Here’s a depressing fact. After 39 games, this year’s Phoenix Suns are only one game better than last year’s team: 24-15 versus 23-16. Those 2008-09 Suns were roundly criticized and their failure to meet expectations cost Terry Porter his job as head coach.
With a much different team from last year, the Suns began this season with lowered expectations. Yet, a 14-3 start captured the imagination of the fans and the attention around the NBA. What has followed is a classic meltdown, the type of which we have not seen in a decade.
After last night’s loss against the Indiana Pacers, it appears that things won’t improve any time soon. In typical fashion, another big Suns lead evaporated quickly in the 3rd quarter. It is clear that teams know that no Suns lead is safe. Even the worst teams in the league are emboldened by the fact that if they keep playing hard, they are likely to prevail against the Suns.
I am usually an optimist. Even going into this season, I believed that if the players performed up to their potential, this year’s team had a chance to do better than last year. However, now that the Suns have gone through a 10-12 stretch and their playoff position looks to be in serious jeopardy, there is no doubt that something needs to change.
The Suns have only two big, physical players on their bench: Robin Lopez and Jarron Collins. Yet, it is common that neither ever sees any playing time. Lopez has only appeared in two of the last five games, including a DNP last night. The last time Collins played was in 2009, and it makes one wonder if Alando Tucker was somehow secretly placed back on the Suns bench.
The Suns continue to show a complete lack of interior defense (to go along with their time-proven lack of perimeter defense) as well as an inability to keep opposing teams from getting offensive rebounds. It is very difficult to understand why they have not turned to one or both of these players for stretches of time during games to knock some heads around and create havoc.
By the way, interior defense is what fans and commentators completely took for granted last year with Shaquille O’Neal.
It’s one thing to lose after blowing a big lead. It’s quite another to lose this way while playing as soft as a wet pancake. The current 9-man (or 9 1/2-man) rotation is seriously lacking in toughness. And when the offense sputters, the Suns lack of size and physical play means that they simply can’t compete going down the stretch in close games. True, neither Lopez or Collins is an offensive threat. Neither is going to chuck up three-pointers and other long outside shots that the Suns have come to depend on. However, their physical play and size can more than compensate when defense and rebounding determines which team wins.