Utah Jazz 103, Phoenix Suns 88 — Tanking tryouts

Used to be that the Suns would frustrate their fans with inconsistency.

Not a problem anymore. Phoenix is on a roll, one that has onlookers predicting (and lottery optimists hoping) loss after loss after loss.

Wednesday’s 103-88 setback at Utah marked the Suns’ fourth loss in a row. It’s the sixth time this season Phoenix has reached a dubious mark, and the usual factors were present, even if the players involved keep changing.

The biggest change that led to the same result? The absence of Goran Dragic, who head coach Lindsey Hunter admitted before the game is simply being “shut down” with the Suns well distanced from playoff contention. He also admitted to Dragic’s absence providing an opportunity for the younger players to show Hunter what he’s got, essentially making the rest of a lost season into a tryout session for the Suns’ younger pieces.

It’s hard to be encouraged, however, when bright spots — whether it’s Wesley Johnson’s recent 3-point shooting spree or Kendall Marshall’s 13 assists at Utah — continually don’t matter.

It didn’t didn’t matter on Tuesday because Johnson’s brief hot streak was met by something far more consistent: Al Jefferson’s low-post production. The veteran big man shredded Phoenix’s interior on his way to 25 points, and there’s no guarantee that would have changed even had center Marcin Gortat been healthy. Given the sit-Dragic decision, Gortat may not have been on the floor anyway.

The result is a Suns team capable of what happened on Tuesday: briefly competing against a middle-of-the-pack team. Puff-out-their-chest wins over the Lakers this season don’t prove much different, even if the name and rivalry make fans forget about Los Angeles’ actual place in the standings (eighth in the West).

Speaking of the standings, it’s hard to ignore the Suns’ best hope of landing a coveted Lakers lottery pick might be the same Jazz team they just played. The decision to sit Dragic that particular game was convenient in that regard.

What’s not convenient is the Suns’ luck in the lottery, luck that has recently produced the likes of Markieff Morris, Earl Clark, Kendall Marshall and Robin Lopez. Phoenix’s chances will be infinitely better this summer, even more so if the Lakers lottery balls are added to their own.

The Suns’ focus, however, isn’t just the value of their  around-the-corner lottery picks. It’s the ones they’ve already got on the roster, too. Johnson appears to be worth something, at least, though whether that worth can shine on a winning team has yet to be proven. Marshall can dish the ball, but can he ever do more than that? More importantly, will he ever get a consistent shot on a team already boasting Dragic for the foreseeable future? Are the Morris twins more than a cute story?

One former lottery pick who already appears to have blown his “tryout”: Michael Beasley. On a night without Dragic, Gortat and with Marcus Morris not pulling off the warmups at all, the former No. 2 pick saw just five minutes of action. It’s becoming more and more apparent the Suns think they made a mistake signing him.

Better can be said of the other young players, both from the Utah game and in general. But enough to provide real encouragement from the future?

They have 10 more “tryout games” to find out.

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