Time: 7 p.m. MST
TV: FSAThe longest losing streak of the season is on deck for the Suns. Phoenix has lost seven in a row, and playing host Friday night to the Golden State Warriors, it will need luck, effort and whatever fight is left to pull out a victory against a team with a magic number of three to clinch a playoff berth for the first time since the historic eighth-seeded squad in 2007.
The obvious troubles for Phoenix are there. The Warriors lead the league by shooting 39.9 percent from three-point range, and the Suns give up an NBA-worst 39.4 percent from deep. Golden State has a center who was once the first overall pick in Andrew Bogut, not to mention rebounding goons in David Lee and Carl Landry crashing the boards. Phoenix has only Jermaine O’Neal playing seven years younger, Luis Scola playing out of position and Markieff Morris’ inconsistency.
But rather than making comparisons to the Warriors, the Suns’ own issues might be the only ones to worry about.
During the seven-game losing streak, Phoenix’s defense has dropped off considerably. The Suns are allowing a league-worst 114.4 points per game over that period while their defensive ratings have slipped off a mountain. Prior to the most recent losing skid, the Suns were giving up 104.8 points per 100 possessions (eighth in the NBA). With the offensive output hovering around 97 points per 100 possessions throughout, the estimated point differential is 17 points per game in the last seven outings.
And it’s not all because of missing Marcin Gortat’s backline defense. From his absence on March 6 until the current streak, the Suns were allowing 108.3 points per 100 possessions, a dropoff from a defensive rating of 104.4 with him — thus, there was some dropoff, but not to this considerable degree.
The one interesting tidbit heading into Wednesday night is the collective performances of All-Star snub Stephen Curry. In his last three games against the Suns in U.S. Airways Center, he’s averaged just eight points per game. Curry is chasing the NBA’s three-point make record for a single season, but he’s struggled a bit from behind the arc against Phoenix by hitting just 8-of-22 attempts this year.
At the same time, Curry is roaring into Phoenix. He’s averaging 25.8 points in his last 10 outings to go with 7.4 assists.
The Suns have often put P.J. Tucker on point guards, and it’s been especially effective against smaller opponents who get beat up by the end of games. Tucker himself is banged up, and either way it’ll come down to Goran Dragic bouncing back from an ugly outing in Los Angeles. Dragic shot 3-for-11 from the floor, and the Suns starters failed to handle the athletic big men of the Clippers.
Of the few consistent players for the Suns, Wesley Johnson has quietly gone about his business by scoring in double-figures in each of the past five games while hitting the 20s in three of those games.
Still, Lindsey Hunter’s team has little reason to be motivated the way things have been going. If there’s anything to peg their fight for one another upon, it would have to be the team’s scuffle with the Clippers and Ryan Hollins on Wednesday.
It’s not much, but it’s something.
Marcin Gortat to return?
Phoenix Suns center Marcin Gortat told Paul Coro on Thursday that he’s still hoping to return this season. Whether it’s a game or a couple of them, it’s assumed that could hurt the team’s lottery chances.
Phoenix has lost 12-of-14 since Gortat sprained his foot on March 6 against the Raptors.
The prognosis was set for the Polish center to return in three to four weeks, and the tail end of that comes Saturday. Still, the circumstances make it appear unlikely the Suns would allow for Gortat’s return; keeping him out takes away the risk he re-injures himself in a meaningless game and obviously helps the Suns’ draft positioning.