Suns-Heat: Two struggling teams meet in Phoenix

PHOENIX – Two teams looking to get back on track will meet when the Miami Heat open a six-game road trip at Phoenix against the Suns on Friday.

The Heat have lost six of nine after falling by 15 points to Orlando on Tuesday. Second-leading scorer Goran Dragic missed his eighth straight game with a knee injury that night, and center Hassan Whiteside went to the locker room with 40 seconds remaining to go to the bathroom.

The Suns, off to the worst start in franchise history at 4-21, will play the second of a back-to-back set after losing at Portland 108-86 on Thursday.

The Suns, who have been playing short-handed without top scorers Devin Booker and T.J. Warren for most of the last four games, were booed off the floor of their last home game when they were outscored 36-9 in the first quarter of a 122-105 loss to Sacramento on Tuesday.

Miami also is having trouble stringing victories together because of injuries, former Sun Dragic’s knee being the most persistent.

“The lack of consistency is killing us right now,” coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters after the Orlando game.

The Heat (9-14) may go with another makeshift lineup in Phoenix. Dragic is not expected to play, and both Whiteside and Wayne Ellington did not accompany the team to Phoenix for personal reasons.

Ellington remained behind for the birth of his first child, but the Heat did not explain Whiteside’s absence from the team flight. Whiteside said he left the bench Tuesday because … well, when you have to go, you have to go.

“I didn’t know it was going to be as big a deal as it was,” Whiteside told reporters after the game. “But I had to go to the bathroom. I’m sorry if that makes me a bad guy.”

Whiteside is averaging 13.5 points and 13.7 rebounds, second in the league in rebounding, and he has led the Heat in rebounding in 20 of his 22 games. Bam Adebayo started at center in the game Whiteside has missed this season because of a knee injury.

“What I want everybody … if they are angry, frustrated, pissed, funnel it into the team until we get the changes that we want,” Spoelstra said. “That’s it. We have enough to be able to push this thing forward the way we want to.”

Josh Richardson leads the Heat with a 19.7 scoring average, and Dwyane Wade is third at 15.1 points while coming off the bench in what he has said will be his last season. He has embraced a leadership role this season.

“I know it is necessary and it is important this year,” he told reporters. “As you have young guys that you are trying to help to that next stage. It’s important for those guys to kind of hear and see, watch what it takes to lead, because they are going to be in that situation.”

The Heat will play the next two games against the Los Angeles teams before finishing the trip with stops in Utah, Memphis and New Orleans.

Richardson said the trip could help the team build a positive vibe.

“First of all, I think it’ll be cool to go out there and get a change of scenery, seeing some other places,” Richardson told reporters. “I think momentum’s a big thing in this league.”

The Suns will play home games in four of the next five contests with a chance to pick up ground, although their three home victories are tied for the fewest in the league.

Phoenix played its lowest-scoring and least effective quarter of the season in the 36-9 first quarter against the Kings, when they made three field goals, committed seven turnovers and provided little resistance on the defensive end.

Looking for a spark, coach Igor Kokoskov went to his bench less than four minutes into the first quarter.

Center Deandre Ayton did not start for the first time this season at Portland, with Richaun Holmes getting the nod. Ayton, the subject of criticism for his transition defense after the Sacramento game, had 11 points and eight rebounds in 27 minutes off the bench against the Blazers.

“He can do better when it comes to reaction and hustling back,” Kokoskov told reporters. “He was nothing but a truck in the field. But he wasn’t the only guy. He didn’t come ready to play and there were some other guys who showed up better prepared, more focused, played harder.”

Rookie guard De’Anthony Melton, who has spent most of the season with Northern Arizona in the G League, had a season-high 21 points and five assists and made 3 of 4 shots from 3-point range in 23 minutes against the Kings. He had seven points against Portland.