January 14, 2010 | 7:33am
What is wrong with the Phoenix Suns? These guys simply can't hold big leads. For what seems like the 20th game in a row, the Suns jumped out to sizable advantage before watching that advantage evaporate. This time, it was to the Pacers, a far-inferior team, on the road in Indianapolis' half-empty Conseco Fieldhouse. Final score: 122-114.
At one point in the third quarter, the Suns led by 24 points, but the Pacers outscored the visitors 39-23 in the third quarter and 31-23 in the fourth quarter. "For some reason, our level of play drops," said guard Steve Nash after the game. "Can't expect to win too many games that way." You said it, Steve.
After Nash went down with a busted lip in the first quarter in a play in which he attempted to take a charge from Earl Watson, there didn't seem to be a need to panic. The Suns had cruised out to 14-point lead, and Nash's replacement, Goran Dragic, was playing well (he would eventually score 11 points in 21 minutes off the bench). When word came from the locker room that Nash was getting stitches in both his lower and upper lips, did anyone think Nash would have to hurry back into the lineup to help preserve the lead? Turns out ever-gutty Nash would return to the game after halftime and score 20 points and hand out nine assists in 27 minutes.
The Suns just didn't have an answer for the Pacers' Danny Granger, who scored 33 points, or Mike Dunleavy, who logged a season-high 30 off the bench. And power forward Tony Murphy outplayed Amar'e Stoudemire on the glass, bringing down a game-high 14 rebounds. Stoudemire led all Suns scorers with 21 points but could only tally a sad five rebounds. The Suns' Jason Richardson had another questionable night of shooting. He went 5-for-13 from the floor for 13 points.
In the end, it was certainly a disappointing night for the Suns, who are now a respectable 24-15 on the season but are showing more than a few chinks in the armor. Keeping that decent record hasn't been easy for them and it won't likely get any easier as they have three more games on the road before returning home on January 20. On Friday night, they'll go to Atlanta to take on the Hawks, who stand at 25-13 and have won two straight. The Hawks trail the Orlando Magic by only a half-game in the Eastern Conference's Southeast Division standings. The Hawks' Joe Johnson is scoring 21.3 points a game, and Al Horford is average 9.9 rebounds a game at center.
Tip-off for Friday's game: 6 p.m. TV: My45 (channel 9). Radio: KTAR 620 AM. More info: www.suns.com