Phoenix Suns 99, Los Angeles Lakers 76  The last time Steve Nash played in a Suns’ uniform at US Airways Center, the crowd chanted “We Want Steve.” Tonight, that same crowd might be...

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As a professional basketball team you cannot make everyone happy, but this past week the Phoenix Suns (22-45) made a portion of their audience very happy. In doing that they went 0-4 losing games by wide margins and inching themselves lower and lower down the standings, and up the lottery board.

Game Recaps

vs. Denver Nuggets - L (93-108)

@ Houston Rockets - L (81-111)

@ Atlanta Hawks - L (94-107) 93.25-113.25

@ Washington Wizards L (105-127) 373-453

Like we talked about in the Podcast, Jim and I, the Suns had the potential of dropping all four of these games, but with the way they have been playing they could win one. They hit the road after a route served to them by the Nuggets, but then they seemingly lost their offense with customs.

It is always tough to pinpoint the win in a week against three future playoff teams and one destined for the lottery, this week the Suns didn't have that "one game." Normally they find that one game to win one game in a week, but they do have now five losing streaks of at least 4+ games on the season.

Key Stats

Scoring In General

Nobody on the Suns roster averages more than 14.1 points per game and this week was another example of why. There was zero consistency on the offensive end with three different players leading the team in scoring in the four game window.

Of the 16 players that have suited up for the Suns on the season, for at least one game, 13 of them have led the team in scoring. Is that parity or parody?

Leading Scorers By Game
Goran Dragic 14
Luis Scola 11
Shannon Brown 10
Marcin Gortat 10
Michael Beasley 10
Jared Dudley 8
Markieff Morris 5
Wesley Johnson 3
Sebastian Telfair 1
Jermaine O'Neal 1
Marcus Morris 1
P.J. Tucker 1
Kendall Marshall 0
Diante Garrett 0
Hamed Haddadi 0
Luke Zeller 0

The chart above shows that the there has been some parity in the teams scoring as evident by the fact that 13 different people having led the team in scoring. Winning teams do not have that same parity, they have players that go out there and display consistency scoring the ball, but the Suns have a parody of that.

The Highs

Jermaine O'Neal rejoined the team after being bedside at a hospital in Boston taking care of his daughter who had to unfortunately have heart surgery. He arrived back in the valley a few days before the team hosted the Nuggets, but sat that game out to get back in shape, both physically and mentally. Having a healthy daughter and basketball as a home remedy to get back to reality was just what the doctor ordered for the Suns defensive enforcer.

The Lows

As Seth detailed here, the margins on the season for the Suns have been erratic and unacceptable at best. The team has been losing games by a wide margin and winning games in battles. This week they played four games and were outscored by an average of 20.0 points. It was not pretty.

Grades

A look at three different players on the Suns for the week forming a good, bad, and a surprise either way each week.

  • A- for Goran Dragic: Against four quality point guards this week The Dragon was out-played overall by the law firm of Lawson-Lin-Harris-&-Wall.
  • D+ for Wesley Johnson: He started off the week on fire leading the team in scoring getting points inside the three-point line and pacing the offense, but was a non-factor in the last two games.
  • C+ for Marcus Morris: In his first eight games on the team Marcus was getting 9.3 PPG 3.5 RPG on 50% shooting (52.9% from three), but has seemingly regressed in the last four at 6.25 PPG 1.5 RPG on 47% shooting (42.8% from three).

Player of the Week:

Jared Dudley - 10.5 PPG 2.5 RPG 2.25 APG 47% FG (42.4% 3PT)

Moving to the bench was nothing new for Dudley as he has been in-and-out of the starting line-up all season. Since moving back to the bench he has been one of the teams more consistent contributors averaging 12.5 PPG 2.5 RPG 2.7 APG on 53.7% shooting in six games. Four of those games were this week as Duds paced the offense off the bench. There really isn't a "Player of the Week" when you go 0-4, but Dudley was not part of the reason the team was losing games. He was a bright spot.

