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.
- 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.