Magic Grant a Wish: Suns Lose, Though That’s Still a Win

Mar 17, 2017; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) is guarded by Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier (10) in the second half at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Magic won 109-103. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 17, 2017; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) is guarded by Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier (10) in the second half at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Magic won 109-103. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports /

The Suns came one step closer to securing a minimum of the third-worst record in the league tonight, and that started before the Magic game even tipped off.

Although he hasn’t played in three weeks, Brandon Knight apparently had been – at least seemingly – presumed to replace Eric Bledsoe in the lineup when it had been announced that Bledsoe would be benched for the rest of the season just two nights ago. Knight, who hadn’t played a second since prior to the All-Star break, could have used the final 15 games to showcase himself for a future team, not only for the Suns’ benefit in building up what they might receive in a trade, but his own.

This though was not to be as just minutes prior to tonight’s tip-off it was reported that Knight too would be shut down for the season. While not much of a blow to the team’s chances at winning (he had been the worst or second worst +/- player in the NBA for most of the season) there is no doubt that the young shooting guard could have been a worthwhile replacement off the bench to give either Booker or Ulis a blow, but would have been at least an experienced voice on the court -at 25 Knight would have been the Senior member of most lineups.

With or without Brandon Knight the Suns are tanking and tanking hard and so is tonight’s matchup, the Orlando Magic. Unfortunately for the Magic, they will have a more difficult time catching up to the Suns in the standings since they reside in the less formidable Eastern Conference, but their attempt is no less intentional and obvious following their pre-deadline trade of Serge Ibaka.

Heading into the fourth quarter, Phoenix held a slim one point lead although they had only led for a a matter of minutes to this point in the game. Much like two nights prior against Sacramento, the Suns fought to take a lead late, this time with 6:25 remaining after a Tyler Ulis jumper. The Suns needed only to stick to the fundamentals of fourth quarter basketball – get stops, hold onto the ball, and hit their shots.

However, like the Sacramento game, their failure to succeed in any of these points of emphasis prevented the Young Suns from pulling out the victory. Over the final 6:25 the Suns shot a miserable 3-11 from the field with 2 turnovers, preventing themselves from ever having a chance to stay close with the more composed Magic.

In the fourth quarter the Suns shot 7-24 including 1-6 from beyond the arc, whereas the Magic finished the period 9-21 and 3-7, respectively. While one would presume that a more veteran team would be able to do what was necessary to pull out the victory tonight at home, the Young Suns are still trying to learn how to deal with fourth quarter pressure.

Phoenix’s poor shooting has been their downfall for most of the season, but recently it has taken a turn for the worst. In the two games now without Eric Bledsoe (who had not been shooting all too well as it is), the Suns have shot only 8-39 from beyond the arc for 20.5%, including 3-14 in the past two fourth quarters. While their field goal percentage has been slightly above their average at 43%, they have failed to convert down the stretch – hence losing the late leads. The Suns have held one point leads heading into the fourth quarter in each of the two and have had leads with at least six minutes remaining, but in neither outing have they had the fortitude to remain in control and bring home the win.

Thus, for tankers, they won.

"30. Brooklyn Nets                   (13-55) –29. Los Angeles Lakers          (20-49) 6.528. Phoenix Suns                     (22-47) 8.527. Orlando Magic                   (25-45) 11The Suns are now 11-13 All-Time on St. Patrick’s Day."

For the second straight game T.J. Warren led the team in points scoring 26 on 8-13 from the field, including 10-10 from the line. Warren is continuing to expand to his career-high string of scoring in double-figures, which after tonight now sits at 13.

Devin Booker has failed to take the lead without Eric Bledsoe. Starting alongside Tyler Ulis for the second consecutive game, Booker has shot absolutely poorly, tonight finishing with 10 points – all in the second half – on 3-13 shooting. He is now 9-39 in his past two games and after not attempting a single three-pointer against Sacramento, went 0-2 against Orlando. Tonight he added in 3 assists and 4 rebounds in 30:20.

Tyler Ulis once again impressed with 19 points on 8-17 from the field and 8 assists in a new career-high 40:25. In his two starts he is now averaging 15 points, 11 assists, and 2 turnovers.

Due to foul trouble, Alan Williams played only 16:16 and failed to reach a double-double for only the second time this month finishing with 12 points, and 7 rebounds. Derrick Jones Jr., who suffered what appeared to be a terrible fall on a block attempt against the Kings, landing on his tail bone and suffering a contusion, was able to play tonight recording 6 points and grabbing 2 caroms in 16:32.

Evan Fornier led the Magic in scoring with 25 points on 8-19 shooting. Elfrid Payton recorded a double-double with 10 points and 11 assists, although Nikola Vucevic too recorded one, only his was with a slightly more impressive 18 points and 17 rebounds. As mentioned in the pregame preview, Vucevic is free again without Serge Ibaka on the roster and has brought his scoring and rebounding averages back up to pre-Ibaka levels.

Vucevic is only 26-years old and is signed under a very  reasonable contract for the next two seasons. The Magic would be wise to shop him for picks this off-season.