When the Phoenix Suns entered the 2015-16 season, some thought of them as a playoff-caliber team. Most had the Suns winning 35-45 games.
Now four months later, the Suns are missing six of their top seven players from a 7-5 start. Only P.J. Tucker remains in the lineup from that opening few weeks, and he's not going to win you games all by himself.
Going into the All-Star break, the Suns had already lost Eric Bledsoe (knee/December), Brandon Knight (groin/January) and T.J. Warren (foot/February) who accounted for 50% of the Suns scoring. Now, suddenly the Suns are down Markieff Morris (trade), Tyson Chandler (shoulder) and Alex Len (ankle), who accounted for nearly half the Suns rebounds.
Particularly distressing is the Alex Len injury. He can't seem to shake off ankle rolls, and this week he apparently rolled it again after making it through 51 of the Suns first 54 games this season. He missed last night's game, and no further updates were provided on the seriousness of the ankle issue.
On Chandler's shoulder injury, interim coach Watson said "it didn't look good, so who knows". He apparently got it twisted up in a scuffle for the ball in the second quarter.
In the second half of the game against Houston, the Suns were playing a whole roster of guys around P.J. Tucker who no one counted on for big minutes even a month ago: Devin Booker, Archie Goodwin, Ronnie Price, Jon Leuer, Kris Humphries, Mirza Teletovic, Sonny Weems and Jordan McRae.
Needless to say, this Suns rotation is not very good.
The only way they're going to win is with incredible effort and great coaching to get guys into positions to score.
"We don't make any excuses," Watson said. "We know what we lost, we know how we got to improve, and this is an opportunity for our staff to be innovative."
The top regular scorers in their lineup are Teletovic, who needs to catch-and-shoot to score, and Devin Booker, who needs some help to get open as well. They are without any quality point guard play to do that setting up.
"We have to figure out a way to score when we need set calls in critical points in the game," Watson said. "We understand we don't have any low-post scoring right now. We're trying to create and we did create 20-plus points for Mirza. We have that down."
Watson said they appreciated the 18 points from Kris Humphries, who wasn't even supposed to play in the game but was forced into big time action when Len was scratched and Chandler got injured.
Otherwise, his main scorer is rookie Devin Booker.
"If you watch the game, they made sure [Booker] didn't touch the ball," Watson said. "They were just more physical and when you're 19 and you're coming into this league, it's different. You have to go through that experience to know how to handle it in the future. So we have to live with that."
Kim Kardashian's ex-husband is now playing for his 7th team in 12 seasons. He was forced into action when Chandler went down, just a few hours removed from landing in Phoenix after being acquired yesterday from Washington.
"I didn't even know if I was going to play," Humphries said. "I got out there this afternoon, MRIs, doc stuff, all that. I actually got here and got only about a five minute warm-up on the court and just came out and played. It's tough to get thrown in there but we've got guys down and stuff."
For the Suns, he became only the 13th player in franchise history to get a double-double in their debut. Humphries scored 18 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in 27 minutes, including a three to close out the Suns scoring at the end of the blowout.
He knows his role.
"I've always been kind of a hustle player," he said. "Rebound, defend, run the floor and I can bring that to this team and just play hard and do whatever the coaches ask me to do."
The Suns leading scorer these days got 25 points, and was the only player to make more than 1/3 of his shots against the Rockets.
Mirza said it was especially tough losing their top two centers.
"Very difficult to be honest," he said. "We kind of had like two days to prepare ourselves for the game. Then A-Len twisted his ankle and has been out. He's a very important piece for us, I think he's our best post-player. Especially, they have (Dwight) Howard and also defensive rebound, he's blocking shots and it's not easy to drive when you have a seven-foot-two guy standing there and can block shots."
But it was the loss of Tyson Chandler that really killed the Suns chances.
"You can see once he got out of the game that's when it went downhill," Teletovic said.
The Suns played well for the first 1+ quarters, even leading 34-32 when Chandler got his shoulder wrenched. With the Suns down to 9 healthy bodies (you saw them listed above), Houston outscored Phoenix 41-13 to blow the game open over the next 9:41 of game time.
After that, it was just garbage time.
Unfortunately, we didn't get to the best of the future. Suns kids update for the Houston game:
- Alex Len: ankle injury, missed game
- Archie Goodwin: 10 points on 3/13 shooting, with 4 assists
- Devin Booker: 10 points on 3/10 shooting, only 1 assist
- T.J. Warren: out for season (foot)
Final, Final Word
Over in Washington, it's interesting to see that three of the Wizards top players for their playoff push were key players on the Suns until-now worst season since inception. Marcin Gortat, Jared Dudley and Markieff Morris were all rotation players for the Lindsey Hunter era as the Suns stumbled to 25-57 and the 5th pick in the Draft.
Final, Final, Final Word
Bring on San Antonio! The Spurs come to town for a Sunday afternoon matinee tomorrow. I know, I know, the anticipation is killing you.