PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns spent Friday night reeling from an apparent allergy to their own prosperity. Well, this prosperity is painfully relative to the limits mustered by a team that’s now 12-22.
Anyway, this brush with reasonably positive karma began during Wednesday’s losing-streak-busting victory over the Philadelphia 76ers and continued through a rousing first quarter against the Utah Jazz two nights later.
“I thought the first quarter was the best we’ve played all season,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said in regard to a 12-minute salvo that included 77.8 percent shooting and 31 points.
Unfortunately, the Suns mustered only nine points in the second quarter and 40 for the entire second half, eventually registering an 87-80 loss to the Jazz.
“The last three quarters was the worst we possibly could have played,” Gentry said, offering the second period as an absolute horror show.
The anatomy of this second-quarter catastrophe does have an ironic component. After Gentry suggested a shift in rotation philosophy — making incremental substitutions instead of five-man line shifts — the second quarter began with five subs in the Phoenix lineup.
When the starters returned with a tick under six minutes remaining in the half, a 31-26 lead had been whittled down to a 36-36 tractor pull.
“We lost all the momentum,” Gentry said.
With the return of the same crew that shot a higher percentage in the first quarter than many teams manage in pregame warmups, the Suns could squeeze out only four more points in the half.
“We went 15 straight possessions without a field goal,” said Gentry, who didn’t bother to credit the Jazz for participating in this second-quarter slouch.
For the record, the 36-36 deadlock that began at 6:19 of the quarter remained until Utah’s Paul Millsap bagged a layup at the 1:51 mark.
“It was just one of those games where it was a disaster,” said Gentry, speaking for his own team.
Let us recount a few of the ways:
• OK, the Suns required only 18 shots to ring up their first 14 field goals, but they needed 44 attempts to make the next 14.
• The recent festival known as Scola-palooza failed to materialize, with Suns four man Luis Scola missing 10 of 17 shots from the field to earn his 15 points. Sure, that’s not exactly terrible, but it’s quite a drop from the 33-of-57 marksmanship Scola provided in scoring 78 points (33, 24, 21) in Phoenix’s three previous games.
• The Suns tied their season high for turnovers by giving the ball away 20 times. The Jazz converted these mistakes into 25 points.
• Giving up 87 points would seem reasonable on most nights, but that number included a ridiculous 60 in the paint.
Despite some of those unsightly results, it should be noted the Suns did shoot a respectable 45 percent from the field. Point guard Goran Dragic made half of his 16 field-goal attempts and finished with 17 points.
Jared Dudley attempted to rehabilitate his 6 turnovers by making 6 of 10 shots in a 16-point effort.
Center Marcin “Polish Double-Double Machine” Gortat went for 18 points (7-of-9 shooting) and 11 rebounds.
He also provided a statement that has defined too many of the Suns’ 22 defeats.
“Basically, it’s just all about competing and playing hard right now,” Gortat said. “And, quite honestly, we’re not doing that.”
Well, some are on some nights and not on others.
For example, the Suns — who had a measly 70 points with three minutes to play before erupting down the home stretch — received only 7 points from their bench before garbage time.
As referenced early, the irony of Gentry sticking with his five-man-line-change tactic after suggesting it would change was underscored during his pre-game press chat.
“I think what we try to do is give guys an opportunity,” Gentry said when asked about possibly shortening his rotation. “If it goes well then, obviously, it helps us because the more guys you can play and not have to play guys for extended minutes… obviously it becomes better for our team.
“We also have to be careful in that if we work to get a lead, we can’t give the thing back in three or four possessions either.” It took 10 possessions for the bench to give up Friday’s lead.
“We were always on the clock,” Gentry said in reference to the Suns being forced to hoist an attempt with the shot-clock bleeding. “We got on the clock in the second quarter. We just have to do a better job of getting into the sets quicker so that we have options.”
Now, with another home game lost and the season roaring toward its midway point, the options are diminished.
“We have to treat those games like they’re playoff games,” Gentry said of dates on the schedule for a team that’s lost seven of its last eight.
Let’s hope it’s not asking too much of players who might struggle to remember what playoff games are like.