If you didn't watch this game, you actually missed one of the better Suns' efforts of the last month or so. Outgunned, outmanned and outclassed, Phoenix managed to make it a competitive game.

The Phoenix Suns were not good enough to beat the playoff-bound San Antonio Spurs, losing 107-91

That's not a surprising result.  The surprises started with Brandan Wright being a late scratch, leaving the Suns with Markieff Morris and Earl Barron manning the center position.  Yet another surprise awaited the Suns at the beginning of the second quarter when Jerel McNeal, who had played in the first quarter, was ejected and ruled ineligible because he was not on the Suns' active roster prior to tip-off.

That's right.  A team with 6 injuries had listed one of their actual healthy players as inactive.  The Suns' active roster dropped from 9 to 8 just like that.  And yet...

If you didn't watch this game, you actually missed one of the better Suns' efforts of the last month or so.  Outgunned, outmanned and outclassed, Phoenix managed to make it a competitive game.  Not a pretty game or an exciting game, but close enough that outcome wasn't entirely a foregone conclusion for 3 quarters.  And even when the Spurs took over in the 4th quarter, it looked like the spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak.

Phoenix hurt their cause with slow starts to the first and second quarters, but helped it by taking good care of the ball, managing only 6 turnovers through the first 3 quarters before the wheels came off in the fourth.

Gerald Green carried the offensive load for Phoenix, finishing with 23 points.  Eric Bledsoe had a very quiet 20 points and 10 assists.  Marcus Morris and Markieff Morris had mediocre outings, scoring 8 and 12 points each, while P.J. Tucker had a very P.J. Tucker game with 3 steals to go along with 8 points and 8 rebounds.

The most intriguing player of the game was Archie Goodwin.  His frustration with his own play was not only palpable, but emblematic of a Suns' team that feels they should be better than they are.  His 5-15 shooting performance belies a solid effort at both ends of the floor, despite the lackluster decision-making that has been the hallmark of his young career.  Both Archie and the Suns will have to outgrow those mistakes and mature if they want to take the next step in the NBA.

First Quarter

The game started as disappointingly as I had hoped it wouldn't.  Phoenix missed 6 of their first 8 shots.  San Antonio took advantage and jumped out to a 17-6 lead in the first 7 minutes.  That is not a typo.  Phoenix mustered a meager 6 points in 8 minutes.  It looked like the rout was on.

But Gerald Green drank some of last season's Kool-Aid and scored 8 points in 6 minutes as Phoenix when on a 10-1 run to pull within 2 points at the end of the quarter.  Spurs lead, 20-18.

Second Quarter

The second quarter got off to a weird start with the Phoenix Suns' being assessed a technical foul and Jerel McNeal's ejection.  McNeal was not apparently not listed on the active roster prior to tip-off and was therefore not eligible to play in tonight's game.  How does that even happen? I don't know.

What I do know is that Phoenix again started a quarter poorly, missing 8 of their first 10 shots. On the Spurs' side of things Marco Belinelli and Danny Green hit back-to-back 3-pointers to key a 13-2 run by San Antonio.  Once again, Phoenix found themselves down by double digits, 36-22.

Phoenix and San Antonio more or less traded buckets for the remainder of the quarter.  Spurs go into the half with a 51-39 lead.  Gerald Green and Eric Bledsoe led Phoenix in scoring with 13 and 10 respectively.  Marco Belinelli led the Spurs with 10.

Third Quarter

Third time's the charm?  The Suns didn't exactly come out swinging to start the third, but they did make some shots to hang with the Spurs for most of the quarter.  Green and Bledsoe finally got some help from both the Morris twins in the scoring department.  They couldn't make a dent in the Spurs' lead, but they didn't fall further behind either.  Spurs continue to lead, 76-65.

Fourth Quarter

The combination of fatigue and a far superior opponent caught up to Phoenix in the fourth quarter.  San Antonio's precision offense proved too much for a gassed Phoenix defense and their lead ballooned to 22 with five minutes left in the game.

A preview of the Suns' final road game at San Antonio, which has won 10 games in a row and vies for a No. 2 seed.

      
 
 
Last year, the Phoenix Suns played the San Antonio Spurs in a late-season game with serious playoff implications. This year, the situation is nearly identical, minus the fact that Phoenix may just be...

