PHOENIX — Two nights after their most impressive victory in this stunning-the-basketball-world season, the Suns didn’t have the luxury of a national TV audience to furnish energy and enthusiasm.
They didn’t receive a tidy motivational boost provided by an opponent rolling into town with the best record in the NBA.
And they didn’t have enough stretch-run gusto to clean up what now qualifies as an unexpected offensive mess.
"Sometimes you worry about that," Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek said before Friday night’s game, "but I think that our stressing the fact that we need to try to get ourselves to that mental readiness every game should help to overcome any of that tonight."
Well, that’s what Hornacek was hoping. But the Suns followed Wednesday’s rousing triumph over the Pacers with a 101-95 loss to the Wizards.
"To their credit, they played harder than we did," Hornacek said of the Wizards when it was over.
Considering the Suns’ record and roster, that should be considered rare.
With loads of goodwill established earlier in the week, the usually furious Suns treated us to a truly sloppy, lackluster performance.
Although the level of intensity wasn’t close to routing-of-Pacers levels, Phoenix did manage to shoot 58 percent against Washington in the first half. But the Suns’ defense, which was compromised by allowing the Wizards to corral 19 offensive rebounds, surrendered 30 points in the opening period.
"We left them too open in the first quarter," point guard Goran Dragic said. "That gave them the confidence, and it continued through the whole game."
Unfortunately, the Suns’ ball and player movement crashed during a 19-point third quarter that featured seven of their 21 turnovers. For a team averaging a pristine 11 miscues per game this month, the lack of focus was alarming. For the record, the Wizards converted those 21 mistakes into 24 points.
With the offensive execution in free fall, the Suns — who went 6 of 10 from the 3-point line during the opening half — went only 1 for 12 in the second. The also managed to give up 31 points in that pivotal third quarter.
So with turnovers, bad rebounding, only 10 fast-break points and generally shaky second-half shooting on the table, Phoenix was begging to be had.
"All of those things add up," Hornacek said. "It was a tough night."
Sometimes, based on recent circumstances and human nature, you can see these games coming.
"There’s that natural high of playing a game on national TV or against a top team in the league," Hornacek said before this particular slide, "so it doesn’t take a lot for them to get fired up. It takes more to get fired up when you’re playing just another team in the league and it’s not on national TV. So they’re going to have to generate some of that."
Yeah, that didn’t happen.
At 21-21, the Wizards actually qualify as one of the Eastern Conference’s better teams. But they hardly bring the beastly chops the Pacers are known for. And the Suns seemed to perform accordingly.
Channing Frye had 12 points (all on 3-pointers when Washington power forward Nene chose to ignore him on pick-and-pop maneuvers) early and finished the game with 16. Dragic, whose work in the absence of Eric Bledsoe has been stellar, scored 19 points and handed off 11 assists. But he went just 3 of 10 from the field while trying to breathe fire into the offense during the second half. And after hitting one of his former teams (the Pacers) with 23 points Wednesday night, Gerald Green managed just eight points against the Wiz, missing all four of his 3-point attempts and finishing 3 of 8 overall.
Let’s give Washington a measure of third-quarter credit, too. Not satisfied with allowing 58-percent shooting in the opening half (much of it on slow or nonexistent rotations), the Wizards switched on screens to help close down the perimeter and doubled when the Suns countered by trying to enter the ball on the post.
In their first five possessions of the second half, the Suns threw the ball away three times while being blitzed on low-block touches.
Speaking of post, former Suns center Marcin Gortat wasn’t bad in his first return to Phoenix since being traded before the season. The Polish Machine went 6 of 10 from the field for 14 points, tracked down five rebound and blocked a couple of shots.