PHOENIX – For the third game in a row, the Phoenix Suns got smacked in the third quarter. And even against a lesser opponent this time, no fourth-quarter rally would make a difference on Sunday. Lindsey Hunter saw his team lose for the ninth time in a row and a franchise-record, seventh straight time at U.S. Airways Center, this time to the New Orleans Hornets.
Monty Williams’ team was led by rookie Anthony Davis’ 20 points, and Eric Gordon’s 17 points and six assists. That duo most importantly attacked the heart of the Suns’ interior after the Hornets patched up holes that allowed for Luis Scola to score 11 first-quarter points.
April 7: Outscored 35-19 vs. New Orleans
April 5: Outscored 32-14 vs. Golden State
April 3: Outscored 38-20 at Los Angeles Clippers
“When they started putting their heads down and just started driving to the rim, we didn’t respond at all the way you would expect us to,” Hunter said. “I don’t think we played desperate, I don’t think we had a blue-collar mentality. It showed in spurts.”
New Orleans took 25 of its 29 free throws in the second half as Phoenix’s 11-point first-half lead shriveled.
The Suns led only 43-39 at halftime if only because they scored 13 points off nine Hornets turnovers in the first half. Hunter’s team also held a hapless offense to 37 percent shooting in the first half. A first-quarter charge by Ryan Anderson and a second-quarter burst from Gordon kept New Orleans in contact.
It only got worse for the Suns.
New Orleans tied the game up early in the second half, and consecutive dunks by Davis and Al-Farouq Aminu gave the Hornets a 53-49 lead – their first of the game – nearly four minutes into the third quarter.
Backup point guard Brian Roberts scored twice by dipping past Kendall Marshall upon his entry, Robin Lopez took a dump-off for a dunk and New Orleans finished off the third quarter with a 6-0 run, taking a 74-62 lead into the final 12 minutes. Jared Dudley, who scored 15 off the bench but missed some in rhythm looks at four of his five three-point attempts, said there’s no easy answer for the Suns’ third-quarter woes.
“That’s the million-dollar question,” he said. “Energy is low. We don’t make shots. Adjustments (that) teams are making on us, we have to make on teams.”
Trailing 81-65 with nine minutes left in the game because of a 13-3 Hornets spurt that bridged the third and fourth quarters, the Suns did fight back. The small-ball unit of Kendall Marshall, Goran Dragic, Dudley, Markieff Morris and Scola went on its own run of 17-4 over the next seven minutes to climb within three points.
“Kendall is never going to be stagnant,” Dudley said of the backup guard, who had nine points and five assists. “Sometimes we get a little bit selfish where it’s one pass and shot, a lot of iso. With Kendall, especially in transition, he looks for the three-ball, he looks for guys for slips, bounce-passes.”
The Suns trailed 85-82 with two minutes left but once again couldn’t get over the hump.
“It was too late,” Hunter said. “You have to do it consistently for four quarters.”
Markieff Morris hangs with a stretch 4
Markieff Morris has shown more focus in forcing more attempts in the paint, thereby spending less effort floating around the perimeter. On Friday, he led the Suns with 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting. He hit his two three-point attempts and worked inside-out.
Early on, he attacked rookie Anthony Davis in the post. Though he grabbed only five rebounds, Hunter said it was likely because he was glued to stretch 4 Ryan Anderson on the perimeter.
“The hard part for Markieff tonight was guarding Anderson. He pulled him so far from the rim,” Hunter said. “I think he did a good job on Anderson. He closed out on him. (Anderson) got a couple (shots) in transition but for the most part I thought he did a good job on him.”
Anderson, who came into the game averaging 24 points in two outings against Phoenix this season, shot 6-of-16 from the floor. He scored 17 points and had 10 rebounds – five were offensive – but only hit 2-of-8 three-pointers.
Meanwhile, fellow Suns forward Michael Beasley washed away two strong outings with a 1-of-11 shooting night.
P.J. Tucker earns Dan Majerle Hustle Award
Dan Majerle honored P.J. Tucker with the Dan Majerle Hustle Award before the Suns’ game against the Hornets. Majerle, who is in Atlanta scouting for Grand Canyon University at the Final Four, recorded a video to honor Tucker, who was a standout for Majerle’s Summer League team.
The video might’ve been more surprising than the award itself. After being snubbed in consideration to replace former coach Alvin Gentry, Majerle has at least maintained his relationship with the franchise regardless of his feelings about the front office.
How the balls bounced
The Suns got help from the Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Clippers and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday night. The Jazz beat the Golden State Warriors for only their 12th road victory of the year to get a half-game lead on the Los Angeles Lakers, who fell to the Clippers earlier in the day.
Cleveland, which entered Sunday a half-game behind Phoenix in terms of lottery position, beat the Orlando Magic.
Jared Dudley on his missed opportunities and how he wishes one of his shots would fall to help morale: “Losses pile up, it can get you mentally. When a team goes on a run, it’s like, ‘Here we go again.’ Myself … I wish I would’ve hit one of those shots where you can pull through and once you get one, you can build on that.”