnesota.
Interim coach Lindsey Hunter has pointed toward effort as the being the reason for such embarrassing defeats, especially in poor first halves in the two losses.
“You see the names on the backs haven’t changed, right?” Hunter said Friday. “It’s the same team. It’s part of being young, it’s part of trying to learn how to deal with some small success. It’s a number of things we’re going through and hopefully one day we look back and say, ‘Hey, we don’t want to go back to doing that’ – and it means something.”
The locker room frustration is rearing its head. Hunter said he’d “climb in a foxhole” with Goran Dragic, Luis Scola and P.J. Tucker, but after that, as might be guessed, he wasn’t going to say any one player has consistently been putting in the work.
The locker room may not be fractured publicly, or at all, but no matter the status of the team’s solidarity, the Suns aren’t going to face anything but adversity against most everyone they face.
Against the Timberwolves most recently, their frustration in the huddles and on the sideline was a stark contrast to the atmosphere of the T-Wolves bench. Coach Rick Adelman hardly acknowledged poor calls against Minnesota during the game, players laughed off their own mistakes and even a break as the referees went to the replay monitor resulted in Adelman cracking a joke to break the operating crew into laughter.
Of the few Suns available to the media on Friday, both Wes Johnson and P.J. Tucker refused to believe their teammates had punched out with 12 games of the season left, simply wishing it were over.
“Everybody still wants to play, everybody still wants to compete,” Johnson said. “It might look like it by the outcome of the score, but everybody still wants to play.”
Hunter would like to believe that. It’s his job to prove he can fix a broken ship that’s only getting in worse shape over the past few weeks, though injuries haven’t helped a bit. The interim coach is at the very least fighting for a future job for himself elsewhere, and he only hoped that his players weren’t mailing in the first 12 outings.
“That would be a shame,” he said. “They’re still getting paid. Nobody’s checks are late, so they should bring that effort every night.”
Meanwhile, Tucker, one of the Suns whose intensity rarely wavers, also wasn’t going to point fingers.
He’s one not to mince his words on the court, yet he certainly wasn’t biting when asked on Friday about his teammates checking out either. He and Dragic, who often refuses to throw teammates under the bus by telling the media to “ask coach,” said it’s only about digging deep within themselves to find answers.
“We got five people out there,” Tucker said, refusing the guess that a thin bench contributed to Phoenix’s 117-86 loss to Minnesota. “We ain’t undermanned, no matter how the size is. We ain’t never undermanned. I heard it all my life and it ain’t stop me yet. So I ain’t going to hear it today.
“I’m a competitor,” he added, “I hate losing. I hate being in positions where … I got to do these interviews.”
It’s only a matter of if and when Hunter and his staff can find answers. Against Minnesota, for example, the Suns got run out of the gym in the first half despite going with a small-ball lineup and without a true center.
So then it truly might be effort. Indeed, beating a Lakers team that is struggling as is and without Kobe Bryant at the beginning of the week could make the win misleading.
But that was inspired ball.
“It’s easy against the Lakers,” Tucker said. “It’s not hard to get up for the Lakers, for the Knicks, for the Clippers, for the Thunder … we got to find a way to do the same for the Charlotte games, the DC games, Minnesota games.”