The Suns entered last week with the biggest win of the season under their belt, a 102-77 dismantling of a Portland Trailblazers squad that had rolled into town with a 5-1 record. A 109-93 thumping of the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday gave the Suns hope going into a showdown with the rival Lakers, but a Kobe Bryant supernova performance in LA foreshadowed a gigantic crash as the Suns two-game homestand featured losses to the mediocre Cavs and lowly Nets before a difficult 5-game road trip started with a loss to a Spurs team missing Manu Ginobili.
Hope and a 4-4 record gave way to injuries and 4-game losing streak, dropping the Suns to 4-8 and a tie for the #11 position in the West with upcoming road games against the Bulls, Knicks, Celtics and Mavericks.
This was a rough week, and things figure to get worse before they get better. Read on for more of the gory details.
Record for the week (January 8-15): 1-4
Average Score: Opponents 101.0, Suns 95.2
Losing to the Lakers and Spurs on the road is excusable. Losing to the Cavs and Nets at home? Not so much. And it isn't as if we can point to one or two issues that are the cause of the problems; there are plenty to choose from. Against the Lakers, Kobe had one of his tremendous scoring performances and the Suns offense collapsed down the stretch. Cavs star rookie Kyrie Irving victimized us against Cleveland, then our elderly team leaders Steve Nash and Grant Hill missed the Nets game due to minor injuries, and the Nets shot the lights out from behind the arc. And the Spurs.....well, the Spurs are simply a better team than us. Shooting, defense, rebounding, lack of a go-to scorer late in games and age have taken turns as the fatal flaws with the team.
Western Conference Position: 11th (tied)
What's troubling when looking at the Western Conference standings is that the following teams are virtual shoo-ins to make the playoffs: Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, LA Lakers, LA Clippers, Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets. That's six playoff spots. Then there are the Blazers, who have cooled since their fast start but still figure to be strong players in the mix, and the Utah Jazz, off to a surprising 8-4 start behind deep frontcourt play and defense. Who among those teams can the Suns realistically be expected to pass for a playoff spot?
Offensive Rating: 103.2 (13th out of 30), PPG: 93.8 (19th out of 30)
The Suns offense started to perk up with high output nights against the Blazers and Bucks, but came back down to earth during the losing streak, and the team still has only three players averaging double figure scoring with Marcin Gortat's measly 14.3PPG leading the way.
Through twelve games, the Suns have only scored 100+ points four times. Remember when the Nash-led Suns used to blow the doors off teams with relentless scoring? Those days are in the past, and there are plenty of reasons for that. Our wings are poor shooters and generally not NBA starter quality players. Gortat continues to improve his mid-range shot and post game and has been our most dependable threat, but Channing Frye is as inconsistent as ever. Markieff Morris has been a mixed bag as well, to be expected from a rookie.
Defensive Rating: 104.8 (23rd out of 30), PPG Allowed: 95.3 (17th out of 30)
Unfortunately, after a strong defensive start, this is closer to what we're used to seeing and, while the Suns have shown flashes of improved defensive play, breakdowns persist and the Suns last three opponents scored over 100 points while their star players (Kyrie Irving, Deron Williams and Tim Duncan) all exceeded their PPG averages playing against the Suns.
Pace: 90.9 (20th out of 30)
The Suns are not pushing tempo the way they were in their heyday, and the way coach Alvin Gentry claims they still want to with this team. The uptempo game has been the Suns identity throughout the Nash era. What is the team's identity now?
Game of the Week: Suns 109, Bucks 93
It seems like so long ago that the Suns blew the Milwaukee Bucks out 109-93 on January, 8th in Phoenix behind the double digit scoring of seven players and 56% shooting from the field. Of course, the Bucks are a team that a.) had played the Clippers in LA on the previous night and b.) hadn't beaten the Suns in Phoenix since Reagan was president, but the Suns dominated this game from the beginning and led the Bucks by 25 points going into the fourth before emptying the bench.
Stud of the Week: Marcin Gortat
Marcin Gortat has been a solid defender and rebounder since joining the Suns, and his offensive game has continued to progress. Over these last 5 games, he averaged 18.4 points and 10.8 rebounds per game on 64.7% shooting. Those right there are all-star numbers, as he's playing better since the splint was removed from his thumb. We finally have a center! Now, can somebody please consistently help the Polish Hammer out?
Dud of the Week: Grant Hill
Remember the last couple of years when we marveled at how Grant Hill looked like an athlete 5-10 years younger than he is? Well, this year's edition of Grant Hill looks every day of his 39 years and 103 days of age. He had his best offensive performance of the year against the Bucks with 14 points on 6-11 shooting, then followed it up with a train wreck of a 1-12 shooting night as the Lakers dared him to take open shots. Then he injured his quad early in the Cavs game. Removing the one game he completely missed and the other he missed most of, Hill averaged 7.7 points, 1.3 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game on 32.1% shooting. Yes, he's been dinged up most of the season and his defense is still an asset but his offensive production is truly awful right now.
All in all, lots of holes on this team and a brutal stretch of games coming up. It was critical that the Suns come out of the gate strong and win their games against "beatable" opponents before this road trip, and that didn't happen. Time is running out quickly. At the end of this road trip, the Suns will have completed about 25% of their schedule (16 games out of 66) and are staring 4-12 or 5-11 in the face. Day of reckoning is approaching as hopes for the season fade fast. The Suns front office will soon be forced to make a lot of hard decisions about the future of this roster because the current mix isn't getting it done.