Monday, January 25, 2010 at 7:35 a.m.
Grant Hill: 13 first-half points on Saturday night.
Somehow, some way the Phoenix Suns avoided a total disaster this weekend at US Airways Center. Instead, their two-game series was just a partial one.
Sure, the team beat the Golden State Warriors, barely, on Saturday night, but losing to the inferior Chicago Bulls was pretty lousy. The Suns have now won only two games out of their past seven, and the opponents they knocked off -- the New Jersey Nets and the Warriors -- aren't exactly world-beaters.
With just half the season remaining, the Suns simply don't look very good right now. It's going to take a streak like the 14-3 run they pulled off to open the season to convince anyone -- including themselves -- that they even belong in the Western Conference playoffs, let alone can find success in the postseason.
"It would have been a devastating loss," Nash said of Saturday's 112-103 victory. "It wasn't pretty, but we had just enough toughness and depth to pull through when we weren't really play our best.
Well, they haven't play their best for about a month now. Exhibit A was their 115-104 loss to the Bulls, who've won only five games on the road this season. Chicago is one of the worst shooting teams in the NBA, but the Suns let the visitors shoot nearly 51 percent from the field. They also let the Bulls' Derrick Rose continue his recent hot play. Rose scored 32 points, going 15-21 from the field. The Suns had no answer for Rose, who pretty much did whatever he wanted with the basketball Friday.
Meanwhile, the home team had a rough night shooting, making only 38 percent of its shots. Steve Nash, in particular, had a game to forget, shooting 4-for-12 and never even making it to the free-throw line. He finished with only eight points. And Coach Alvin Gentry's experiment of starting Robin Lopez and Leandro Barbosa suffered a setback as neither player scored in double digits. Instead, the men they replaced in the starting lineup after a four-game road losing streak, Jason Richardson and Channing Frye, scored 12 and 16 points, respectively.
Richardson was back in the starting lineup Saturday night. And though he pulled down eight rebounds, he scored a measly eight points. Barbosa didn't play because of a cyst in his wrist. He's expected to miss a month after undergoing surgery. Lopez bounced back to score 16 points and go 8-for-8 from the free-throw line. Speaking of bouncing back, Nash was much more an offensive factor, taking 20 shots. He made only nine of them but he wound up with a solid 23 points.
The Warriors appeared to have the upper hand for much of the game, and it wasn't until midway through the third quarter that the Suns started to chip away at Golden State. Substitute point guard Goran Dragic really made his presence known in the second half by scoring 18 of his career-high 20 points in the fourth quarter. It's safe to say that Dragic was the difference in the game. Without him, the Suns would really be hurting as they headed into tonight's game against the Utah Jazz.
The Jazz come into the game with a 25-18 record, which is about the same as that of the Suns, who are 26-19. The Jazz have won two in a row and are an impressive 7-3 in their last 10 games. Utah is led by Carlos Boozer (19.3 points per game and 10.6 rebounds) and Deron Williams (18.9 ppg and 9.6 assists). They play top-notch defense, holding opponents to just 97.4 points a game. Given the Suns' road woes, their trip to Salt Lake City should prove to be another big-time challenge for a team that can't quite seem to put all the pieces together.
Tip-off: 7 p.m. TV: My45 (channel 9). Radio: KTAR 620 AM. More info: www.nba.com/suns/