PHOENIX — Now that we’ve sort of reconciled the concept of consistently stifling defense performed by the Suns, there are other issues to sort out.
Because hey, if the NBA’s fourth-ranked defense (points allowed per possession) only generates a record of 5-4, a problem exists elsewhere.
The dilemma is that scoring hasn’t exactly risen back to Phoenix standards yet under first-year coach Jeff Hornacek.
“We have too many lulls in too many situations that allow teams to go on big runs,” Hornacek said after the Suns lost to the Nets 100-98 in overtime Friday night at US Airways Center.
The latest lull ignited a 30-4 Brooklyn run that Shaun Livingston — playing big minutes after Nets point guard Deron Williams left with an ankle sprain — directed from late in the first half to midway through the third quarter.
Phoenix, which led by 14 points in the first half, didn’t scratch in the third quarter until Marcus Morris bagged a 10-foot jumper at 5:02.
When asked for specific reasons why the Suns — who check in at only 19th in offensive efficiency — struggle to score, Hornacek didn’t hesitate to provide a reason.
“We need to go through everything quicker,” he said. “We’re jogging through our sets. We’re not going to get open if you do that, especially against a team like tonight.”
The bench boss of that other team, Jason Kidd (like Hornacek, a former Suns guard in his first season as a head coach), wasn’t exactly unprepared for what to expect back here.
“The tempo is key,” Kidd, who was hired a couple of dribbles after retiring from the Knicks last summer, said before the game. “We don’t want to get into a track meet with them.
“I’m not saying that we’re not going to run, but we have to be very careful not to get into a track meet with these guys, because Phoenix is the best in the fast-break situation.”
Right, the Suns lead the NBA in fast-break points (and had 25 more against the Nets), but in struggling to create half-court opportunities until late in the shot clock, they’re only ninth in pace.
As for more of those aforementioned specifics, Hornacek also is less than thrilled that his team has been tardy converting opponents’ baskets into early-offense opportunities.
“Especially when Goran (Dragic) is out,” he said.
That’s in reference to Eric Bledsoe — quite the push guy after a steal or defensive rebound — walking the ball up the court after the other team scores.
“Well, a little bit,” Hornacek said with a wide smile that suggested this has been a big point of emphasis.
He also suggested the young Suns, with quite a few rotation players working much bigger minutes than at any time in their careers, are using this interlude for a respite.
“That’s not a time we want to rest,” Hornacek said. “We want to attack.”
Friday’s game certainly started that way.
Thanks to another strong defensive effort from the Suns in the opening quarter, the Nets made only 28 percent of their field-goal attempts. That didn’t leave many opportunities for running on inbound passes. But the flurry of defensive rebounds keyed a 29-point first quarter for Phoenix that included 14 fast-break points and 13 racehorse-oriented points from Dragic.
Thanks to another lull, the Suns promptly staggered to halftime with a 50-46 lead and limped through more than half of the third quarter.
“In the third quarter, we didn’t play as a team,” said Dragic, who finished with 19 points and 10 assists, said. “Too much isolation … too much one-on-one.”
There also was little recognition of situations.
Hornacek said that once an initial pick-and-roll set has been repelled by the defense, the Suns have been late in reversing the ball and exploring any potential vulnerability on the weak side.
“We’re hesitating,” Hornacek said. “That stuff has to all be done quickly.”
With the shot clock bleeding and the Nets offering Brook Lopez and Kevin Garnett as rim protection, Friday’s late drives to the bucket by Dragic and Eric Bledsoe didn’t yield enough pristine finishing opportunities. With the exception of an uprising of 3-pointers from P.J. Tucker and Channing Frye, the Suns weren’t moving with dribble penetration into passing windows.
Those difficult shot-clock-beating efforts subsequently prevented Phoenix from setting its stingy defense — like the Suns, the Nets shot 42 percent overall — as often.
“That’s when teams smell blood,” Hornacek said.
Now that the younger Suns have their first two-game losing streak, it’ll be interesting to assess the response.
“We lost two in a row in the last five seconds,” Dragic said, “but we know we are playing well against those good teams.”
Like the ball, the optimism is shared by Bledsoe.
“We have to look past this game,” Bledsoe said. “We’re playing hard, and that’s all you can ask for, and those games will come back in our favor. We just have to keep playing.”