Suns doomed by cold shooting in loss to Blazers

PHOENIX — The Suns in recent weeks went from a team that played at warp speed to a more smash-mouth version, and a couple important elements of that circumstantial shift were on display Friday night.

With Brandon Knight’s balky left ankle necessitating the continuation of Phoenix’s jumbo lineup, the visiting Portland Trail Blazers were harassed into shooting a crummy 40.4 percent from the field. And with fewer, fast-paced possessions — underscored by a lean toward posting up his larger teammates — Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe played almost 39 minutes without a turnover.

But another recent (and alarming) trend doomed the Suns, whose 87-81 loss to the Blazers — Portland’s first victory here since 2010 — dropped the home team’s record to 38-35, and left it 3.5 games from the Western Conference’s final playoff ticket. The Suns shot 37 percent from the field.

For any reasonable chance to make up the ground in the standings, the Suns will have to shoot much more accurately than they managed against Portland.

Please note: With nine regular-season games left, Sunday’s home game against the eighth-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder will either be a temporary resuscitation or something close to a flat line.

It’s certainly nice the Suns’ bigger lineup — 6-foot-9 Marcus Morris replacing the 6-3 Knight — can finish defensive stops with rebounds and stymie an opponent’s offensive rhythm by being able to switch on screens with minimal drop off. Eventually, though, the Suns have to score more efficiently.

"We needed more shooting in there," Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. "We’re not making shots; our shooting percent has been horrible since the All-Star break."

For the record, Hornacek made that statement after an inquiry regarding his breaking the in-case-of-emergency glass on Gerald Green for the second game in a row. Before running low on fuel, Green made 4 of 9 shots — including 2 of 4 from behind the arc — and provided 12 points.

But the Morris twins combined to make 14 of 35 shots, which more than offset their 21 rebounds (a dozen by Marcus).

Trail Blazers 87, Suns 81

Bledsoe, who shot pretty well while battling stomach flu two nights earlier, missed 10 of his 15 attempts, powerfully mitigating that clean turnover sheet.

"I thought they were great shots," Bledsoe said in reference to the looks his team generated against the Blazer, "they just didn’t fall. Everybody got a good look at the rim and they were missing, especially me."

Although he’s been encouraged to pull from mid-range after turning the corner on ball screens, the Blazers’ defense was designed to give Bledsoe all he could eat. As a franchise dedicated to finding tactical advantages in analytics, Portland readily gave up those mid-range looks.

"Yeah, the way they play back," Hornacek said, "we’ve had good success in the past just coming off and shooting it in. Eric didn’t make many and Brandon wasn’t in there to do it, either. That’s what they’re going to live and die with, giving you that shot. If we had another shooter there, that position would come off and maybe it was easier."

Blazers All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge scored 12 points in the first quarter and 12 in the fourth. He made 12 of 14 shots in those two periods.

"The game came down to LaMarcus hitting turn-around Js," Marcus Morris said. "That’s the bottom line. He’s a good player. I mean, we stuck to the game plan and we gave him tough shots, fading away from the elbow."

Any notion of making a strategic change to thwart Aldridge in the fourth was complicated by what happened in the second and third quarters. Aldridge was a rotten 1 of 12 and managed just three points in those periods.

"He had 27 points," Hornacek said. "That’s a good night, but he had to make 13 shots. We didn’t give him any free throws, so we kept him out of there. That’s why we were coming late. If he was going to overpower us inside, then we had help over there.

"We went to trap him late, but they did that late in the first half when we did it and then he kicked it around for three, so you’re kind of picking the poison."

Aldridge threw in several fourth-quarter daggers to close out the Suns. But he entered the fourth shooting 7 of 20, with teammate Damian Lillard checking in at 3 of 11 (he finished 4 of 15). So with Portland’s two guns under wraps for the most part, the Suns managed to scrape together a six-point lead through three quarters.

"I thought the end of the third quarter, beginning of the fourth quarter, we missed five or six wide-open, easy shots," Hornacek said. "We make those, we build it up to 10, 12 points and then maybe it’s a different story. But we couldn’t make any shots. They looked wide open to me. They (Blazers) made them, we didn’t."

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