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Suns Strokes: Effort not in enough in loss to Nuggets

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, center, collides with Phoenix Suns' Alex Len, right, as he tries to drive to the basket between the Suns' Elfrid Payton (2) and Dragan Bender during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

PHOENIX, Ariz. — Add one. Minus three.

That’s the equation the Phoenix Suns faced Saturday. And once again the result was the same. A loss.

The effort was better, however.

Perhaps that can be credited to the newcomer.

In his Suns debut, Elfrid Payton had 19 points, nine assists and six rebounds in 35 minutes. Not bad considering he had only arrived the day before and still has not practiced with his new teammates.

Not even Payton, though, could make up for the absence of Devin Booker (left hip pointer) and Tyson Chandler (neck spasm). Tyler Ulis (low back) also did not play.

Shorthanded, the Suns fell 123-113 to the Denver Nuggets in front of an announced crowd of 16,325 at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

The game turned in the second half as the Nuggets (30-26) overcame a seven-point deficit to take a 109-95 lead with 6:30 remaining thanks to a 36-15 run spanning the third and fourth quarters

The Suns (18-39) would get no closer than six points the rest of the way.

Wilson Chandler, Will Barton and Nikola Jokic combined for 21 of the 36 points.

Chandler finished with 26 (11-of-15 FG), Barton 25 (10-of-14) and Jokic 21 (5-of-12 and 10-of-11 FT).

All five Nuggets starters scored in double figures.

The Suns, meanwhile, got 31 points from T.J. Warren, a career-high 23 from Dragan Bender, who started at center, and 20 from Josh Jackson; the latter of whom filled the stat sheet with seven rebounds, five assists, four blocks and one steal.

With Payton, the Suns spaced the floor, moved the ball and just overall looked like a better basketball team, certainly better than they showed Wednesday in what was a 48-point defeat to San Antonio. The Suns shot a season-best 54.8 percent from the field, assisting on 24 of their 46 made field goals.

Still, it went down as a loss.

The Suns have now dropped a season-high tying five straight and 10 of 11 overall.

THE GOOD

It took the Suns nearly two minutes to put their first points on the scoreboard. And when they did, it was Bender hitting a 3-pointer. The play ignited a 10-2 run—with Bender making a second 3—that erased an early seven-point deficit and put the Suns in the lead for the first time, 10-9 at the 8:09 mark. Bender’s six first-quarter points were part of a 12-point first-half effort, the fourth time in five games he’s reached double-digits in scoring.

If nothing else, Warren is at least consistent. He followed a 4-of-5 first-quarter shooting display with another 4-of-5 effort in the second quarter. And during one stretch in the second quarter, he scored six straight points, all part of a 9-0 run that pulled the Suns to within one, 33-32, at the 8:18 mark. Warren had a team-high 10 points in the period, while Payton scored nine (4-of-4 FG) with two assists. In the first half, Payton accounted for 18 points.

Between Bender and Payton, the two accounted for nine points during a 12-2 run that put the Suns ahead, 72-66, at the 9:15 mark of the third quarter. Bender had five points and an assist, while Payton had two points and two assists. Bender scored seven before the period ended, shooting 2-of-4 from the field including one 3-pointer. His 19 points through three quarters fell one shy of a career-high which he set against Oklahoma City on Jan. 7 earlier this season.

THE BAD

Welcome to the club, Troy Daniels. At the 9:05 mark of the first quarter, Daniels was hit with a technical foul, his first of the season. He and Barton had to be separated after some pushing and shoving. After video review, officials assessed double technical fouls. The Suns have now been whistled for 33 player technical fouls this season.

Without Chandler, the Suns lacked another big body to throw at Jokic, who in the second quarter dominated. He scored 10 points, all within a three-minute stretch. Jokic shot just 2-of-5 from the field, but he made 6-of-7 free throws. In fact, his free-throw total in the second quarter matched the Suns’ total (they went 6-of-13) in the entire first half.

After a six-point first-half, Barton exploded for 16 in the third quarter. He was perfect from the field (6-of-6), from 3-point range (3-of-3) and the foul line (1-of-1). In addition, he had two rebounds and one assist. Barton and Chandler combined for 15 points in a 17-7 Nuggets run that put Denver back in front (for good), 90-87, at the 2:03 mark.

Coming off the bench for the second time in three games and eighth time this season, Marquese Chriss struggled. He got into early foul trouble and then committed his fourth and fifth personal fouls in a 27-second stretch in the third quarter. Chriss finished with five points, three rebounds, one assist, one block and a team-high five turnovers in 17 minutes.

STAT OF THE GAME

14-of-25: The Suns missed 11 free throws; they shot 56 percent compared to the Nuggets’ 90.9 percent (20-of-22) from the foul line

HE SAID IT

“Listen, they make 13 3s in the game and we make seven, that’s a big difference in the game and the free throws,” interim head coach Jay Triano said. “We can’t afford to leave 11 points out there in a 10-point game.”

NOTED

Payton’s nine assists are the most in a Suns debut since Stephon Marbury had 10 in 2001

Warren recorded his fourth 30-point game of the season and the fifth of his five-year career

Booker missed his third consecutive game, while Chandler sat for the second game in a row

Suns used their 21st different starting lineup with Payton’s addition and fourth in four games

Suns wore their City Edition “Los Suns” uniform honoring the community’s Hispanic heritage

New Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks and his wife, Marcia, were both at the game

UP NEXT

Four months into the season and the Suns finally play the reigning NBA champions.

The first of four meetings with the Golden State Warriors is Monday, Feb. 12. Tip-off is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning 30 minutes earlier on 98.7 FM, Arizona’s Sports Station.

The Suns have lost their last 11 matchups against the Warriors.

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