Toronto Raptors 99, Phoenix Suns 96 — Road trip hangover


PHOENIX — Much has changed about the Phoenix Suns since Steve Nash signed as a free agent before the 2004-05 season yet one constant had remained: the Suns always beat the Toronto Raptors.

Not anymore.

The Suns’ longest active winning streak over a single opponent was snapped Tuesday night in Toronto’s 99-96 victory after the Suns had beaten the Raptors 14 consecutive times. In so doing Toronto (5-13) also waived goodbye to a current eight-game losing streak.

Phoenix losing to a bad team at home has now become more the rule than the exception as the Suns have dropped games to 5-13 New Jersey and 6-10 Cleveland as well as a New Orleans team that has lost 14 of 16 since winning in the Valley on opening night.

“Disappointing, very disappointing,” Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said to open his postgame remarks.

It’s never OK to lose to a struggling team on a long road trip, but it’s understandable that the Suns were just tuckered out from their own five-game road trip that concluded last night in Dallas and saw them arrive in Phoenix in the middle of the night.

The Suns actually got off to a great start, opening the game by hitting 13-of-24 while limiting Toronto to 9-of-24 to spurt out to a 35-21 lead three minutes into the second quarter.

But the Suns shot just 44.8 percent the rest of the way and were outscored 62-44 in the middle two quarters before a late run fell short.

Gentry applauded the Suns’ energy in the first quarter but said the Suns didn’t play with the same defensive intensity in the second.

“We almost got into a situation where we were trading baskets, which is not a good thing,” Gentry said. “Then we struggled to score.”

Andrea Bargnani did not, however. Bargnani, who missed the previous six Toronto losses with a calf injury, exploded for 27 of his game-high 36 points in the second half and nearly outscored the Suns in the third quarter alone, losing it 19-18.

The Italian sharpshooter drilled 4-of-5 threes during his second half onslaught, which opened up driving lanes for him. Once he started scoring like that, the Raptors transformed into a different team.

“We gave him a little too much spacing,” Gentry said of the player largely defended by Markieff Morris. “We didn’t get in on the screen and rolls and show hard enough and get out quite quick enough. The guy is a hell of a player.”

Added Nash, “He was just too much for us.”

The Suns still had their chances on a couple of different occasions late in the fourth. They cut the lead to four with 5:13 left, but a Grant Hill missed layup and a Marcin Gortat missed seven-footer prevented the Suns from getting any closer at that point.

After the lead ballooned to nine, the Suns sliced it down to two on a Jared Dudley steal and dunk, his first of the season. But after Bargnani drilled a pair of free throws, Nash missed a driving layup that would have continued the foul game and thus their fate was sealed.

Statistically it was more of the same for Phoenix. Nash (17 points, 14 assists, seven boards but six turnovers) and Gortat (21 points, 12 boards) once again put up gaudy numbers, and this time they were joined by Hakim Warrick (17 points on 6-for-9).  On the flip side, Channing Frye and Dudley combined to shoot 3-for-14 off the pine.

Gentry refused to feel defeated after yet another bad home less, instead offering up this proclamation.

“We’ve got to continue to work, we’ve got to continue to be united, and we’ve got to continue to try to get better,” he said. “That’s the only thing as a coach that I know how to do. There’s nobody that’s going to quit, we’re not going to let anybody quit, and we’ll continue to try to figure it out, and we’ll continue to try to turn our season around.

“No one’s going to throw in the towel, I know that. I’m not going to allow that from a player standpoint or coaching standpoint. We’re going to continue to try to get better and execute a little bit better.”

In a clearly frustrated Suns locker room, Nash was the only player to speak to reporters and he succinctly summed up Phoenix’s next step.

“We just don’t have the talent to go out there and win games,” Two Time said. “We’ve got to find a little bit something extra, we’ve got to find a little magic in our chemistry and our cohesion, and we haven’t found it yet. It’s tough, we aren’t practicing so we’ve got to really concentrate on games and in film sessions to try to find that little extra.”

Thus far the whole is adding up to the sum of its parts and nothing more for a Suns team that lost despite holding the lowly Raptors to 41.5 percent shooting from the field and yielding only 11 offensive boards.

It’s the kind of gut punch loss that could portend a season that gets ugly in a hurry with Phoenix facing three straight West playoff teams before hitting the road for seven of nine, yet that’s not the way Nash chooses to see it.

“You’ve got a choice to be optimistic or pessimistic every day, and I’m going to try to be as optimistic as I can,” he said.

Games like this are not making it easy for Nash to maintain that point of view.

Suns won’t extend Lopez

Lon Babby confirmed to former ValleyoftheSuns reporter Tyler Lockman that Robin Lopez will not receive a contract extension by Wednesday’s deadline, thus making him a free agent at the end of the year.

The Suns will be able to extend Lopez a $4,001,917 qualifying offer after the season that would make him a restricted free agent.

“I wouldn’t read anymore into it than there’s a deadline and the deadline’s going to pass,” Babby told Lockman. “And we’ve agreed to put this off to another day.”

Lopez was not exactly playing for a contract on Tuesday night as he was ejected just 3:46 into his evening after making contact with an official. Lopez was incensed about a no-call at the offensive end and then ran down and committed a bad open court foul at the other end before earning the ejection.

“I don’t know, and I don’t really give a s–t to tell you the truth,” Gentry said when asked about the ejection. “You’d have to talk to him about that.”

And 1

The Polish Hammer produced his ninth straight double-double, extending the league’s longest active streak and the longest by a Sun since Shawn Marion during the 2005-06 campaign. Gortat has also boarded 12 or more caroms in six straight, the longest streak since Marion that same season. Not surprisingly, Gortat has led the Suns in rebounding for the ninth straight game which is — say it together — the longest Suns streak since Marion did so 16 consecutive times in 2006. … Nash recorded his NBA-leading third game with 14 or more dimes. His 17-14-7 line has only been done twice this year (Rose and Rondo).