Suns pack loss ahead of long road trip

PHOENIX — The uneven beginning to this Suns season now has the potential to become dangerously bumpy.

Doesn’t it?

Concluding a five-game homestand with just two wins following Friday’s 103-95 loss to the Charlotte Hornets, Phoenix now hits a tricky stretch of road that offers seven games away from US Airways Center in the next eight games, starting with six uninterrupted road games over 10 days that includes a back-to-back challenge next weekend.

"Now we get a chance to go on the road and maybe get more focused in and realize that you have to play all 48 minutes," Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said after his team wasted a 14-point, first-half lead and fell to 5-4.

Phoenix was unable to ride any heroic efforts from closers Isaiah Thomas and Gerald Green this time. After thesnuclear subs gunned the Suns to come-from-behind glory against the Golden State Warriors and Brooklyn Nets this week, they combined to miss 11 of 13 field goal attempts and provided nine points. Green — who hit Brooklyn for a Suns’-season-high 28 — went scoreless.

"Tonight, I thought our bench got thoroughly beat by those guys," Hornacek, who acknowledged the recent success by his reserves, said.

And now the journey begins — in semi back-to-back fashion — against the Clippers on Saturday night in Los Angeles. The Clips (4-3) aren’t exactly dragging the sport to heights of greatness thus far, but they have enough superstar power to be relatively splendid on any given night.

"It’s going to be tough going on the road," Hornacek said, "but it’s a time for them to get together and get us going like we did last year on the road."

OK, so this upcoming trip seems potentially troublesome. But it could be worse. Including that matchup with the Clippers and one against the 7-2 Raptors in Toronto, the Suns’ next eight foes have a combined record of 23-44.

Hornets 103, Suns 95

The Hornets, however, arrived with a modest 3-5 record and no victories outside of Charlotte. They didn’t exactly look prepared to open their road swing in grand fashion, either.

With Phoenix’s starters playing great defense, moving the ball on offense and knocking in 5 of 9 3-pointers, the Suns jumped to a 28-14 cushion in the first quarter.

Unfortunately, the one-on-one prowess demonstrated by the second unit in recent outings sort of fizzled in the second. The lack of ball movement led to difficult shots and enabled Charlotte to attack off the dribble before the retreating Suns’ defense could lock in. Phoenix also surrendered 10 second-chance points in the second quarter.

The Hornets won that period, 33-19.

"I think we got content when we got the lead, but it’s basketball and teams go on runs," said Suns guard Eric Bledsoe, who scored 22 points, collected 11 rebounds and handed off five assists. "Every time we tried to get a stop, they made a great play. They started getting more physical, everybody started to lock in, so we just had to regroup a little bit."

Instead, Charlotte’s version of a Big Three — Al Jefferson, Lance Stephenson and Kemba Walker — rallied in the second half to emulate the example set by its bench.

Stephenson supplied strong play in several areas, finishing with 13 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists and 2 steals. The former Indiana Pacer also provided some interesting insight on the Suns’ performance.

"Those guys, they are constantly up and down," said Stephenson, referring to tempo tendencies and not inconsistency (we think). "They’re great on the pick and roll, the 3.

"They just had an off night tonight. On a regular night, they go up and down and … they get easy buckets and it’s like they’re having fun the way they play. I think tonight was just an off night, and we took advantage of that."

The fun certainly seemed to be lacking for the home team. But despite the winning record and recent two-game win streak, the retooled Suns have yet to find their rhythm.

"We just missed shots," Bledsoe said. "You know, it happens. I think everybody took the shots they were supposed to take and they just didn’t fall this game. We just got to move on to the next."

For the record, the upcoming roadie falls within a 25-game context that finds the Suns away from home 18 times.

The co-stars become more difficult, as well. The first three road opponents in December are the Mavericks, Rockets and Clippers.

With that down the line — and ne season after the Suns missed the postseason by a whisker — any home loss seems disturbing.

"When you have a team down … we talk about it," Hornacek said. "Games aren’t won or lost in the first quarter — you’ve got to continue to play. We let them back in and then they got life."

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