Spurs host Suns, NBA’s worst team

In years past, San Antonio has exceled as one of the top defensive teams in the NBA and a return to those tenets will be the cornerstone on which the new-look Spurs will build its foundation.

But it’s been a struggle so far, as evidenced by the Spurs’ battle to just stay above the .500 mark and win consecutive games.

San Antonio accomplished the latter for the first time in a month on Sunday in a victory over Utah, and can get back to the former on Tuesday when it hosts the league’s worst team – the hapless Phoenix Suns – at the AT&T Center in the Alamo City.

But don’t expect the Spurs (13-14) to count their proverbial chickens before they are hatched. After all the Suns handed San Antonio a 116-96 loss in the Valley of the Sun on Nov. 14, and at this point the Spurs can take nothing for granted.

The Spurs’ 110-96 victory against Utah allowed them consecutive wins for the first time since capturing four straight in an eight-day span Oct. 27-Nov. 3. DeMar DeRozen scored 26 points, and Rudy Gay added 23 points and a career-high-tying 15 rebounds to lead San Antonio to the win.

LaMarcus Aldridge added 20 points, with Bryn Forbes scoring 15 points and Marco Belinelli hitting for 10 for the Spurs, which shot 53 percent from the floor.

Utah had handed the Spurs a 34-point loss on Dec. 4 in Salt Lake City, but San Antonio turned the tables with better defense and success that carried over to the offensive end of the court.

“Communication, a little more bit more understanding, guys getting used to playing with each other and understanding what the process is for the way we want to play,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, when asked how the team’s defense has improved. “And I think it’s sinking in, so we’ll see if it continues.

“It’s about consistency and we haven’t had that. We’ve been pretty spotty, but we’ve had two good games in a row where we played defense and obviously that helps your offense, so I think they did a good job in that regard.”

Phoenix (4-23) heads to San Antonio for the second game of a back-to-back on the heels of a brutal 123-119 home overtime loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday. The setback was the ninth straight for the Suns.

Deandre Ayton led Phoenix in the loss with 20 points and 12 rebounds while five Suns – Mikal Bridges and Richaun Holmes (19 points each), Josh Jackson (18), De’Anthony Melton (13 points) and Troy Daniels (10) scored in double figures.

Phoenix led 105-97 with four minutes to play but gave all that margin back and more over a two-minutes span. The Suns needed a jumper by Melton with 5.5 seconds to play to send the game into overtime and never led in the extra period.

The Suns’ four wins after 27 games is easily their worst start in franchise history. Phoenix has been without their to leading scorers, Devin Booker and TJ Warren, because of injuries. Booker has missed the past four games with a left hamstring injury. Warren sat five contests with soreness in his right ankle before returning on Monday and scoring six points in 12 minutes of action.

“It’s hard – if you feel good about losing games, then you’re in the wrong place, wrong spot,” Phoenix coach Igor Kokoskov said. “It doesn’t really matter from the point of view that we focus on our job. It has to be done. There’s really no time to rest. Just regroup. Focus forward and encourage guys.”

The Suns have struggled with consistency, except for losing a lot, and with executing Kokoskov’s offense.

“We have to find the leadership and it’s also my job to push the guys, keep us organized, push the guys and give us confidence when the confidence is not there,” Kokoskov told the Arizona Republic. “I don’t feel right, which is good. That’s how you’re supposed to feel when you have this record we have right now.”