Suns Analysis: Ending The Delusion

Mar 7, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Phoenix Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek during the second half against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. The Cavs won 89-79. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 7, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Phoenix Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek during the second half against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. The Cavs won 89-79. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s ironic that after months of competing with Western Conference juggernauts, an Eastern Conference team ensured that Jeff Hornacek doesn’t have to worry about the playoffs.

Hornacek reportedly stated before Friday night’s Brooklyn Nets game that Phoenix needed to win 15 of its final 20 games to make the postseason. While it’s certainly an aesthetically pleasing whole number, there’s no guarantee 15 wins would be enough in the hyper competitive West.

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Then again, it doesn’t really matter because if anyone was harboring any delusions about the Suns’ ability to win that many games, they were crushed Saturday night.

After a hot shooting first quarter in what would ultimately be an 89-79 loss to the Cleavland Cavaliers, the Suns still trailed by six thanks to their indifferent and just generally inept defense.

What followed was a 24-minute stretch disturbingly similar to ones against the Spurs and Nets over the last couple of weeks that had announcers throwing out terms like “franchise low” and “worst ever.”

Phoenix shot 18.6 percent over the course of the second and third quarters, went seven minutes without a bucket and at one point missed 12 straight shots.

Even more concerning than the abysmal shooting was the complete and utter apathy that crept through the team. Markieff Morris, never the most expressive guy, looked like the only one that gave a crap the game was slipping away. No one was attacking, and pace and space slowly transformed into stagnate and wait.

The two point guard attack is suppose to ensure that the offense is constantly humming even when one of the two is exhausted, and when both floor generals fall flat, so does the offense. Throughout the second quarter Bledsoe couldn’t buy a shot and Knight looked checked out, at least on offense.

Consecutive plays in the third quarter — featuring P.J. Tucker throwing the ball out of bounds when attempting to enter it to Keef and missing a five footer before tossing his hands up in frustration — acted as microcosms of the 24-minute stretch.

Just seven weeks earlier, the Suns spoiled LeBron James‘s return in Phoenix. The 35-point performance looked like a sign of bigger and better things for Keef, but the twin hasn’t performed that well since. Goran Dragic completely outplayed Kyrie Irving on the way to 18 points while hitting over half his shots, but he’s in Miami now.

Alex Len dropped a cool 13 and 10, but he’s currently dealing with yet another ankle injury. Most importantly, Phoenix has since dropped from the thick of the playoff race to, for all intents and purposes, out of it.

Over that same stretch, the Cavs have transformed into legitimate title contenders, winning 21 out of their last 26 games.

The dissonance between the direction of the two teams was never clearer than after watching this passing sequence between Irving, Kevin Love and LeBron James.

Compare that to 20 minutes of watching the ball look like it was stuck in quicksand on the Suns’ side of the floor.

Cleavland had (and still has) everything the Suns lack; star power, unitity, ball movement and an affiliation with an infinitely more forgiving conference.

Both president Lon Babby and general manager Ryan McDonough were insistent after a flurry of trade deadline moves that this team wasn’t any worse for the wear this season.

With a 10-game sample size it’s fair to say that’s not the case. Phoenix’s scoring margin has dropped off from +1.2 to -3.7 since the deadline, as they’ve dropped six of the 10. If Saturday night was any indication, the good vibes in the chemistry department have also dissipated.

That 10-game stretch also represented the easiest Phoenix had left this season with half the games coming against sub-.500 teams. The Suns only have four games left against sub .500 teams the entire rest of the season.

The fact that a 13-1 fourth quarter run — led by the Sun’s youthful bench — to bring Phoenix within 21 was the brightest spot on the night was a painful indicator that the playoffs should no longer be the priority.

The post trade deadline edition of the Suns clearly isn’t good enough to get a playoff spot or avoid getting embarrassed if they get there. While realists both inside and outside the organization probably knew that right after the deadline, now it’s been brutally confirmed.

With that fourth quarter push in mind, Phoenix should use their remaining 18 games to find out what exactly it they have in the assorted millennials scattered throughout their bench.

T.J. Warren looked strong against the Cavaliers in his 12 minutes, dropping eight points on an efficient 4-of-5 from the field. He was his usual active self on the glass collecting five rebounds and had some moments agains LeBron James on defense. He should be playing just as much as someone like P.J. Tucker, who for everything he brings isn’t likely to be apart of this team’s nucleus if and when they’re competing for titles.

Archie Goodwinwho’s shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc since the deadline, should be pushed into every lineup possible to find out what his limits are. It’s also worth finding out whether keeping Brandan Wright and to a lesser degree Reggie Bullock past this season makes sense.

This isn’t a call for an all-out tank because it’s much too late for that to be effective, but it’s well past time to start prioritizing evaluation and future benefits over “winning,” which stopped being a realistic goal at the deadline.

It’ll be difficult to justify as a PR move, but continuing a mistake for the sake of PR isn’t how successful basketball teams (or anything else for that matter) are run. Saturday night’s game by itself isn’t a cause to shift outlooks, but in the context of the previous nine the Suns need to end the delusion and let the kids have their shot.

Next: Suns Analysis: Breaking Down Phoenix's Recent Offensive Woes

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