Posted by Kevin Zimmerman on February 26th, 9:45 pm
Jeff Hornacek warned his Phoenix Suns that playing like they did on Tuesday night would haunt them against the Utah Jazz.
Defensive breakdowns became the theme of a loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday, and that carried into the backend of a back-to-back, when Phoenix fell 109-86 at Energy Solutions Arena.
The Suns allowed the Jazz to shoot 56.8 percent and 9-of-18 from three-point range. Like Kevin Love did a night prior against Phoenix, Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward was an assist shy of a triple-double, going for 17 points, 10 boards and nine assists. But along with getting sliced up by the young Jazz’s passing, the Suns also couldn’t buy a basket themselves, hitting 38.8 percent for the game.
It hurt that Goran Dragic was a scratch because of an ankle sprain suffered a night earlier, and backup Ish Smith slid into the starting spot with a solid start. He scored 13 points and added five assists, but it wasn’t the same. Dragic’s dangerous midrange game was sorely missed, and the Jazz were rightfully fine with the undersized Smith attempting shots at the hoop even if he got there.
Smith went 5-for-15 from the floor in a team-high 36 minutes, and backcourt mate Gerald Green didn’t have the open looks from drive-and-kicks that he normally finds with Dragic. Instead, he was forced to score off the bounce himself, something he’s not entirely comfortable doing. He finished with a 6-for-15 shooting performance. Likewise, Channing Frye had a quiet night, scoring seven.
The Suns, already a low-assist team with Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, finished with just 14 assists on the night.
Phoenix was forced to run the offense through the Morris twins, and there were few positive results from that. The twins went 5-for-16 as they and their teammates floundered in their defensive assignments — on the ball and off.
The Suns are clinging to the eighth seed, and now the outside perception hoping for a return of Bledsoe has gone from “when he’s ready” to “as soon as possible.”
Now to analyze Jeff Sanders’ pregame points of emphasis.
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Tags: Phoenix Suns Recap · Utah Jazz
Posted by Jeffrey Sanders on February 26th, 12:00 pm
Time: 7 p.m. MST
The Phoenix Suns head into Salt Lake City needing a win, desperately.
After losing two games in a row, the Suns have dropped to eighth in the tight Western Conference and sit just a game and half up on the surging Memphis Grizzlies. The two game losing streak has Suns coach Jeff Hornacek searching for answers.
Playing the Jazz may provide those answers, but they are a team that you can’t take lightly. Just ask the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder, two teams the Jazz have managed to beat this season. Since January, Utah has put together a 9-12 record, a more respectable mark than their overall mark.
For Phoenix, it is going to take a team effort to reverse the fortunes of the past two nights and to leave Utah with a victory. Let’s look at some questions heading into tonight’s game.
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Tags: Goran Dragic · Phoenix Suns Preview · Utah Jazz
Posted by Kevin Zimmerman on February 26th, 8:00 am
PHOENIX — Sitting through the Suns’ press conference after a game against the Timberwolves on Tuesday felt mighty familiar. Not for coach Jeff Hornacek, whose eyes looked tired for the first time this year, but for media members.
It was like a time machine taking us all the way back to, goodness, last year. Hornacek sounded a little bit like Lindsey Hunter, which by the way, isn’t a complete indictment on either coach. Hunter had Michael Beasley on his team, after all. And it also wasn’t Hornacek’s fault Tuesday that he had a few “I don’t know” answers following a 110-101 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“I can’t believe our guys are tired,” Hornacek said, “if you look at the minutes for anybody, P.J. (Tucker) played 38 minutes but the rest of them are in the 20s and very low 30s. Maybe they’re getting tired from the long season, I don’t know.”
Maybe the loss wasn’t that bad.
But this was the first time Hornacek had really seemed stressed over his team’s effort.
Like Hunter, he didn’t need to question Tucker, who crashed the boards for 16 rebounds but missed a good deal of putbacks. Hornacek didn’t need to question Goran Dragic, who scored 16 points but sprained his ankle before fouling out with less than four minutes to play in the game.
From there, Phoenix broke down defensively in the final three minutes, when the T-Wolves ran back-cuts, scored off offensive boards and generally beat the teeth through the lips of the Suns.
“It’s not just the team scheme or help, it was these guys have got to battle their guy 1-on-1,” Hornacek said afterward. “Then if there’s help, there’s help. There’s too many easy things. Muhammad got in there and just shoved our guys around, got rebounds, did anything he wanted in there.”
Muhammad is Shabazz Muhammad, the rookie who played a career-high in minutes and scored a career-high 20 points.
For the much-maligned swingman, the Suns’ lackadaisical approach turned into a validating night for a player who entered college at UCLA with all the hype. Since, he’s only faced questions of selfishness and has been re-evaluated in the mainstream from a top-5 pick to a bust. Muhammad was always a relentless offensive rebounder in college, sure, but it was still a big deal he only played 10 or more minutes per game in four prior games.
