Suns’ loss to Warriors is at least a good measuring stick

PHOENIX — An encounter with the league’s best team (by record, at least) is a fine time to take inventory.

For the Suns, Monday’s 98-80 loss to the Golden State Warriors at U.S. Airways Center provided a stockpile of painful reminders and a revelation or two.

Well, the presumption that playing their way to within a whiff of the Western Conference’s eighth seed is beyond difficult isn’t exactly breaking news. But it was quite noteworthy that the notion of a late-season rally was diminished when newcomer Brandon Knight sprained his left ankle shortly after shooting Phoenix back into the game during the second quarter.

According to Suns coach Jeff Hornacek, X-rays were negative, which registered as one of the evening’s few positives.

Instead of X-rays, Hornacek suggested something else could be looked at in an attempt to see how to manage a closing kick for his 33-32 team.

"Maybe we need to start showing ’em tape of other teams," he said.

If the young Suns were to engage in a video study of the Warriors (50-12), they would see a talented team that maximizes its ability by playing for each other on both ends of the floor.

Although coach Steve Kerr’s team shot an icy 42.2 percent from the field, they applied the league’s most-efficient defense to limit Phoenix to 37.7 percent shooting.

In a continuation of their recent offensive tailspin, the Suns — who were tied, 46-all, at intermission — cobbled together a measly 12 fast-break points (zero in the opening quarter) and only located enough open space to squeeze off 11 3-point attempts.

Warriors 98, Suns 80

"They locked us up defensively," Hornacek said. "You know, they switch a lot, that’s when you really have to cut and move. Then maybe they get screwed up on the switches. If you just stand around and come off, then they just switch it and they’re in defensive position."

Please note the greatest of the aforementioned revelations was provided by the Warriors, who were working the second of a back-to-back shift.

OK, so watching the Splash Brothers — co-starring Steph Curry and Klay Thompson — team up to put 61 points on the Suns really isn’t a shocking development. But it’s sort of uplifting to watch those two and understand that dedication to their craft and a willingness to compete can translate into great success.

Curry, who finished with 36 points, unloaded 25 in the second half. The point guard fired up 13 3-pointers, making seven.

"He’s got great guys screening for him and he’s never seen a shot that he doesn’t like," Suns forward P.J. Tucker said, "so when you play a guy like that, as soon as he crosses half court, he can make a shot. It’s tough to guard him, so hats off to him. He played his butt off."

The Suns’ mini-revelation was the old-school work from rookie T.J. Warren, whose 23 minutes, 36 seconds of court time yielded 11 points.

Warren, who made 5 of 9 shots — mostly on layups following intelligent cuts — muted his review a bit by only claiming a pair of rebounds.

"I just try to provide a spark," said Warren, a man of few words. "It feels good to get an opportunity and get comfortable out there."

His coach was far more effusive, especially when asked about T.J. being rewarded for moving without the ball.

"Makes sense," Hornacek said. "Cut and you get the ball and get easier shots. T.J. is great at that and, hopefully, the more the guys see him doing it, maybe the other guys will pick up on it.

"It’s just a matter of playing. I think sometimes, again, it’s easier just to kind of stand around and wait for a kick-out pass, but a lot of times, good defenses aren’t going to allow that."

As for reminders, the list is pretty long:

*Eric Bledsoe’s turnover epidemic continued. The Suns’ point guard shot well (6 of 11, 2 of 3 from 3-point range) in scoring a team-high 19 points, but his half-dozen miscues doubled his assist total. Piling up dimes is really tricky, of course, when teammates aren’t making shots.

*The Morris twins — who combined for 38 points in Friday’s victory over the Nets in Brooklyn — made two field goals in 15 attempts vs. Golden State. Their consistent inconsistency included four rebounds from Markieff in 26 minutes.

*Markieff chatted with the media long enough to also remind us the Suns are attempting to maintain their offensive pace without two of the players — Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas — that helped Phoenix become one of the NBA’s top-scoring teams.

"It’s a different team, man," Morris said. "After the trade, we lost 30 points. You can count 30 for those two guys every game. Now, we just got to find a way to score; it’s basically what it is."

*Gerald Green continues to struggle. He checked in with five missed shots on six attempts and located one rebound in a little over 17 minutes.

*Alex Len reminded the Suns and their fans of his hope-generating potential by scoring 10 points (including two poster-izing dunks over Andrew Bogut) and taking 11 rebounds. But the second-year center continues to hesitate when open near the free-throw line, passing up several opportunities.

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