PHOENIX – In the Phoenix Suns’ quest to line up their draft-lottery ducks, Sunday was a pretty successful day.
We’ll start with The Big Conveyance, which refers to they lottery spot the Suns will inherit should the Los Angeles Lakers fail to resuscitate their season in time to reach the playoffs. So, in a result Suns fans must have celebrated for multiple reasons, the Lakers were thumped on national TV by the L.A. Clippers.
Team up that finish with the Utah Jazz’s victory over the Golden State Warriors and the Lakers now trail the Jazz by a half-game for the eighth playoff seed. And don’t forget, ladies and gentlemen, that Utah owns the tiebreaker in the event of ending the season in a dead heat.
Anyway, in the Suns’ unofficial bid to nail down the lottery’s third seed, their Sunday date with the New Orleans Hornets ended in a 95-92 defeat. It was Phoenix’s ninth consecutive loss and 13th in the last 14 games.
“I think the biggest disappointment for us tonight was how we didn’t respond when they (Hornets) got physical,” Suns interim coach Lindsey Hunter said. “We just didn’t respond.
“I don’t think we played desperate. We didn’t have a blue-collar mentality.”
For the record, the Suns did have immunity from completely poisoning their Ping-Pong-ball potential with a victory because the Cleveland Cavaliers maintained their hold on the NBA’s fourth-worst record by not losing a contest with the second-seeded (for draft purposes) Orlando Magic.
But a third quarter decisively won, 35-19, by the Hornets (now 27-50) made another fourth-quarter rally from the Suns qualify for the too-little, too-late file.
“The type of team we are, there can’t be time off on the court,” said Hunter, now 10-26 since taking over for Alvin Gentry.
Suns fans were treated to their first in-person performance by Eric Gordon since the older brother of Arizona State guard Evan Gordon signed an offer sheet with Phoenix last summer.
As you may recall, Gordon — whose bum knee allowed him to play just nine games for the Hornets last season — had that charitable four-year, $58 million offer matched by New Orleans.
In his 37th game through the first 77 on the Hornets’ schedule this season, the 24-year-old shooting guard scored 17 points on 4-of-11 shooting. That’s a bit more efficient than the 3-for-14 marksmanship Gordon turned in during the Suns’ loss to the Hornets in New Orleans back on Feb. 6.
It should be noted that, according to a report from the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Gordon’s alleged lack of situational hustle in the Hornets’ previous game provoked a loud (and negative) public critique from New Orleans coach Monty Williams. Gordon answered in kind, according to this account, and – probably not coincidentally – didn’t return to the Hornets’ lineup for the rest of that game.
Maybe the heart Gordon needed to make a hasty retreat on defense was still in Phoenix.
Although the Hornets were on board with not talking about this encounter once they reached Arizona, the tiff has been hailed by national NBA pundits as further evidence that New Orleans wouldn’t mind trading Gordon this summer.
Gordon, by the way, still is restricted from playing games on consecutive nights. The Hornets are 16-21 with him in the lineup, 11-29 when he isn’t. Now that’s value.
SPEAKING OF HUSTLE
This season’s winner of the Dan Majerle Hustle Award is first-year Suns forward P.J. Tucker, who returned to work in the NBA after spending several seasons playing abroad.
The 11th winner of the award was announced by Majerle in a recorded message delivered on the US Airways Center video board before the game. Majerle, recently hired as head coach of the Division I-bound Grand Canyon University men’s basketball team, was at the Final Four in Atlanta.
“Knowing what he meant to this franchise and this city, for me to win this award is huge,” Tucker said.
ONE YEAR TOO LATE
It’s no secret that NBA draft watchdogs are accusing the 2013 draft of checking in as disturbingly light at the top.
That wasn’t the case a year ago, when then-Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis was the eagerly anticipated No. 1 overall selection. Davis made his Phoenix debut Sunday, scoring a game-high 20 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field. Davis, who also bagged all eight of his free-throw attempts, had two blocks but only three rebounds in slightly less than 31 minutes.
Please note that New Orleans won the 2012 lottery after finishing in a tie for the third-worst record in the league.
Although Portland’s Damian Lillard is expected to dribble off with the Rookie of the Year title, Davis has shown glimpses of a high-level future while giving the Hornets 13 points and eight rebounds per game.
“He’s gotten more comfortable with the game,” Williams said of the 6-foot-10 power forward. “He has to get stronger. Obviously, everyone knows that.
“He can run the floor. He can finish around the basket. He can knock down a 17-, 20-footer at times. He’s just getting more acclimated to what teams are trying to do to him and the NBA game.”
And here’s the interesting quote:
“He’s learning things about the NBA game that he didn’t know,” Williams said. “Things that most guys should know their rookie year, he’s picking it up pretty quickly.”
Gee, should we presume that prospects arriving after a year in the collegiate minor league system haven’t yet learned the game’s finer points? That couldn’t happen, right?