The Phoenix Suns would like to believe their most recent loss is simply a speed bump in an otherwise stellar month-long stretch.
Considering their upcoming schedule, however, that bump could become a derailment.
The Suns will attempt to regain their momentum when they begin a grueling stretch against the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday night in a matchup of top offenses.
Phoenix (26-19) had won four straight and 14 of 18 since Dec. 17 before James Harden hit a jumper at the buzzer to give Houston a 113-111 victory Friday.
Eric Bledsoe, Isaiah Thomas and Markieff Morris all scored over 20 points for the Suns, but their home winning streak was snapped at seven games.
"I didn’t feel – coaches didn’t feel – we were ready to play tonight," coach Jeff Hornacek said. "Just from the start, we weren’t intense. We gave up so many easy things."
Though their point total was on-par with their 107.5 season average, another poor defensive effort was too much to overcome for the Suns, who rank near the bottom of the NBA in field goal percentage (45.5) and points (105.0) allowed per game.
The Rockets shot 52.4 percent – the highest Phoenix has allowed since Dec. 9.
The Suns’ middling defense will surely be tested over the next 12 days with matchups against the Clippers, Washington and Chicago to close an eight-game homestand before they face Golden State, Memphis and Portland.
They were slightly better Dec. 8 in their most recent meeting with the Clippers (29-14), who were limited to 45.8 percent shooting, but Phoenix suffered a similar end when Blake Griffin hit a 3-pointer at the overtime buzzer to give Los Angles a 121-120 win.
That victory concluded the Clippers’ 5-0 stretch against the Suns in 2014. They’ve taken both previous meetings this season as well as the final three of 2013-14. Griffin has dominated in those matchups, averaging 29.2 points and shooting 60.0 percent.
Griffin scored 24 points Thursday and Chris Paul had a season-best 17 assists to help lead Los Angeles to a 123-84 drubbing of Brooklyn. The Clippers put the game away in the first half, when they shot 66 percent overall and outscored the Nets 36-14 in the second quarter. The reserves scored 54 to help them to their third straight win.
Despite an offensive outburst which upped the team’s season scoring average to 107.1, the bench’s greatest contribution may have been on defense, where the Clippers allowed a season-low 37.5 percent shooting.
"It was their defense that got us going," coach Doc Rivers said. "Two things they’ve done better is they start with defense and get the ball movement. The bench is alive and that hasn’t been the case all year. It’s called growth and it’s good for our team."
The defense will now contend with a red-hot Bledsoe, who has averaged 29.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and 7.5 assists over his last two. He scored 27 on Dec. 8 but shot 0 for 6 and finished with one point in a 120-107 loss in the first meeting Nov. 15.
Neither of those defeats, however, came in Phoenix, where the Suns are at their best. They averaged 115.9 points during their recent win streak.