Grisly performance by Suns in familiar loss

PHOENIX — Alvin Gentry’s team-survival recipe has three key ingredients.

Delivered in Gentry’s descending line of progression — if not order of importance — these are items are (1) avoidance of fragmentation, (2) continued hard work and (3) belief in yourself.

Stir those together and you have … well, we’re not sure exactly what the Phoenix Suns are capable of cooking up if things go really well.

But Gentry, the coach of a team that absorbed a 92-81 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies at US Airways on Sunday, is hoping to sidestep a season of greater calamity.

“We’re in a bad situation,” Gentry said. “We’re in a bad spot right now.”

Now 12-23, the Suns — who were 15-20 through 35 games last season and stuck on 1,999 wins in franchise history — will hit the road on a journey that seems limited to going one of two ways.

“The road is supposed to bring you together, bond you,” Suns swingman Jared Dudley said. “But against these good teams it could break you.”

After checking in at 1-2 on the now-completed three-game home stand, Phoenix will make stops in Milwaukee, Boston, Brooklyn and Chicago between Tuesday and Saturday.

When they return home, their date will be the Oklahoma City Thunder.

For unfiltered perspective on how to launch an uprising, let’s go with Suns center Marcin “The Polish Quote Machine” Gortat.

“We have to play harder,” Gortat said after posting 12 points and 8 rebounds against the Grizzlies. “We gotta compete. We gotta fight.

“It’s going to take a lot of work. We’ve got to make some changes.”

This need for alteration is inspired by another offensive grind by Gortat and his teammates. One game after posting a meager 80 points in a loss to the Utah Jazz, the Suns were limited to 39 percent shooting by a Memphis team that ranks second in the NBA for defensive efficiency.

“We got bogged down offensively and struggled to make shots,” Gentry said. “Had some tough turnovers and never really got any kind of rhythm. We were partly responsible for that, but they did a great job defensively also.”

The Suns’ responsibility for their stagnant offense comes down to execution.

“You have to be strong with the ball and you have to set good screens,” Gentry said. “Gotta use the screens properly.”

And when the opposition commits eight fourth-quarter turnovers, you have to convert those into more than six points.

By the way, even though the blistering pace that defined Phoenix basketball in past years has been gone for quite a while, the Suns only managed one fast-break point (yeah, free throws made as a result of a transition attempt count) in this one.

Memphis eventually warmed up enough to finish a 53 percent from the field (61 in the second half), but most of this game offered an artistry similar to what might be seen at a sumo dance party.

Luis Scola, who had given the Suns 93 points over the previous four games, missed 9 of 12 shots while rasslin’ with (mostly) Zach Randolph and finished with seven points. A seven-point fourth quarter from Goran Dragic hoisted his total to nine for the game; Dragic’s six assists were accompanied by four turnovers.

Shannon Brown (3 for 9) and Markieff Morris (2 of 8) were chilly off the bench, while the recently-scalding Jared Dudley made one of only three shots. Dudley sat the entire fourth quarter when Gentry went with the shot-creation potential of Brown.

“JD had a tough time getting shots with (Memphis defensive stopper) Tony Allen guarding him,” Gentry said. “I thought Shannon was more equipped to do it.”

The only Phoenix player to qualify as having turned in a strong performance vs. the Grizzlies was forward P.J. Tucker. When he wasn’t chasing Memphis star Rudy Gay on the defensive end, Tucker was providing a career-high 17 points (making 6 of 11 shots, including 2 of 2 from 3-point range), five rebounds and three steals.

“One guy on this team plays hard every night … and that’s P.J. Tucker,” Gortat said. “If we all fight like P.J., we’ll be all right.”

For Dudley, fighting back toward respectability will require a rosters’ worth of improved self-awareness.

“Everyone’s got to look in the mirror,” Dudley said. “Nobody’s here babysitting anybody. We have to play all five together.
“The disappointing thing is we’re still making the same mistakes, still taking bad shots.”

And shooting for different results with the same methodology is driving teammates, coaches and players nuts.