|Steve Nash: A rough weekend on the road.|
The Phoenix Suns are not a very good basketball team right now. And it was a particularly dismal weekend on the road for Alvin Gentry's squad, whose impressive start to the season (they went 14-3) has been all but squandered in recent weeks. At the halfway point of the season, the Suns' 24-17 record appears to have them on track for a playoff berth in the Western Conference, but the way they're playing indicates a one-and-done postseason run.
On Saturday, Nash and the gang played their worst overall game of the season, a 125-99 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats. On Friday, though, they suffered their most heart-breaking game of the year. In that one, a 102-101 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the Suns led by four points with just 10 seconds to go.
Somehow, after Steve Nash made two free throws to make the score a seemingly comfortable 100-96 with 10 seconds to go, the Hawks managed to get two more possessions -- and make the most of them. With six seconds left in the game, the Hawks' Josh Smith was fouled. He missed the second of two free throws but, unforgivably, there was not a Sun to be found blocking out anybody in the lane -- unless you count Nash and Grant Hill, who ran into each in mid-air and crumpled to the floor. The Hawks' Jamal Crawford grabbed the rebound without having to make any kind of effort and easily laid the ball up for two points. Now, it's 100-99.
On what should've been the final possession of the game, A'mare Stoudemire was fouled, but he missed the second of two free throws with three seconds left. The Hawks called a timeout. On the inbound pass from near half-court, Mike Bibby threw the ball to Crawford, who took a couple of dribbles to shake off defender Jared Dudley before launching a 28-footer shot that glided through the hoop as time expired. The final score read 102-101 as the Hawks celebrated at half-court. The stunner put the Hawks at 26-13 on the season, and they look like a team heading in a more positive direction than the Suns.
Crawford was the man off the bench Friday night, scoring 21 points. Hawks star Al Horford led the team with 24 points. For the Suns, it was Stoudemire, who had a big game, despite missing that key free throw near the end. Stoudemire had 28 points and 14 rebounds. Grant Hill actually showed some signs of life with a 21-effort. Nash was shut down by Bibby, scoring only 12 points on 3-for-8 shooting.
The Suns sulked out of Atlanta's Philips Center to catch a flight to Charlotte for a Saturday-night date with the Bobcats. Clearly, hung over from Friday's heartbreaker, the Suns simply let the Charlotte team run wild in the first quarter, in which the 'Cats outscored the Suns 43-23. Ouch. By the time, the Suns regained some control in the second half, the game was already over.
At one point, the Bobcats led by 39 points as they won their fourth straight game. For the Suns, it was their 10th loss in their past 11 road games. There was only one bright spot for the Suns in the 125-99 debacle: While scoring a team-high 19 points, Amar'e Stoudemire logged his 10,000th career point, the youngest player in Suns history to accomplish the feat. Cold comfort, for sure.
Grant Hill pretty much summed up the evening's performance after the game: "We played some poor ball." No kidding. With this one turning into a laugher early, Gentry set down starters Jason Richardson, Hill, and Channing Frye to give guys like Robin Lopez, Earl Clark, and Jared Dudley some decent playing time. Mostly, they responded. Lopez had 14 points and Clark had 12. Also, Leandro Barbosa scored 17 points in 25 minutes off the bench. Meanwhile, Steve Nash went 2-for-7 from the field and tallied only five points in 26 minutes of playing time. Obviously, he was still stinging from Friday night's trainwreck.
Today, on Martin Luther King Day, the Suns will play a day game in the town where King was assassinated, Memphis. The game against the Grizzlies will be the final contest on the Suns' four-game road trip before they return to Phoenix to play the New Jersey Nets on Wednesday. The 21-18 Grizzlies have won three in a row, including a nice 92-86 triumph over the San Antonio Spurs, and are 14-5 when playing at home. On January 2, the Grizzlies pounded the Suns 122-103 at US Airways Center. Memphis is a high-powered team with two guys, Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay, averaging over 20 points a game and yet another, O.J. Mayo, averaging just over 18 points a game.
Tipoff: 3:30 p.m. TV: My45. Radio: KTAR 620 AM. More info: www.suns.com