Preview: Phoenix Suns (23-54) at Houston Rockets (43-34)

Time: 5 p.m. MST






PHOENIX — Luis Scola will be at the center of attention when the Phoenix Suns take on the Houston Rockets Tuesday night at the Toyota Center, but it has little to do with the forward’s return to the city he called home for five seasons.

When asked by reporters to assess what has gone wrong for the Suns in 2012-13, Scola didn’t hold back.

“We don’t know how to play basketball and that’s why we lose,” Scola said. “Until we learn how to play 48 minutes of basketball, we’re not going to win games. I’m surprised we won 23 games playing this way. Many of the games we won, we did the same thing. We just overcame it somehow. I’m also surprised we didn’t fix it. We saw the problem pretty much the first week and we couldn’t fix it. It’s very frustrating. It’s a bad year.”

Unfortunately for Scola and Co., they’re going to have to fake it with five games still remaining on the schedule. Phoenix enters play Tuesday night riding a season-high, nine-game losing streak and its task doesn’t get any easier against the Rockets.

Kevin McHale’s squad is nearing its first playoff appearance in four years and following the worst defensive performance of the season Saturday night (132-114 regulation loss to the Denver Nuggets), there is plenty on the line for Houston. The Rockets are also expected to get a boost with the returns of Chandler Parsons (15.3 points and 5.4 rebounds per game) and Carlos Delfino (10.7 points per game).

At this point in the season, however, an opponent’s personnel is not much of an issue for the Suns. Of late, third quarter defense seems to be a far bigger concern. In its last three losses (Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors and New Orleans Hornets), Phoenix has been outscored by a combined 105-53 margin in the third frame.

While Scola’s comments suggest a veteran who is deeply miffed about the team’s level of inconsistency, he wasn’t that far off. During the Suns’ current nine-game drought, effort and competitive fire have not always been constants. While winning games in April might present an ideological disagreement between fans and those within the organization, one issue that the Scola brought up that should be troubling to all is that the team is as erratic going into Game 78 as they were during the first week of the season.

And although Phoenix during portions of February and March actually played well against teams with winning records, that is no longer the case, either. Outside of their 99-76 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on March 18, the Suns have lost eight straight against teams currently in the Eastern or Western Conference playoff pictures.

One of those eight losses came at the hands of the Rockets (111-81) back on March 13.  On that night, the Suns gave up 10 three-pointers and allowed Donatas Motiejunas (career-high 19 points), James Harden (18 points) and Jeremy Lin (13 points and six assists) to dictate the entire pace of the game at the offensive end. Houston dominated the glass, took advantage of 22 Phoenix turnovers and put the game out of reach in the third quarter.

Sound like a familiar theme? It should.

And 1…

  • With a loss Tuesday night, the 2012-13 Suns would hold the second-worst record in franchise history. Only the expansion 1968-69 team had a worse record (16-66).
  • With a win Tuesday night, the Suns would at least keep themselves from contending for another dubious mark. The longest losing streak in franchise history is 13 games, set back at the beginning of the 1996-97 season.
  • James Harden is averaging a career-high 25.8 points per game in 2012-13, but he’s always done plenty of damage against the Suns. The former ASU standout has averaged just a shade above 19 points per game in his career vs. Phoenix. That’s especially impressive given that most of those prior performances came off the bench for the Oklahoma City Thunder.


  • azbballfan

    Scola is right on, and this sounds like hunter isnt able to fix much

    i expect the Suns to get blasted by a rockets squad that i think leads the NBA in points per game (or close to it)

    if the Suns fail to win any of these last 5 games, hunter will have lost 19 of the last games of the year

    how is he gonna sell that to sarver and his cronies?

    now, hunter didnt exactly walk into a good situation in the 1st place, but i cant imagine that the suns locker room is too happy right now, and in fact everyone seems to have been pretty miserable the whole season

    so the front office is gonna have to make a decision here

    Gentry was fired because he didnt play the young guys, and now hunter is, but the Suns dont look like they even care except for the odd solid game

    Dragic, Scola, Dudley and Tucker aside this team doesnt play 48 minutes

    its one thing to be bad and not have talent its another to just go through the motions

    hopefully we can use these last 5 games as a teaching tool

    btw, i gotta give sarver credit

    apparently he went out and got goran dragic and wanted him here, and blanks was all set to go get raymond felton

    felton is solid but a veteran point just wouldnt have made that big of a difference on a roster like the suns

    Good going Sarver! if it wasnt for Dragic this team might have 10 wins instead of what we have now

  • azbballfan

    oops i meant 19 of the last 21 games

    dunno why that didnt get put in there

  • Ty-Sun

    Who stays and who goes before next season may come down to which players have the pride and determination to play all 48 minutes rather than talent. This entire season smacks of a team without real leadership. Maybe what this team needs is a “my way or the highway” coach. Yes they also need more talent but too many times they’ve lost games this season because of one bad quarter. That tells me it’s not a lack of talent but a lack of focus that caused those losses. And the coach is ultimately the person responsible for keeping the players focused on winning.

  • bill.thomas

    Agreed with Ty-Sun. We have beaten or been competitive with some of the best teams. We lose focus or simply implode in response to bad officiating or 1 or 2 players loafing. Hunter needs to make more and better in-game adjustments and yank 1 or 2 players admidst runs by other teams.

