The Phoenix Suns have been a pleasant surprise this season, going 33-23 so far and sitting in a playoff position if the season ended today. But the season doesn't end today, and these last 26 games will have to break a troubling trend to end on a positive note.

Two fourth quarter collapses collapses for the Phoenix Suns in the last two games. One from an 11-point lead, the other from an 8-point lead.

In each case, the Suns shot just 31% while allowing 60% shooting to the other team. One line: 32-19 Rockets. The other line: 35-20 Timberwolves.

"Giving up 35 points tonight in the fourth quarter, 34 (Sunday) night in the fourth quarter," Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. "You are not going to win games."

Unfortunately, there is a trending decline in the 4th quarter for the Suns, who are just 14-12 since January 1:

  • On the season, the Suns shoot 45.7% for a full game, good for 8th in the league
  • On the season, the Suns shoot 44.8% in the 4th quarter, good for 14th in the league. This is a bit lower than their full-game percentages, but still in the better half of the league.
  • Since February 1, prior to these last two collapses, the Suns were shooting just 37.8% in the 4th quarter, ranking 27th in the league in shooting % in the 4th
  • In these last two collapses, the Suns shot just 31% and 30% in the 4th.

The Suns fourth-quarter scoring is declining as well:

  • In January, the Suns led the league in 4th quarter scoring at 27.9 points per 4th quarter
  • In February, prior to the last two collapses, the Suns are just 18th, with 23.9 points per 4th quarter
  • In these last two collapses, the Suns scored just 20 and 19 points in the 4th

The same pattern is unfolding on the defensive end as well:

  • For the season, the Suns have allowed the 11th lowest opponent shooting % for the game, at 44.8%
  • Also for the season, the Suns have allowed the league's second highest opponent FG% in the 4th, at 46.6%
  • In January, that percentage rose to a league worst 48.8% allowed in the 4th
  • In February, prior to the last two collapses, the Suns are even worse at 49.6% allowed in the 4th
  • In these last two collapses, the Suns allowed 61% shooting

You'd think with that decline, the Suns are getting blown out in the 4th. But such is not the case. The Suns are keeping things close, despite the shooting discrepancy, by limiting opponent shot attempts in the final quarter.

  • Since January, the Suns are allowing the 4th-fewest 4th quarter shots, at only 18.5 per 4th quarter
  • In February, the Suns have that down to just 17.1 attempts, fewest allowed in the entire league

But last night, the Wolves were able to pinch off 21 shots (making 13 of them) and convert 8 of 11 free throws. In the Sunday game, the Rockets only took 15 shots but made 9 of them and also made 12 of 14 free throws.

The Suns are particularly deft at committing shooting fouls in the fourth quarter of games in lieu of allowing open shots. The thinking being, apparently, that there's a better chance the opponent will miss 1 of 2 freebies from 15 feet than a layup from less than 2 feet away.

Generally, this is marginally effective enough to make the 4th a wash on most nights.

Overall scoring differentials

  • For the season, the Suns are only a net -0.1 in 4th quarter scoring, basically a wash
  • In October/November, the Suns were a net -1.8 in 4th quarter scoring, with a 10-9 record
  • In December, the Suns were a net +0.8 in 4th quarter scoring, with a 10-3 record
  • In January, the Suns were a net +3.1 in 4th quarter scoring, with a 9-7 record
  • In February, the Suns are a net -5.2 in 4th quarter scoring, with a 5-5 record

How are the Suns getting worse in the 4th?

For one thing, it's the lack to go-to scoring options when the game gets tight. The Suns only big threat in the 4th quarter is Goran Dragic, but teams can scheme to get the ball out of his hands and/or force him into tough shots. Still, Dragic scores just over 5 points per game in the 4th, or 25% of his full-game scoring. Perfect balance.

For another, it's a rookie coach. Several times in recent games, the Suns out-of-timeout play call has been scuttled by the other team's defense, forcing the Suns into a tough shot. Without a go-to scorer you can just hand the ball and say 'score', coach is forced to call intricate multi-action plays to get an open shot that's usually a spot-up jumper.

But having a go-to scorer does not guarantee a win either. Simply look at the New York Knicks, with one of the league's best go-to scorers in Carmelo Anthony. Their team is abysmal at closing out games.

Those excuses have been true all season (Hornacek) or at least in the last 2 months (missing Bledsoe), and the Suns were just fine through January.

But February is a different story and these last two games against quality Western Conference competition has been telling.

All is not lost. Even after these last two losses, the Suns are 29-7 when leading after three quarters, while going just 4-14 when trailing. The Suns are generally winning the games they are supposed to win.

But when the road gets tougher, the Suns need to get tougher.

It will help to get Eric Bledsoe back. But a closer look at the 4th quarter stats by individual player shows that only Gerald Green (37% overall, 32% on threes) and Eric Bledsoe (36.8% overall, 30% on threes) are appreciably worse overall shooters in the 4th than the rest of the game. Everyone else in the rotation stays steady in FG% and scoring.

