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Suns Strokes: Suns fight hard but come up short against Heat

Phoenix Suns guard Mike James (55) slips past Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (7) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — Give the Phoenix Suns credit. They fight. The problem is they wait until they’ve been knocked down a handful of times before punching back.

Twice the Suns received standing eight-counts in the first half and ultimately lost a 126-115 decision to the Miami Heat in front of an announced crowd of 16,500 at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Wednesday.

Goran Dragic had his hand raised for the second time in three visits back to the Valley since being traded to Miami. He scored a season-best 29 points, one of seven Heat players in double figures, including Hassan Whiteside who recorded a double-double with 23 points and 10 rebounds.

Dragic had 17 points in the first half when the Heat opened up a 16-point lead and carried a 69-54 advantage into the locker room at halftime.

For the game, Dragic shot 9-of-19 from the field and 10-of-10 from the free throw line plus added a season-high nine rebounds and four assists in 38 minutes.

“Those rims are friendly,” he said. “I’ve played a lot of games here. It definitely helps. You feel comfortable.”

The Heat (5-6) never trailed and the Suns (4-8) never got closer than six points over the last three quarters.

Devin Booker (30 points), Mike James (18), T.J. Warren (16) and Jared Dudley (13) all reached double-figures in scoring. Booker made 9-of-23 shots attempts and 11 free throws.

Without Tyson Chandler, who missed the game with back spasms, the Suns needed more from Alex Len, who finished with just three rebounds and six points. He got into early foul trouble, and without another big to turn to, the Suns were man-handled on the boards (53-34) and allowed 52 points in the paint.

The Heat also shot the ball well. They made a season-best 53.1 percent of their attempts with 12 3-pointers.

The Suns have now lost four in a row.

THE GOOD

Once again, looking for a spark off the bench, the Suns turned to Dudley. He had eight first-quarter points, hitting a pair of 3-pointers including one to close the period. In addition, Dudley had a team-best three rebounds and one assist, a beautiful pass to Dragan Bender who cut to the basket for a layup.

Trailing by 16 just three minutes into the second quarter, the Suns went on a 13-3 run highlighted by a trio of 3-pointers, two by Troy Daniels and one by James. Daniels made 3-of-4 from beyond the arc in the first half. He entered the game as the team’s best long-range shooter, making 47.7 of his 3-point attempts.

Held to four and five points in the first half, respectively, Warren and James exploded for eight and nine points, respectively, in the third quarter. Warren shot 4-of-8 from the field, while James went 3-of-5 with one 3-pointer and a pair of free throws; seven of his points came within a two-minute stretch.

THE BAD

Yet another slow start for the Suns. For the fifth straight game, they were outscored in the first quarter. And it was Dragic who did most of the damage. He had 11 of the Heat’s 36 points, the third time in five games the Suns have allowed an opponent to drop 30-plud on them in the first 12 minutes of action. Dragic shot 4-of-6 from the field and 1-of-2 from the foul line, plus he added a rebound.

It was not a good two-plus minute of action for Josh Jackson in the second quarter. Twice he turned the ball over, a traveling call and bad pass within 30 seconds of one another. And then he was whistled for two fouls in less than five seconds, earning himself a seat on the bench. Len also was benched after picking up his third personal foul at the 7:17 mark. He complained to official Bill Kennedy, who responded, “Alex, stop fouling.”

There was Dragic again, doing as he pleased against his former team in the third quarter. If he wasn’t driving to the basket for a layup, he was hitting a step-back jumper or getting to the free throw line, where he went 4-of-4. All total, Dragic scored 10 points on 3-of-5 shooting from the field. He added three rebounds and two assists, setting up Whiteside for an alley-oop dunk, twice.

Whatever hopes the Suns might’ve had ended early in the fourth quarter. The Heat opened the period on a 7-0 run to go up 15 with 9:55 to play. Overall, it was a 9-0 run as the Suns went 2:25 without a point between the third and fourth quarters. Kelly Olynk had four points, while Wayne Ellington added three and James Johnson two. Johnson finished the period with a team-best seven points.

STAT OF THE GAME

35: The Heat went to the free-throw line a season-high 35 times and converted 28 of them, which was also a new season-high; this was, of course, aided by 29 personal fouls by the Suns, the second straight game in which they were whistled for a season-high 29 fouls

HE SAID IT

“It’s hard to play catch-up for sure. Yeah, we’ve been getting off to slow starts,” interim head coach Jay Triano said. “I think teams are ramped up at first, and maybe they take their foot off the gas and we’re able to climb back in, but first quarters haven’t been very good.”

NOTED

Booker posted his fourth 30-point effort over his last seven games, a stretch in which he is averaging 25.6 points.

James (6-of-11 on field goals) has now reached double-figures in scoring in three consecutive and five of his last six games.

Derrick Jones Jr., recalled this afternoon from the NAZ Suns of the NBA G-League, was a DNP-Coach’s decision.

Brandon Knight (ACL), Davon Reed (knee), Alan Williams (knee) and Greg Monroe (trade) were listed as inactive.

It was College Night with the first 2,500 fans in attendance receiving an exclusive 1995 NBA All-Star Jersey Tank.

UP NEXT

The season-long six-game homestand continues with a visit by Aaron Gordon, Terrence Ross, Nikola Vucevic and the rest of the Orlando Magic on Friday, Nov. 10.

The Suns had won four straight before the Magic won the final meeting last season to force a series split.

At home, though, the Suns have dominated in recent years, winning 10 of the past 14 matchups in Phoenix.

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