Just like the rest of us, the Phoenix Suns players spend too much time looking at the scoreboards and league standings. There's 70% of the season left to play, and P.J. Tucker says the Suns, who are on a four-game losing streak, need to focus on here and now rather than April.
The Phoenix Suns lost to the lowly Detroit Pistons on Friday night to extend their own losing streak to four (4) games, including the last three (3) at home to put themselves a disappointing 6-6 at home on the season.
With losses to Charlotte, Orlando and Detroit, the Suns have gone 0-3 at home against teams that combine for a 19-51 record on the season (16-51 if you don't count these games).
Tucker laid it out there, no punches pulled.
"We got to man up," he said. "Point blank. Period. We got to stop looking for excuses, we got to stop doing everything we're doing, stop looking at the standings. It's on every one of us, me included."
He said they have to stop looking at the standings.
"It's easy to do," he said. "They put it up everywhere. We got to tear it down."
The Suns expected themselves to be in the playoff picture all season long. While they are still clinging to the 8th spot in the standings despite dropping to 12-12, Tucker says it's way too early to worry about playoff seedings.
"One game at a time," he said of what the team needs to do to get back on a winning track. "We gotta stop looking at the board. Just one game at a time. Stop looking too far ahead. It's easy to do, but it's December. We got so far to go, so many games left. We just got to play game to game."
There is a perception in the locker room that the young Suns, still the second youngest playoff hopeful in the Western Conference next to New Orleans (another team losing more than they should), came into the season expecting to be better than last year because they'd gotten deeper and further developed their own skills over the summer.
While that sounds good on the surface, you still have to go out there and win the games. And these guys aren't veterans who know how to close out their own games when they are expected to. Eric Bledsoe has been a starter for less than a year full of games. Isaiah Thomas has played for a team that lost much more than it won.
Goran Dragic is the most experienced of the group, at 29 years old and a three year starter at point guard, but the Suns have so many point guards that Dragic is spending a great deal of time off the ball this season.
Everyone else has last year to hang their hats on, but nothing before that. And last year did not have adversity and expectations. In fact, none of the Suns starters has entered an NBA season with so many expectations on their shoulders to win.
The Suns are 17th in net rating (offensive vs. defensive points per possession) in the "clutch" this season, defined here as a game within 5 points in the final three minutes. That's not terrible but it's just good enough to lose. You have seen the Suns go 0-4 in such situations over the past week alone. They have the league's third highest turnover rate (20.1%) in those clutch situations.
While we all focus on the point guard situation, the Suns' front line not playing as well as last year, collectively.
Last year, the Suns primary big man rotation of Channing Frye, Markieff Morris and Miles Plumlee put up 33 points and 19 rebounds in 81 minutes per game (of 96 available) between the PF and C positions. Markieff was a power contributor off the bench, providing 13 and 6 in a reserve role.
This year, without Frye, the Suns primary big man rotation of Plumlee, Morris and Alex Len put up 27 points and 16 rebounds in 71 minutes per game (of 96 available) between the PF and C positions. Markieff is now a starter, producing marginally better than Frye did, but Len has not reprised Markieff's key bench role quite yet with only 5 and 5 off the pine.
The collective production per minute isn't far off, but Len makes a lot more mistakes than Frye did on the defensive end, and (worse) the Suns have 10 more minutes per game where a smaller player like Marcus Morris and P.J. Tucker are playing the big man spots, leaving the Suns quite undersized.
"It all correlates together," Tucker said. "We got to take people off the glass. We got a certain protocol for certain players and what we like to do, and we didn't do it. At the end of the day, we got to do it."
Of the series of steals the Suns got, led by Tucker, late in the fourth to tie up the game before Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made a three pointer to put Detroit ahead for good, Tucker said not to be impressed with that.
"That wasn't defense," he said of the steals. "That was instinctual. We didn't play defense today. That's not Suns defense. That's not what we practice."
Then Tucker reminded us how the Suns surprised everyone with 48 wins last season before bowing out of the playoff race with just a couple games to go.
"We fought tooth and nail for those  wins. None of those came easy. We fought hard every single night," Tucker.
This season? He wouldn't answer.
He said we watch the games, so we can answer our own question.
Here's the interview.