The Suns tend to shoot a lot of threes in the 4th period (6.9 per game), but still make 36.2% of them. The Morris brothers, while overall productive in the 4th (almost 8 points, 4 rebounds between them), don't shoot three-pointers as well in the 4th (34%). Only P.J. Tucker (52%), Dragic (51%), Leandro Barbosa (44%) and Channing Frye (43%) shoot better in the 4th when the game is on the line.

What next?

The going gets tougher.

It's not likely that the Suns will continue to get worse and worse in the 4th, but there is certainly precedent here that the Suns are going through a rough patch.

The key, of course, is to get a big lead before the 4th starts. These lost leads of 10-points and 8-points are an anomaly. Overall, the Suns are 29-7 when leading going into the 4th quarter.

But as defenses tighten in the final weeks of the season and the Suns find themselves on the road more often than not (9 of last 14 on the road), the tough has to get going. The Suns have to find a way to control the opponents' scoring in order to close out tough games against good teams.

PHOENIX — Sitting through the Suns’ press conference after a game against the Timberwolves on Tuesday felt mighty familiar. Not for coach Jeff Hornacek, whose eyes looked tired for the...

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To fill the roster spots just vacated by bought-out Metta World Peace and Beno Udrih, the New York Knicks signed a couple of recently available former Phoenix Suns.

After a couple of ten-day stints with the San Antonio Spurs ended ignominiously after Friday's loss to the Phoenix Suns, former Suns guard Shannon Brown has another chance at NBA basketball with the New York Knicks.

Per ESPN's Chris Broussard, the struggling Knicks signed both Brown and another former Suns Earl Clark to ten-day contracts yesterday in what a Suns fan might think is an attempt to collect as many available former Suns as possible. The Knicks already employ former Suns PF Amare Stoudemire, though at this point in his career they probably wish they didn't.

Other recent Suns have already been gobbled up by the Los Angeles Lakers, Wesley Johnson and Kendall Marshall, who already employed former Suns PG Steve Nash and coach Mike D'Antoni. Nash and coach D are getting closer and closer to the same distinction as Amare in NY.

That's seven former Suns on two big-market teams with a combined record of 40-74.

Too bad neither team has a roster spot for point guard Sebastian Telfair, who is eminently available as well. With gun charges upcoming for incumbent - and almost-Sun - Raymond Felton, the Knicks might just need a pure point guard more than anything.

For a big man, there are plenty of options. They could look to Hamed Haddadi for rebounding, or Luke Zeller - the best shooter in the world outside of games - for outside shooting to stretch a defense.

It appears the NBA careers of former Suns Josh Childress (who the Suns are still paying $7 million per year), Hakim Warrick, Ronnie Price and Michael Redd are on life support at best.

But who knows, this is the time of 10-day contracts. Keep your eyes peeled for more former Suns to get back on a basketball court near you.

So much podcast goodness just one click away... We talk a lot about this guy in the picture above for some reason. Is that Bones "Hakim" Warrick?

In this weeks podcast the boys discuss the Great Granger Gossip as Danny Granger is rumored to be on the Phoenix Suns radar, but also on the radar of about every contender that could use a wing scorer of his caliber.

Could the Suns use Granger?

Sure, he adds shooting and scoring to the bench, but he has also played less minutes in the last two seasons combined than the relic that is Nazr Mohammed. For you casual NBA fans Mohammed hung the first peach basket up for Dr. Naismith. True story. Oh, and do you know what Granger's nicknames are? He has a few and we talk about them.

We also dive into the final 25 games of the season, gave live updates to the Minnesota Timberwolves game, talked Star Wars, Netflix slogans, Breaking Bad, and answered YOUR Facebook questions.

Listen Here: Phoenix Suns Podcast Episode 52

Give us your thoughts below!

P.S.

If you have questions for Kris, Jim, and the other guests on the podcast make sure to like on Facebook and submit your questions every Tuesday when we ask. Always appreciate the questions, feedback, and condescending constructive criticism!

Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves (along with foul trouble to Goran Dragic) gave the Phoenix Suns a bad loss at home.

The Minnesota Timberwolves came to Phoenix beaten and battered. Missing Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic and currently sitting at 10th in the Western Conference, the Wolves are a team the playoff-hopeful Suns were expected to defeat at home.

Things didn't go according to plan.

The first quarter saw a lot of offense and very little defense, as both teams lit each other up at a high pace. Fortunately for the Suns, the defense improved after the first period and was able to keep the Wolves in check...until the fourth. Adding to their fourth quarter woes was foul trouble and minor injury concern to Goran Dragic, leading to a sputtering offense at the end of the game.

What do you get when you add up bad defense, foul trouble to Dragic, a dominating performance from Kevin Love, and a career night from a struggling rookie on the opposing team? A blown 10 point lead and a bad loss at home to a sub-.500 team: 110-101.

First Quarter: A Whole Lotta Love

The main draw for this game was of course none other than future Phoenix Suns power forward Minnesota's superstar, Kevin Love. After being held to just 15 points the last time these teams met, he came out of the gates strong by scoring 14 points in the first quarter and grabbing 5 rebounds, giving his team a 34-28 lead after one. His early performance no doubt left many Suns fans drooling over dreams of Love in a Phoenix jersey.