    On the flip side, if an inconsistent performer like Beasley or a Morris is having a good offensive run and doing OK on D, he should be left in while hot. And Dragic should not be worn out in games that are out of reach.

  • bill.thomas

    Also, Garrett needs to be given some run, otherwise he has only been used as an expensive practice dummy.

    And perhaps Marcus should be given some run, unless whatever got him “into the doghouse” is a “hanging offense” (and if so, will management please let us know the execution date)?

  • john

    I have the same problem with Hunter that I had with Gentry. No defensive accountability.

    In every sport, I have always been taught the same thing by coaches, and I teach the same thing to those I coach. Physical mistakes happen. Physical mistakes are acceptable. Sometimes you slip, sometimes you drop the ball, sometimes your swing gets away from you, etc. Mental mistakes are unacceptable.

    When I was playing basketball in high school, any player on my team would get yanked INSTANTLY for having a boneheaded defensive lapse. If the best player on the team (who was definitely not me) missed an obvious rotation and gave up a layup/dunk, there was an immediate timeout and that guy wasn’t going to see the court until he was ready to play some D.

    That doesn’t have to be the exact reaction from an NBA coach, in my opinion, but I see nothing (and have seen nothing for a decade) from Suns coaches that makes me believe defense matters to them at all.

    When I went to the game against the W’s the other night, Wesley Johnson had three horrendous defensive mishaps within the first few minutes of the first quarter, and not once did I see anyone on the team or coaching staff getting on his case about it. He didn’t get yanked. For all I can tell, he doesn’t even know how terrible he is defensively and no one is telling him what he should be doing.

    I want Hunter gone for that very reason. The defense isn’t there, and I don’t think he has any intention to change it. More than anything, I want a coach who will accept nothing less than maximum effort on that end of the floor.

  • Ty-Sun

    Sometimes players just need to play pissed off. It’s a FU attitude that you need from time to time and sometimes a player needs his coach to get in his face, challenge him and get that FU attitude out of him. If the opposing team can’t bring that attitude out, then it’s up to the coach.

    Sometimes there is nothing that can motivate you more than having your coach call you a worthless piece of sh!t in front of your teammates. Just sitting someone at the end of the bench doesn’t always work. Some of my old coaches got the best out of me by getting me pissed of at THEM.

  • Forever is2long

    Ok John I see some ball skills there. You noticed Wes Johnson mishaps which I have caught some on TV. I do recall Hunter yelling at Johnson for providing help defense one game when he was on a shooter (I think Korber). Johnson does have defensive lapses probably in part because at Syracuse they only a zone (see Carmelo). To his credit I have seen him play good defense for long stretches.

    I agree defensive ineptness should not be acceptable unless you are truly a star (see Nash). I would think there is a better young coach available so I hope their shopping list of team needs includes a coach, preferably before the draft.

  • john


    You played ball at Rutgers?

    Too soon? Is it still too soon? :)

    @Forever is2long

    Fyi, I carry no hard feelings. If things got out of hand the other day, I just want you to know it’s not going to inspire me to pester you forever and argue every point against you or anything. You and I agree more often than not. In fact, the only huge disagreement I remember having with you is the Gortat/Lopez issue (which we have revisited more than once). I just wanted you to know that, going forward, I’m not looking for fights.

  • Ty-Sun

    @john – Lol. No, I never played at Rutgers or had any coaches treat me like THAT. I think it’s a fine line between motivation and abuse. My coaches were often hard on me but I can’t recall a single instance where I would call any of them abusive.

  • DBreezy

    Different people require different motivational tactics and it gets trickier when you add large sums of guaranteed money to it. This is a sport where Marcus Banks’ initial response to being traded from a team where he was chained to the bench for years to one without a starting pg was that he was upset that he no longer had a quick commute to his family and friends in Vegas. Then you add in the factor of age which is a big difference between hs and college and the pros. Just like you can’t talk to people at your job the same way you do to your kids, you can’t effectively coach adults, even young adults, like their kids. That doesn’t just go for the young guys as we saw with the Hamilton/Prince/Wallace mutiny in Detroit and even the Blanks/O’Neal outburst here earlier this season.

  • foreveris2long

    John, First and foremost I accept responsibility for letting the Lopez discussion get out of control. I have no doubt my passion on that issue sometimes gets the best of me. I think I have been defensive of the guy since he was drafted and I do not get paid a dime to defend him.

    John, Ty-Sun and I know DBreezy played and plays some hoops, allows for interesting perspectives as you have been in the trenches. I do not think you had to play to offer insightful thoughts but those who did play just seems to relate to some of the everyday issues.

    If a Wes Johnson visits a psych this summer he will really elevate his game. He is still soft but I think it is primarily between his ears.

  • Scott

    Scola talks about how the players fail to execute. Well, I suppose there could be several reasons for that, but the first that comes to mind is that Blanks is picking players according to his own image, and HE can’t execute either.

    For that matter, with Blanks and Babby apparently continuing on for another year or two, I have to start weighing Sarver’s ability to execute. It’s looking like there may be no end to the mess … at least until some effective leadership emerges from somewhere.

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