Suns won’t dwell on loss to Kings, search for shooting touch

PHOENIX — For the second year in a row, creating a blueprint for the most painful way to miss the NBA playoffs might end up being the story of the Phoenix Suns.

But with Portland visiting US Airways Center on Friday, there is no time for coach Jeff Hornacek to motivate his team via regret. Understanding a 108-99 loss to the stumbling Sacramento Kings on Wednesday or why the Suns have lost three of four against them this year — all under different head coaches, by the way — lends reason to believe the Suns can keep pace with the eighth-place Oklahoma City Thunder.

"You’re going to have two or three teams that you have a great matchup and you’re wondering how we’re beating this team," Hornacek said, "and then you have a couple other teams in the league (wondering) how are you losing to that team."

Portland falls on the former side; Sacramento on the latter.

Phoenix still has life three games back of the eight-place Oklahoma City Thunder with 10 games to play. Center Alex Len, like his coach, can’t help but think the glass is half-full.

"We got lucky OKC and New Orleans lost too," he said of the Wednesday night results. "We’ve got to win the next two games."

That would be Friday vs. Portland and Sunday vs. Oklahoma City — also at home. After that, six of the remaining eight games are on the road — five of those against teams ahead of the Suns in the standings.

The status of the Suns’ backcourt isn’t helping the projected outlook in this crucial fight to remain in the playoff mix, especially not for a team that’s been erratic from three-point range over the last month.

Starting point guard Eric Bledsoe was told to stay at home Wednesday with the hope he can shake a stomach bug that hurt his energy against the Kings.

Kings 108, Suns 99

"Hopefully he can get some rest and get some food in him — he didn’t eat yesterday," Hornacek said.

Brandon Knight, who has missed seven games with a severe ankle sprain, ran through offensive sets in practice Wednesday and will go through a pregame workout Friday to determine if he can play. Unless the Suns training staff believes Knight is better off loosening up his ankle as a starter rather than coming off the bench, Hornacek expects him to come off the bench. Even that should help.

The Phoenix second unit has gone 6 of 38 (16 percent) from 3-point range in the last seven games. In four of those games, the Suns have failed to eclipse 30 percent on 3-point shooting, even though the big starting lineup of Bledsoe, P.J. Tucker, Alex Len and the Morris twins has shot 55 percent from deep.

That being the case, Hornacek’s decision to put his money on Gerald Green during the fourth quarter on Wednesday night had more to do with his ability to shoot rather than a last-ditch effort to find energy. An excitable Green nailed two mid-range shots but missed his next four.

It was a gamble considering Green has been relegated to a cheerleading role lately, but it might be necessity again if Knight and Bledsoe are out or limited.

"We don’t have a lot of shooters," Hornacek said. "At that point we were down 13 or 14 points, so might as well see if he can get hot and get us back in. We cut it down a couple times, and then we made some errors. Every time we had an opportunity to cut it down a little bit lower, we did something probably not so smart."

Randy Hill's Starting Five

The Suns can’t dwell on those problems. They want to get back to what had them on a four-game winning streak prior to the loss to the Kings. The defense coming from the bigger starting lineup should be a big part of that

"I think the last stretch — six games, five games — we picked it up," Len said. "We played together and harder."

No thinking about the whiffs on opportunity.

"We’ve got to move on," Len added.

Len stayed long after practice on Thursday, working on curling from the wings to catch and shoot straighaway jumpers from just beyond the free throw line.

"It’s always open cause teams try to double ‘Keef," he said. "My player goes to double him, so I’m always open in the area. I try to work (on it) and be more consistent."

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