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What: Phoenix Suns at San Antonio Spurs

Where: AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX

When: 4:00PM MST

Watch/Listen: FoxSports AZ, AZSports 98.7FM

The Phoenix Suns

For the Phoenix Suns, the season ended when they were officially eliminated from playoff contention.   Hope has taken a seat on the bench.  The vast majority of the team's minutes are going to doubt and question marks.  These last couple of game are mostly meaningless as a half-baked team plays out the string.

But a half-baked team is hopefully en route to being fully baked, right?  I mean that in the Betty Crocker sense of the word, not the Michael Beasley sense.   But it's hard to even get excited about what Chefs Ryan McDonough and Jeff Hornacek are cooking up when two of their main ingredients  - Brandon Knight (sprained ankle) and Alex Len (broken nose) - are sidelined.

So instead of getting an exciting, if not fully formed, taste of the future, we're stuck with a very meat and potatoes line-up that will hit the spot half the time, but just as often leave fans shaking their heads that it couldn't somehow be better.  Much, much better.

Questionable for tonight's game: Gerald Green (back), Reggie Bullock (concussion), and Marcus Thornton (ankle).

Suns Spurs Lineup 041215

The San Antonio Spurs

The San Antonio Spurs are coached by Gregg Popovich.  They start one of the greatest players of all-time at power forward in Tim Duncan.  They recently qualified for the post-season for the 18th consecutive season.  They are the defending NBA champions and the current Las Vegas odds have them at 6/1 to repeat as champions, trailing only the Cleveland Cavaliers (2/1) and Golden State Warriors (12/5).  They have won their past 10 games in a row.

Only Tiago Splitter (calf injury) is listed as out for tonight's game.

The Spurs are the very definition of fully baked.

Prediction

These are teams going in opposite directions right now.  Spurs win, 94-78.

Combo guard Jerel McNeal, 27, got his first NBA action with the Phoenix Suns over the last 10 days, and now has been signed to contract that could keep him with the Suns through the 2015-16 season.

McNeal has seen action so far in four games, making just one shot (1 of 6 from the field) with 2 assists and 2 rebounds in 19 minutes. An inauspicious start to a long-delayed NBA career marked by two D-League All-Star bids and a career stat line of 18.7 points, 5.1 assists and 3.7 rebounds, mostly with the Suns Bakersfield Jam affiliate.

Upon the expiration of his 10-day contract, the point-guard challenged Suns could have signed him to another 10-day contract that would expire at season's end, but instead tacked on a non-guaranteed contract for the 2015-16 season. The contract becomes guaranteed on July 21, if he is still on the roster.

Why offer a contract to a guy who's only made one basket in the NBA?

First of all, since he's now under contract through Summer League, the Suns have a point guard to run the team. McNeal is not a true point, but he's been winning a bunch of games in the Suns system all spring for the Jam as a facilitator next to Joe Jackson. The Suns will likely have Archie Goodwin, Reggie Bullock, T.J. Warren, Alex Len, Alec Brown and their first round pick on the SL team, but none are guys who can run point.

Having McNeal run the SL team allows Archie Goodwin to focus on shooting guard. Goodwin has played in 21 consecutive games for the Suns, mostly as backup point guard, but has notched more than 1 assist just six times in that stretch. Entering his third NBA season, this is somewhat of a make-or-break season coming for Goodwin where he needs to establish his NBA niche and become a rotation regular at something.

McNeal can potentially make or break his own NBA career for the Suns SL squad. If he can run the team while also scoring, he can potentially be a fourth or fifth guard and emergency point guard next year.

But McNeal's likely role beyond the 2015 Summer League for the Suns is to be a non-guaranteed contract available for trade purposes. Having a July 21 guarantee date allows the Suns to include McNeal in a trade for a salary-matching purposes where the receiving team can release him and save nearly a million in the process.

The Suns had the same opportunity with Ish Smith and Shavlik Randolph last year, but did not end up using them in any trades. Ish was eventually released after the Suns signed Isaiah Thomas, while Shav was kept around.

NBA teams often include non-guaranteed contracts in trades to allow the receiving team to save money rather than eat the contract of a player they want to release anyway.

Every NBA trade has to include something going each way. The Suns used the draft rights to Alex Oriakhi last summer in the Isaiah Thomas sign-and-trade. By making it a trade rather than a straight signing, the Kings were able to create a TPE (traded player exception) that would have allowed them to use the Thomas salary slot to acquire a player at a later date. And this way, the Suns gave up nothing of value to get Thomas.

Now McNeal is another chip in the Suns' stack for the poker game that is the NBA offseason.

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