PHOENIX — During this season of Phoenix Suns scoreboard tribulation, we also seem to have barged into a philosophical disconnect.
“We’re going to play the guys who play the way we want to play,” interim coach Lindsey Hunter said.
But the way the Suns — at least the coaches, management and some of the players — desire to compete doesn’t appear to jibe with whatever registers as the objectives of a few of the other employees.
Those particular Suns are demonstrating a willingness to play hard or focused once in a while. On Monday, they managed to muster enough effort to help knock off the Kobe Bryant-free edition of the Los Angeles Lakers.
On Wednesday, the focus by some of the Suns’ presumed prospects was considerably different in an 88-79 loss to the 24-43 Washington Wizards.
“I was not happy with our young guys,” Hunter said. “And it wasn’t about mistakes they made; it was about fight, having a sense of urgency. Unacceptable. This is unacceptable.”
It would be easy to go the snarky route and suggest that losing to another of the NBA’s lesser squads is a victory for lottery positioning.
For the Suns (23-46) attempting to battle every night of this long season, however, shooting 33.7 percent from the floor — at home — against anyone is difficult to fathom when the root problem is plummeting intensity.
“We’re not at a point where we can turn it on and off,” Hunter, now 10-18 since taking over for Alvin Gentry, said. “We’re fightin’ an uphill battle, trying to change a culture.”
The culture turned sour, again, during a second quarter that started in a 17-2 Washington run and ended in a 34-19 Wizards’ margin that Hunter put at the feet of his younger players.
Hunter mentioned Markieff and Marcus Morris by name, but they were ably assisted by Michael Beasley and Kendall Marshall; this quartet didn’t touch the floor in the second half.
“I told Marcus and Markieff if you’re going to go out and not compete… forget making shots, forget bad passes and things like that,” Hunter said. “If you’re not going to go out and compete and fight then, hey, you will watch the guys that will.”
So, for a stretch of the fourth quarter, Hunter went with Jared Dudley, Goran Dragic, Luis Scola, Hamed Haddadi and Shannon Brown. That’s not exactly a lineup that screams “developing talent,” but sometimes developing talent requires teaching points absorbed while riding the bench.
By the way, Dudley, who was under the weather, had planned on sitting this one out.
And it was only Brown’s second rescue from playing-time purgatory in several weeks.
For the abbreviated silver-linings roll call, we offer Dragic, who scored 18 points and somehow manage to collect 11 assists during that 33-percent show of marksmanship.
The Suns’ inaccuracy number was abetted by making just 27.3 percent of their shots in the second half. Over the same stretch, Phoenix managed to sort of get back in the game by limiting the Wizards to 33 percent shooting.
“We still defended the same thing,” Dragic said when asked if the Suns’ improved defense had anything to do with tactical adjustments. “We didn’t change nothing, we didn’t make something to improve the pick-and-roll defense. The coverages were the same… it’s just effort.”
Another positive floating in the brackish waters of negativity was swingman Wes Johnson, who made 7 of 11 shots for 16 points … in the first half. Johnson, drawing more defensive attention after intermission, finished the last two quarters by missing 6 of 7 shots.
In a work shift just under 39 minutes, Johnson’s limited, perimeter-centric offensive repertoire resulted in zero trips to the free-throw line. But at least he competed within the context of his current abilities.
“I think the effort wasn’t there,” Johnson, commenting on the Suns as a whole, said. “Like in the second quarter I think you saw we only scored 13 or 14 points leading into the third and fourth quarters, so I think that quarter was a big toll in the whole game.”
For the injury-to-insult list, Suns’ center Jermaine O’Neal left in the final seconds with a strained left calf. With Marcin Gortat already out, losing J.O. again could make the lottery watchers a little happier.