Suns face Magic with eyes on winning road trip
The Phoenix Suns will be glad to return home but first, there is the order of getting a winning road trip.
The Suns last posted a winning record on a trip of at least five games Nov. 15-24, 2014 when they went 4-2 on a six-game trip and they get a chance to secure a winning road trip Wednesday night when they visit the Orlando Magic, who are experiencing significant problems getting offense.
When the Suns return home to start a season-high seven-game homestand Friday, they will be coming off a trip that has seen them travel 9,180 miles.
The trip began with wins in New York and Boston on Dec. 17 and Dec. 19. The Suns took their first loss on the trip with Saturday’s exhausting triple-overtime loss in Washington on the first night of a back-to-back.
On Sunday, the Suns appeared to be fatigued at times when they took a 111-103 loss in Brooklyn. The Suns reached their New York hotel at 1:30 a.m. and Sunday’s game tipped off less than 24 hours after the marathon in Washington.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” Phoenix coach Igor Kokoskov said. “Tough game when it came to finding fresh legs and energy. Overall I think the energy was there. We tried and competed to the end of the game.”
Despite falling short, the Suns are 4-2 in their last six games and during those games, the Suns are allowing 103.5 points per game in regulation while posting a 106.3 defensive rating. They also are forcing 16.2 turnovers per game, getting 10.1 steals and hold a defensive rating of 95.5 in the fourth quarter this month.
The Suns also continued to get big nights from rookie DeAndre Ayton. Ayton totaled 26 points and 18 rebounds and enters with five straight doubles.
In his last three games, Ayton is averaging 25 points and 17.7 rebounds on 70.8 percent shooting. According to basketball-reference, he is the only rookie since 1983-84 to get three straight games with at least 20 points, 15 rebounds and shoot at least 60 percent and is looking to become the first player to do so since Charles Barkley on Nov. 2-8, 1991 for the Philadelphia 76ers.
“You can feel game-to-game he is getting better,” Kokoskov said. “He is working on his game. He is a very dedicated player.”
Besides Ayton, Devin Booker scored 25 points Sunday. Since returning from a strained left hamstring, he is averaging 29.8 points and has scored at least 25 points in five straight games, one shy of his career best.
Trying to stop Ayton and Booker are not the only concerns for the Magic, who are in a significant slump threatening to derail a respectable start.
Since getting to 12-12 with a 15-point win at Miami on Dec. 4, the Magic are 2-6 in their last eight games. The Magic have not scored more than 97 points in their last seven contests and during those games, they are averaging 88.6 points per game, shooting 39.3 percent (227-of-577) and 32.4 percent (68-of-210) from 3-point range.
The last display of sub-par offense was Sunday’s 115-91 home loss to the Miami Heat when the Magic trailed by as many 26 and shot 41.4 percent. It was Orlando’s seventh straight game under 100 points and their fifth consecutive double-digit loss.
“It’s not just offensively, in my opinion, it’s the way we play overall,” Orlando guard Evan Fournier said. “We have to get our (stuff) together. We knew at some point we were going to hit a wall because it happens to every team every year.
“It’s really how you respond and fight. The most important thing right now is to stay together and not point fingers and making excuses. We have to keep believing in what we’re doing every day.”
Evan Fournier led the Magic with 17 points but Nikola Vucevic was held to eight points and shot 3 of 12 from the floor as Orlando was held under 100 points for the 16th time.
“I think we just have to play with more energy, play smarter and make better decisions and play more for each other,” Vucevic said. “We’re not doing that like we did when we were good earlier in the season. We just have to try to look more for each other, either by screening, moving the ball or getting more action. We’re playing, right now, in a way that’s easy to defend.”
One of Orlando’s better showings of the season was a 99-85 win at Phoenix on Nov. 30. Vucevic scored 25 points and the Magic held the Suns to 40.5 percent and limited Ayton to 19 and six rebounds in their fourth straight win over Phoenix.