Previewing the Week Ahead:

Monday, March 11th vs. Los Angeles Lakers (36-32)

Wednesday, March 13th vs. Washington Wizards (23-42)

Friday, March 15th vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (23-41)

Saturday, March 16th vs. Brooklyn Nets (38-28)

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Remember back in the good old days of November and December of the year Two Thousand and Twelve when the Phoenix Suns were generally going to give you a competitive fight every time they took the court? Those days are gone.

I have a hard time believing that anyone who's watched this team this season would dispute that the 48-minute fight is a thing of the past. But here's some numbers showing that the team is worse since Lindsey Hunter took over and changed 80 percent of the defense and about 55 to 60 percent of the offense (Jared Dudley's numbers).

Under Alvin Gentry, the Suns lost six of 41 games by 15 or more points.

Under Lindsey Hunter, the Suns lost ten of 26 games by 15 or more points.

Under Gentry, the average margin of defeat was 9.87.

Under Hunter, the average margin of defeat is 16.22.

Of course, it's been even worse, 19.33(!), in the six games since Marcin Gortat's injury but even without those six games, Hunter's margin of defeat is still 14.66.

Since we all like pictures, here's a chart showing the margin of defeat for the Suns throughout the season. You can see which direction the trend line is headed.

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Does this even matter?

Yes. At this point, the Suns record is only relevant as it relates to the team's chances to win the draft lottery. But HOW you lose games matters.

It matters to the organization trying to build a winning culture out of the ashes of...a winning franchise. It matters to an interim coach who wants a permanent job so he can completely overhaul the offense (whatever that might mean). It matters to the fans who don't want to see their team roll over at the first sign of adversity and get run off the court.

Is it really Hunter's fault?
"I think that being the end of the year it's going to affect us mentally. That's just being honest." -Jared Dudley

There's really no way for me to tell you if the team has "bought into" Lindsey Hunter or not. Are they just not responding to him and therefore not playing hard or are there other things at work such as this excuse given to me by Jared Dudley:

"I think the drain of the season. I think that we've been getting beat down, getting lost sometimes. I think that mentally, it can get to you. I think that early in the year your energy is up...I think that being the end of the year it's going to affect us mentally. That's just being honest. Sometimes that happens. It's not what you want to see but at the end of the day, that's where we're at right now."

I have sympathy for that. These guys are people too. A lot of them don't have much to play for at this point and it's painfully obvious this group lacks the chemistry to fight hard for each other. They realize where things stand. They know fans are rooting for losses now.

So now when the other team goes on a run, whatever fight the Suns brought into the game deflates. The other team smells bloods and attacks like a pack of hungry sharks. Things only get worse as a few guys try too hard to do something on their own either to pad their stats or just because they think they can be the one to lead their team back. The ball starts to stick making the opponent's defensive job even easier. Next thing you know, they are down 20 and there's nothing left in the tank.

Game. Over.

There will be exceptions to this. There will be nights when the other team is having their own issues or where a guy like Michael Beasley gets hot enough to carry the Suns. But in 13 games since the All-Star break, the Suns have lost nine (all by large margins) and have won five (all by small margins). That's a large enough sample size to define the pattern this team is in right now.

I don't envy Lindsey Hunter's job. He's trying to find guys that want to play hard but he walked into a tough situation and now he's lost his starting center for the season. In the middle of that, he's trying to completely remake how the team plays on-the-fly, all the while using an ever-changing combination of players.

He's, rightly, trying to play his younger players but that also reinforces the message to the team that the season is over. Why should they fight for a few extra scraps of dignity when the team has thrown in the towel? And despite all the tough talk about trying to win every game, this team has thrown in the towel. And again, who can blame them?

What will Robert do?

This summer, Robert Sarver is going to be faced with yet another pivotal set of decisions. After the 2010 Western Conference Finals run, he somehow managed to let Steve Kerr walk and made a total mess of the post-Amare world by bringing in Hedo Turkoglu, Josh Childress and Hakim Warrick.