At the end of the Timberwolves win Tuesday, Muhammad’s performance arguably became a more important topic in Minnesota than another ho-hum effort from forward Kevin Love, who scored 33, grabbed 13 rebounds and added nine assists.
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Tags: Jeff Hornacek · Phoenix Suns Analysis · Phoenix Suns News
Posted by Kevin Zimmerman on February 25th, 9:59 pm
PHOENIX – If Kevin Love doesn’t like playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves as some questionably-sourced rumors indicate, he sure seems set on auditioning everywhere he sets foot. On Tuesday night, that was in U.S. Airways Center.
He gave hopeful Phoenix Suns fans much to drool over in a 110-101 T-Wolves victory. Love scored 33 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and dolled out nine assists against Channing Frye, Markieff Morris, and for a short bit, even P.J. Tucker. It didn’t help the Timberwolves got a career performance from rookie Shabazz Muhammad, who scored 20 points, 10 of which came in the fourth quarter.
Markieff Morris led Phoenix with 24 points, and P.J. Tucker put in a valiant effort on the glass by recording 16 boards, eight of which were offensive.
But the Suns’ offense stalled in the final three minutes, when they went 0-of-8 from the field and also got chopped up by the active Minnesota offense, which had 35 points in the final frame.
Like it has been in many Suns losses of late, the defensive effort to start the game came on like a toaster oven heating up. It took a while to get cooking and it eventually cooled off once
The Suns bench made up for the deficit in the second, and once again it was Ish Smith that set the tone there.
Throughout the first 45 minutes, Phoenix found scoring to be easy. At halftime, the Suns led the T-Wolves 40-22 in points in the paint and 18-7 on the fastbreak. While they held Minnesota to below 44 percent shooting, the T-Wolves made up for their poor shooting by getting to the foul stripe.
But once the bench unit got up eight in the second half, an ankle sprain to point guard Goran Dragic and a brief reappearance marked the end of the Suns’ success. They couldn’t get the offense clicking and coach Jeff Hornacek certainly didn’t seem happy with the defensive effort.
To the questions from today’s game preview.
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Tags: Minnesota Timberwolves · Phoenix Suns Recap
Posted by Kevin Zimmerman on February 25th, 11:07 am
Time: 7 p.m. MST
The sight of the Phoenix Suns’ orange hasn’t been kind to Kevin Love in the past three years. In five games against Phoenix, the Minnesota Timberwolves power forward is shooting 35.5 percent.
Channing Frye has been a big part of that success, and he only missed one of the last five meetings last season because of his heart ailment. Love hardly played last year because of broken hands and a knee injury at the end of the year.
Now, both Frye and Love are healthy, and they’ll be engaged in one of the more intriguing NBA matchups Tuesday night in U.S. Airways Center. Few think of Frye as a defender who’s beefy enough to handle the league’s second-best rebounder and fourth-best scorer, who averages 13.2 boards along with 26.5 points per game. But Frye’s dealt some impressive defensive performances Love’s way in the last few years.
Maybe it comes to him easily because Love plays so similarly to Frye.
“Can’t give him much space,” Frye said. “I play him like I don’t want to be played and just try to stay on his hip and trust the guys behind me. He is going to score his points.”
Last time out, the Suns got a little lucky. In the only win of a five-game road trip following Eric Bledsoe’s knee injury, Phoenix pulled off a 104-103 win courtesy of Gerald Green’s game-winning jumper. In that Jan. 8 outing, Love was especially poor, going 4-for-20 from the field and scoring 15 points.
“Everyone is probably going to remind him of that, so it will be nice if you can let that go,” Frye joked after Monday practice.
So, will the Suns rebound from their first post-All-Star break loss to the Houston Rockets?
Onward to the pregame questions.
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Tags: Minnesota Timberwolves · Phoenix Suns Preview
Posted by Jeffrey Sanders on February 24th, 1:30 pm
PHOENIX — Eric Bledsoe has been making strides toward returning to the court in recent weeks and on Monday it became a reality. The 6-foot-1 guard played a 3-on-3 game at practice in his first real action since undergoing knee surgery to fix meniscus damage.
“I was a little bit rusty for the most part and appreciate my teammates coming out helping me,” Bledsoe said after his workout.
Suns coach Jeff Hornacek still needs to see Bledsoe run through a full practice and play in a 5-on-5 scrimmage before he returns to game action. Hornacek said Bledsoe could return to practice as soon as Saturday, but that is fully dependent on how the knee responds. Soreness is expected considering Monday was the first time Bledsoe gave his knee a full-go.
Bledsoe doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to come back and he wants to make sure he is 100 percent before returning.
“I am just taking my time and going to continue to be one of the biggest cheerleaders out on the bench, and I am just going to take my time,” Bledsoe said.
The Suns have handled their business by going 14-11 since Bledsoe’s injury, which occurred just before the calendar flipped to 2014.
Earlier this week, the Arizona Republic’s Paul Coro was first to report that Bledsoe’s return was on the horizon.
Tags: Eric Bledsoe