Only tacos keep Suns’ Chandler from doing what he does best

PHOENIX — Tyson Chandler has learned a lot of valuable lessons during his 16-year NBA career

He learned another one the hard way during the Phoenix Suns’ recent two-game trip to Mexico.

“Mexico City got the best of me,” said Chandler, the Suns veteran center. “Should have stayed away from the street tacos.”

Chandler was scratched from Monday’s game against the Utah Jazz because of illness but reported after Tuesday’s practice that he is “feeling better.”

Without him in the lineup, the Suns were out-rebounded in a home loss to the Utah Jazz, 46-39. They return to action Thursday against the host Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena, and the Suns will count on Chandler to rebound both from his illness and on the court

He is in the midst of the most productive rebounding season of his career — a career that has included winning the 2011 NBA title with Dallas and, the next year, winning the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award while with the Knicks.

Chandler is averaging only 28 minutes per game as a Suns starter. But he is averaging a career-high 15.6 rebounds per 36 minutes on the court.

In 26 of the 32 games he has played in this season, he has led the Suns in rebounding. In his last five games, he has averaged 17 rebounds.

He said the key to his productivity on the boards is staying healthy and putting in the necessary work with the team’s athletic training staff.

“I feel great and feel as good as I felt four or five years ago,” said Chandler, 34. “So that’s a positive.”

Chandler’s 12.1 rebound average per game this season is second in his career to his 12.4 rebound average in 2006-07 with the Hornets, who split that season between New Orleans and Oklahoma City. The Hornets finished 39-43 that season, but Chandler ranked first in the league in offensive rebounds and second in rebounds per game.

The last season in which a Suns player averaged more than 12 rebounds per 1992-93, when Suns legend Charles Barkley had 12.2.

Suns coach Earl Watson said Chandler’s tenacity with rebounding has been “amazing” and his vocal leadership “off the charts.”

Watson said Chandler, who entered the NBA directly from high school, has grown into a well-rounded player.

“He came into this league early and was young and he was just active, playing with purpose of trying to figure it out,” Watson said. “Now he knows his role. He understands exactly what he has to do, even though it may not make the highlight reel unless it’s a lob dunk.”

In his career, Chandler is fourth overall among active players in total rebounds (9,523) and eighth in rebounds per game (9.4).

Chandler had a season-high 23 rebounds on Dec. 13 against the Knicks. The 7-foot-1 center has had three 20-plus rebounding games this season.

But rebounding was the last thing on his mind after returning from Mexico. He said he was feeling fine until Sunday evening.

“All of a sudden I started to feel sick and it hit me like a storm,” Chandler said. “I kind of knew then. I didn’t sleep throughout the whole night, so I kind of figured it would be rough for me to play.”

Without Chandler, the Suns lost to the Jazz, 106-101.

Even when he isn’t on the court, he is making an impact on the team’s young big men.

“It’s been great to have guys like Alex (Len) and Marquese (Chriss) and the other bigs to work with,” Chandler said. “And they are great — and I hate to say kids, but they are great young men — and they want to get better, and they want to learn.”

Hopefully, the lessons they learn will be less miserable than Chandler’s street-taco experience.