The Phoenix Suns were on a six-game win streak. The Phoenix Suns were the seventh-highest scoring offense in the NBA. The Phoenix Suns were facing a lottery-bound Los Angeles Lakers team with the second-worst defense in the NBA, allowing 108.9 points per game. And with playoff positioning on the line, the Phoenix Suns absolutely sharted a golden opportunity down the toilet.
In their worst loss of the season, the Suns of Anarchy lost to a Lakers team without Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol. They allowed 115 points while not even cracking triple digits against a defense that had been allowing nearly 118 points per game since the All-Star break. The Lakers had just given up 143 points to the Minnesota Timberwolves two nights earlier, yet the Suns, who were the sixth seed in the loaded Western Conference heading into the night, could only tally 99 points on 38 percent shooting.
In the first quarter, Phoenix shot 7-for-28 from the floor and 0-for-8 from 3-point range as the Lakers amassed a 26-15 lead. After one quarter, it didn’t seem like a big deal. There were still 36 minutes of basketball to be played and the shots would start falling eventually, right? That’s the way it appeared for the first half of the next quarter, when Phoenix took a one-point lead thanks to a Gerald Green hot streak. But from that point on, the Lakers outscored Phoenix 25-6 to take a 61-43 lead at the half.
Against one of the league’s weakest interior defenses, the Suns chose to take 36 3-pointers in the game, made even worse by the fact that they only connected on eight of them. Phoenix was the team with the inferior defense, as Chris Kaman absolutely ate the Suns alive in the paint to the tune of 28 points, 17 rebounds and six assists. Los Angeles outscored Phoenix 56-44 in points in the paint.
So what happened to the Super Splash Brothers? Well, we saw what happens when only one of them shows up. Goran Dragic was less than efficient from the field (6-of-16), but he was one of Phoenix’s best players with 17 points, five rebounds and four assists. Eric Bledsoe, on the other hand, looked as bad as he has all season. He looked asleep for the first three quarters of the game and finished with 10 points on 1-of-9 shooting.
Apparently the @Suns thought a big win over Knicks was all they needed to make playoffs.
— Dave King (@DaveKingNBA) March 31, 2014
The only good news for the Suns, who missed out on sweeping their Pacific Division rivals, was that the bench came to play once again. Gerald Green was one of the only players who could say he played well, tallying 22 points. Markieff Morris strengthened his case for Sixth Man of the Year with 16 points, 12 rebounds, three steals and two blocks, though most of his points came with the game out of hand. Marcus Morris had 15 points and six boards, helping the bench outscore the starters 60-39.
Because the Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies both lost last night as well, this pathetic loss doesn’t hurt the Suns as badly as it might have on another night. But make no mistake: this was a huge missed opportunity, and if the Phoenix Suns miss the postseason in this heated Western Conference playoff race, this will be the game that Suns supporters look at before banging their heads repeatedly into the wall. Had the Suns taken care of business, they would have moved a game ahead of Memphis, half a game ahead of the Dallas Mavericks and they would have trailed Golden State by one game for the No. 6 spot.
Instead, the Suns are tied with the Mavs for the seventh spot, though they currently hold the tiebreaker. The Grizzlies trail by only a half game and the Warriors are still a game and a half ahead of their closest competition. “What’s the big deal?” is what you’re asking. “The Suns still are in the seventh spot and if they take care of business, they’ll definitely make the playoffs!”
As much as I’d rather have Suns in playoffs, they have the hardest road. It’s brutal.
— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) March 31, 2014
The only problem with that logic is the Suns have the toughest remaining schedule out of the five Western teams jostling for the conference’s final four spots. Look at who Phoenix has in its remaining eight games: vs. the Los Angeles Clippers, at the Portland Trail Blazers, vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder, at the New Orleans Pelicans, at the San Antonio Spurs, at the Dallas Mavericks, vs. the Memphis Grizzlies and at the Sacramento Kings. The Suns’ eight remaining opponents have an average win percentage of .604 percent, and the only two teams below .500 are both road games.
To compare, the Grizzlies and Mavs face opponents with an average win percentage of .511 and .535, respectively. If the Suns take care of business in head-to-head games against the Grizzlies and Mavericks they’ll do themselves a huge favor and no matter what happens, the 2013-14 season for the Phoenix Suns has been a rousing success and a pleasant surprise that could potentially draw in big-name free agents later. But it’s not wrong to feel that the Suns are a playoff team and pissing away opportunities against a team like the 2013-14 Los Angeles Lakers is a terrible way to finish off this Cinderella season.
Just remember. All the Suns have to do is match everything the teams behind them do the rest of the way. #Brightside
— Espo (@Espo) March 31, 2014