Milwaukee Bucks 108, Phoenix Suns 99 — Road block


Milwaukee Bucks’ Brandon Jennings (3) and Phoenix Suns’ Goran Dragic, left, watch a loose ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

The Phoenix Suns have made losing an art form over their last 10 games, and Tuesday night’s masterpiece in Milwaukee was no exception.

As was the case in Friday night’s 87-80 defeat to the Utah Jazz, Phoenix raced out to an impressive 33-26 first quarter lead at the Bradley Center on 14-of-22 shooting, but couldn’t maintain the torrid offensive pace over the final 36 minutes.

Playing without veteran head coach Scott Skiles, who parted ways with the organization Monday night after four-plus seasons, the Bucks outscored the Suns in each of the last three quarters en route to a much-needed 108-99 victory.

Phoenix’s third-straight defeat was just the latest example of how 36 games into the 2012-13 season, Alvin Gentry’s squad still has yet to form any sense of an identity.

Without a game-changing scorer (despite a sudden desire to acquire one), lock-down defenders capable of stopping opposing teams from reeling off long runs or any semblance of consistency from a starting unit, there is no telling where rock bottom is for Phoenix (season-worst 12 games below .500) with 46 games still to play.

Those glaring issues collectively arose in the third quarter, and Brandon Jennings (game-high 29 points and nine assists),  Ersan Ilyasova (re-inserted back into the starting lineup Tuesday) and the Bucks’ defense made the Suns pay with a 13-0 spurt that completely altered the complexion of the contest.

“We just didn’t come up with the plays,” head coach Alvin Gentry said. “We have to come up with stops and make baskets. And we didn’t do that. And that’s where the separation came when you look at their 13-0 run.”

While the Suns briefly regained the lead (66-64) midway through the quarter, the air of optimism the team had briefly built up heading into the half had completely been undone, and when push came to shove down the stretch a repetitive theme took over: the more-talented side prevailed.

Phoenix was not without plenty of notable individual performances, as Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat recorded double-doubles, Jared Dudley rebounded nicely (18 points and eight assists) from his 1-for-3 performance against Memphis, and Goran Dragic led the way with 21 points.

But for a team lacking confidence, veteran leadership and an apparent wealth of talent, individual contributions fall flat even in the face of a .500 Eastern Conference team going through a coaching change.

After their 33-point first quarter outburst, the Suns went 28-of-72 from the field the rest of the way, including a putrid 4-of-20 from three-point range. Still Phoenix had chances to make the contest a one-possession game in the waning moments, yet couldn’t find anyone willing or capable of making a key shot.

“We couldn’t get the ball in the basket when we needed to,” said Gentry. “We had a five-point game with the ball and couldn’t do anything or come up with the plays.”

Even when the likes of Gortat, Scola and Shannon Brown had decent looks at the basket in the second half, the NBA’s leading shot blocker, Larry Sanders (3.1 bpg), was more than willing to alter their course.

Sanders finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and a game-high six blocks, two of which came in the final minute of play leading Milwaukee fans to chant “Larry! Larry! Larry!” as he playfully searched for the ball as it entered the stands off his mighty right hand.

While Milwaukee snapped its season-high four game losing streak on a day that saw former Suns assistant coach Jim Boylan take over as the team’s interim coach, the Suns were forced to hop on a red eye flight with a glaring statistic to digest on their way to Boston.

Through 17 road games, Phoenix is now 2-15 on the season, good for worst in the Western Conference. The last time the Suns reached this level of ineptitude on the road was the 2003-04 campaign, when the team record three wins in their first 17 contests away from the Valley.

Staring at their worst 10-game stretch of the season to date (1-9), the road doesn’t get any easier, as Gentry and Co. still have three more games away from the US Airways Center on their current four-game road swing.

Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and the Celtics await their arrival for Wednesday night’s non-conference matchup fresh off their most impressive victory of the season, a 102-96 road win over the New York Knicks.

But as Tuesday night’s underwhelming showcase illustrated, the Suns need not worry about opposing teams at this point, after all, any display of team basketball would be nothing short of surrealism.

And 1…

  • Suns guard Diante Garrett’s return to Milwaukee wasn’t much to write home about. Lucky for the undrafted free agent, written words were not necessary to describe Tuesday’s loss, as plenty of friends and family flocked to the Bradley Center hoping to get a glimpse of the local product. The former Vincent High School star failed to see any action, as Gentry opted for his usual combination of Goran Dragic and Sebastian Telfair.
  • In a battle of the league’s only two Slovenian players, Dragic had the upper hand over long-time friend Beno Udrih. While Udrih was effective scoring 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting off the bench, Phoenix’s starting point guard led the team with 21 points.
  • Tuesday’s defeat may not have caught anyone off guard but given the teams’ recent head-to-head results it’s a little bit surprising.  Heading into the game, the Suns had won 16 of their last 21 games in Milwaukee. The Bucks were also 2-8 against Western Conference foes in 2012-13 before facing Phoenix.