Second Quarter: Hoping for a Good Win

After giving up 34 points to Minnesota in the first quarter, the Suns' defense tightened up a bit in the second, allowing just 21. Archie Goodwin, who was the first sub off the bench for Phoenix in the first after Gerald Green picked up two quick fouls, put on a great performance tonight. His "drive to the rim at all costs" mentality paid off well for him and for Phoenix, resulting in 10 first half points for Archie, who basically swagged all over the court in the first half:

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Third Quarter: Red Hot Green

The Suns came out of halftime well and continued to play some strong defense. They held Kevin Love in check throughout the quarter and only surrendered 20 points. They also managed to score 24 in the quarter behind some stellar third-quarter play from Gerald Green. However, Phoenix didn't put as much distance between the Wolves and the as they would have liked to, and went into the fourth with a 6 point lead.

Fourth Quarter: A Dragon-less Nightmare

The Suns stretched their lead to 10 points at one point, but the Timberwolves hung around and made a push midway through the fourth quarter. Goran Dragic, who had been having a relatively quiet (but efficient) game, rolled his right ankle on a fastbreak dive at that point--the same ankle that has given him trouble a couple times this season.

The Suns and Wolves went back and fourth while Dragic received treatment in the locker room. After putting some tape on his ankle, The Dragon returned to the game and valiantly attempted to put the team on his back in a tight game. He hit two consecutive stepback jumpshots. Unfortunately, he missed his very next shot and was overly aggressive in fighting for the rebound, going over the back of Kevin Love. After a tough night of foul trouble--thanks to some quality defense and flopping from Ricky Rubio--Dragic earned his sixth and final foul and left the game.

At that point, the Suns led 95-92. They were outscored 18-6 the rest of the game, as they simply could not get their offense running without Dragic. Game over. Timberwolves win, 110-101.

Players of the Game

  • Love Actually: After having one of his worst games of the season when these teams last met, Kevin Love dominated the Suns defense tonight. He finished with 33 points, 13 rebounds and 9 assists.
  • Shabazz "I'm another role player who has a career game against the Suns" Muhammad: Shabazz Muhammad has been struggling in his rookie season, just barely managing to crack Minnesota's rotation recently due to their injury problems. Tonight, he joined the list of random role players who enjoy career nights against the Suns, finishing with 20 points and 6 rebounds in 24 minutes off the bench.
  • Corey Brewer, Wide Receiver: Brewer has been Love's favorite target all year long, and tonight the duo took advantage of the Suns defense by teaming up for several easy scores. Brewer finished with 18 points on 7-9 shooting.
  • Gerald Green Machine: Green continued his stellar play of late by tallying 19 points and 6 rebounds tonight. Even though he struggled from three (1-5), he still managed to have an efficient scoring night, going 7-15 overall. Where would this team be without his scoring?
  • Chief Kieff: Markieff Morris has also been playing very well recently and continued it tonight. He was aggressive all night, and even though he missed 11 shots (9-20 from the field), he finished with 24 points by getting to the line 8 times.
  • DIsh Smith: Due to Goran Dragic's foul trouble, Ish Smith played almost 29 minutes and filled in admirably. He finished with 7 points, dIshed (see what I did there?) out 7 assists and also registered 4 steals. Unfortunately, he had a subpar fourth quarter, when the team was badly in need of some offense.
  • PJ "Bad Mother" Tucker's rebounding: PJ Tucker had a phenomenal rebounding game, corralling 16 total rebounds (8 offensive). He helped the Suns to a 50-38 edge on the boards. He was even matched up with Kevin Love at a couple points in the game when Phoenix ran a small lineup. However, Tucker's offensive game was abysmal tonight, as he shot just 2-11 from the field and displayed some questionable offensive decision-making. Simply put, Tucker really needs to curb the tunnel vision he so often gets that lead him to taking ill-advised contested drives.
Goran Dragic finished with 16 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists in just 25 minutes, as he struggled with foul trouble all night. Ricky Rubio managed to draw several fouls on Dragic (a couple of them were contraversial), and it hurt the Suns at the end of the game. The end of this game revealed what crunch-time Phoenix Suns basketball looks like without Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, so let's hope the former's ankle is fine and the latter will return sooner rather than later.

I hate to overstate the importance of one game, but this was an extremely bad loss for the Suns. This was a game (against a lottery-bound team missing two of their top three scorers) Phoenix needed to win in a tough Western Conference, and absolutely should have. The fact that they let a 10 point second half lead slip just makes it that much worse. The Suns are currently 8th in the West and have the Grizzlies hot on their tails. They simply can't afford to drop games like this one at this stage in the season.

Fortunately, there is a Bright Side. Goran Dragic won't foul out of every game. More importantly, Eric Bledsoe is set to return in as little as a week, providing Dragic with some much needed help. The Suns will need him for the final push to the playoffs.

They can start tomorrow by beating the Jazz in what some might now call a "must-win" game.

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