If Jeff Hornacek had been told that in his first month as a head coach he’d finish 9-8 despite leading a roster filled with eight new faces, he’d probably have been pretty pleased.
And while that might still be the case, it was hard to glean as much from the Phoenix Suns head coach, after his team dropped Saturday night’s contest by a final of 112-104 to the Utah Jazz in a performance that can only be described as uninspiring.
Given their recent play — two impressive double-digit wins over the Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz — and the return of dynamic guard Eric Bledsoe, the Suns walked into US Airways Center Saturday night believing they could just show up and still beat a Utah squad sporting a league-worst record of 2-15.
Forty-eight minutes of basketball later, the Suns learned the hard way that simply going through the motions isn’t enough to win in the NBA, regardless of the opponent.
“We said it from the start of the game that you can’t give them life,” Hornacek said. “They came back and won last night and I think they thought they were good. Our guys just thought they could show up tonight and win a game, and in this game it doesn’t happen that way.
“They don’t want to listen to it. The coaches are telling them that they have to be ready. That’s what happens.”
While the Suns reached the century mark for the third consecutive game, their effort on the defensive end left plenty to be desired.
The Jazz became the first team to shoot over 50 percent from the field against Phoenix. They also hit nine of their 18 attempts from three-point range and 25 of 29 from the charity stripe.
Despite holding Utah’s leading scorer, Gordon Hayward, to 13 points on 3-of-11 shooting, the Suns allowed five other players (Alex Burks, Derrick Favors, Jeremy Evans, Marvin Williams and Richard Jefferson) to shoot 50 percent from the floor respectively.
“That team up until last night is shooting 42 or 41 percent. They shoot 48 last night and then what 51 on our court? Again, [the defensive effort] shows that they just came out and thought that they would just outscore them,” said Hornacek.
“You can never give a team easy shots and easy buckets early in the game, because that usually transfers throughout. That’s how it is when you’re on the road.
Give them credit, they played hard. They’ve played hard in every game they’ve been in this year.”
The Suns’ veteran leader, forward Channing Frye, echoed his coach’s sentiments following the eight-point loss.
“Tonight was one of those games where I felt we weren’t emotionally invested,” Frye said. “We can’t have games like that. We’re not good enough for that.
“I know that known of us have been All-Stars. We don’t have the talent level to turn it on whenever.”
While the Suns into December with an above .500 record, losing games to teams they believe they should have beaten — like the Jazz and Sacramento Kings — certainly leaves a bad taste in their mouths.
The feeling is understandable.
Over the next month, the schedule only gets tougher for Phoenix, as it plays two against the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers and also faces the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs.
“We can’t play great against San Antonio, Portland, Oklahoma City and those tough teams that are trying to winning championships and then not play to that same level against teams of Utah’s record.”
Of the Suns’ eight losses so far in 2013-14, four have come against squads with winning percentages less than .300.