Will he dump Lon Babby and Lance Blanks and likely by extension, Lindsey Hunter (who's self confidence seems to have won Blanks over)?

If he does decide to go in a different direction, he'll need to move very fast so the new front office can have as much time as possible heading into the June draft and July's free agency period.

But a change now also means another reset of the rebuilding clock. New front office architects are going to want to draft all new blueprints and ditch what's in place. That takes time and will likely set things back a full season.

If he sticks with Babby, he's endorsing what this team has done since July 20, 2010. Fair or not, there's few people nodding their heads in approval over what's gone on in the Babby/Blanks era of Suns history.

Lon says he knew it would be difficult when he took the job. That's fair. There's little chance this team wasn't going to bottom out. But fans of this franchise aren't accustomed to losing and are rightly afraid of jumping on the perpetual rebuild cycle like we've seen from the Kings and Bobcats...and Arizona Cardinals.

It's a difficult decision to pull the plug or stay the course. That's why Robert makes the big bucks.

Robert Sarver is a difficult guy to understand. He's not the caricature of the cheap banker-owner that a lot of the national media makes him out to be. He's certainly passionate about winning and is generally well-liked by a lot of people in the organization.

It's a difficult decision to pull the plug or stay the course. That's why Robert makes the big bucks.

My sense, correct or not, is that he's easily influenced when it comes to basketball decisions. I hope he spends the rest of this season talking to people he can trust...I'm just not sure who those people are. Robert can't just call up Pat Riley and seek advice. Maybe he can chat with Jerry Colangelo? I don't know.

I just hope that Robert's instincts prove right. I have no idea what I'd do in his shoes and while you might like to think you do, you don't.

Winning_ad

Thanks to the combined efforts of Bright Side of the Sun reader UASun, editor Dave King, and the staff as a whole we were able to get our hands on a few pairs of tickets for some deserving kids. We gave a pair to sixth grader Joel Rojas and his father to go and see the Phoenix Suns take on the Washington Wizards March 20th.

The other pair of tickets went to Nicole Gutierrez of Trevor G. Browne High School for tonight's Suns-Lakers game.

Nicole is a junior at TGB and is involved in clubs such as DECA, Be A Leader, and Races United. She is an aspiring journalist and placed at both the Winter and State Tournaments for DECA in role play scenarios. She will be taking her father to the game tonight, against the Los Angeles Lakers.

As for the contest, the premise was simple. The students had to create an advertisement for the Suns using three primary factors; orange & purple, the future, and twins. In it's final form this one hit all three the best.

Winner_medium

As a local site dedicated to giving the best coverage of the Suns, Bright Side is also dedicated to extending itself into the community getting involved in these types of great moments in kids lives. Unfortunately, Nicole's father is a huge Lakers fan, but that is acceptable for one night as this is a win-win for both father and daughter.

This is an all-inclusive package that includes two lower level tickets, parking passes, as well as accommodations to the Team Shop and concessions.

The common thread between both kids is that they are great kids, great students, and received glowing endorsements from their teachers and the school staff. That is what it is all about. Work hard, kids, and you could be going to a Suns game yourself very soon!

Again, here is the winning ad:

Winning_ad_medium

Please take this time to congratulate Nicole and Joel, both will be on Spring Break, enjoying live action on the hardwood.

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1. Goran Dragic

Weekly Average: 13 points, 7 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals in 32 minutes of play

Dragic continues to do more with less, and seems to be one of the few players on this team still giving it his all out there each and every night. Goran's shooting efficiency has been up and down lately, but that probably has more to do with him feeling the need to be the go-to guy and trying to make something out of nothing when the rest of his team isn't able to produce.

2. Jermaine O'Neal:

Weekly Average: 12 points, 4 rebounds, 1 blocks in 25 minutes of play

Jermaine O'Neal only played three games this week after returning from being with his daughter who was going through heart surgery. However, O'Neal's impact was felt almost immediately upon his return as the Suns were in desperate need of a big man after Marcin Gortat was lost for the rest of the season due to a Lisenfranc foot injury. O'Neal is playing at a very high level and is more than making up for Gortat's absence in the starting lineup.

3. Michael Beasley

Weekly Average: 11 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal in 24 minutes of play

Beasley had a really solid week and was surprisingly efficient from the field (for Beasley) going 17/41 overall. I'm not sure how or why Beasley's play and commitment level ebbs and flows from one game to the next, but he seems to be in the midst of an upswing at the moment, and actually seems to care right now. When Beasley is playing well he can really give the team a lift, the problems seem to occur when you try to depend on him to do so.

4. Jared Dudley

Weekly Average: 10 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal in 21 minutes of play

Dudley has rebounded from a couple of frustrating weeks and seems to have one again found his way. J.D. was one of the most consistent and efficient players this week, and seems to be adjusting to his reduced minutes that have been used to accommodate increased minutes for players like Wes Johnson and Marcus Morris.

5. Wesley Johnson

Weekly Average: 11 points, 3 rebounds, 1 steals, 1 assist in 26 minutes of play

Johnson has had a few really good weeks for the Suns since being freed from the end of the bench, and while he was still productive this week, he did seems to take a small step backwards over the past two games. Still, he has been playing pretty darn well overall, so I'm hoping he will pick up where he left off before embarking on what had to have been a physically and emotionally taxing road-trip. The Suns will need him if they are going to take down the Lakers on Monday night.

6. Markieff Morris

Weekly Average: 9 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist in 27 minutes of play

After Marcus Morris arrived and seemed to hit the ground running, Markieff seemed to receive a boost from his brother's arrival and began playing noticeably better. Keef had a couple bad games to start the week, but really picked up his game against Atlanta and the Wizards and showed flashes of the potential that continues to frustrate the fans. Neither Keef nor Cus have shown the ability to be consistent thus far, but Markieff gets the nod for the "greater twin" of the week.

7. Luis Scola

Weekly Average: 6.5 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assist in 16 minutes of play

Scola is what he is, the consummate professional who will give you consistency and efficiency night in and night out. Although his role has been greatly reduced since the start of the season, Scola continues to do what he can to help the team when he is called upon.

8. Hamed Haddadi

Weekly Average: 5 points, 5 rebound, 1 block in 14 minutes of play

Only a couple of weeks removed from nearly being waived after being acquired as as filler with the Marcus Morris trade, Haddadi is now registering substantial minutes as the backup center in the wake of Gortat's injury, and is actually playing decently. Haddadi isn't skilled or athletic, but he's huge, and that in and of itself can prove to be an advantage as the Suns have come to realize. His 13 point, 8 rebound performance against Denver was certainly his highlight of the week, but he has done at least ok in most of the games he has played in.

9. Marcus Morris

Weekly Average: 6 points, 1.5 rebounds in 18 minutes of play

After hitting the ground running once being traded to the Suns, Marcus took a step back this week and appeared to struggle to find any rhythm to his game. Marcus shot a paltry 10/29 from the field this week, and managed to grab only 6 rebounds in 74 minutes of playing time. Marcus had one good game against Denver in which he scored 16 points on 6/13 shooting, but he's had three bad games in a row and needs to turn it around quick.

10. P.J. Tucker

Weekly Average: 3 points, 5 rebounds in 21 minutes of play

Tucker found himself with a rare DNP-CD against ATL after two straight games of 0 points and 1 or 2 rebounds. Well, it appears the message was received loud and clear as Tucker responded with an 11 point, 9 rebound performance against the Wizards, as one of the few bright spots on the team. Still, this was an underwhelming week overall for Tucker, and he'll need more efforts like last night if he wants to keep his playing time over all the other wings on the roster. Even though this was probably Tucker's worst week of the season overall, he still beat out Kendall Marshall for the last spot (who also had only one good game on the week) because of his defense.

So there you have it. Feel free to share your opinion in the comments below!

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