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Phoenix Suns work to correct what’s led to back-to-back losses

PHOENIX, Ariz. — Offensive execution. Defensive assignments.

The Suns focused on both, splitting in half Friday’s practice to concentrate on a couple of issues that had popped up in each of the past two games — losses at home to Chicago and on the road to Houston.

“We just want to make sure that we don’t let it slide,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said.

The Suns (29-20) have dropped back-to-back games for the first time in nearly a month.

This follows what had been a season-high tying five-game winning streak that pushed the Suns to 11-games above .500 and a sixth-place showing in the Western Conference. They currently stand seventh, a half-game back of Golden State (30-20), which visits Saturday.

Offensively, the Suns, according to Hornacek, are just a little bit off. Entry passes, positioning on the floor, and all of that was discussed both in film review and on the practice court.

“When you play a lot of games and don’t get a lot of practice time (the Suns have practiced only twice in the past 13 days), sometimes guys are short-cutting things,” he said. “The little execution where — it’s very important where we want a pick set in a certain area in a play. If you don’t set it right there it screws up the whole play. We just tried to go over some of those things and show them some stuff on tape; just trying to get better.”

Hornacek was pleased with the team’s pace — 35 fastbreak points combined in the two defeats — but feels the offense loses its rhythm once the first or second option is taken away.

“When we do push it and nothing is really there that’s when our guards got to get us into something,” he said. “Some of our early offense we’re kind of skipping over. They got to make an earlier decision, maybe just when they’re past half court.”

The main area of concern, however, is defensively.

First, the Suns allowed 101 points to Chicago, the league’s lowest scoring offense (92.1 points per game); then watched Houston drop 122 points, an opponent season-high.

“We have to be more focused on defense,” said Goran Dragic, who pointed out they have been late on rotations and are not creating enough ball pressure. “Even if you don’t score, the most important thing is to play defense.”

Chicago and Houston shot a combined 49.7 percent. During the recent winning streak, the Suns limited teams to 42.7 percent shooting.

“We’re starting the game out with (allowing) so many easy buckets it’s hard to turn these teams off,” PJ Tucker said. “We got to get off to better starts, I think, defensively and that will help our offense out a ton.”

Theories as to why the struggles range from the schedule to heavy legs and players looking ahead to the All-Star break.

“Some teams I’ve been on you could tell these guys are counting the days down. Not these guys,” Hornacek said. “They want to get to the next game and play. That’s great.”

So, again, why now? Why are the Suns in danger of their first three-game losing streak since Jan. 10-13?

“It happens, man. It happens,” Tucker said. “There’s 82 games. You have little lapses. But the thing is rebounding back and coming back the next game. I think over the long haul that we have a lot guys that are tough-minded and they get it, but sometimes a couple of nights a couple guys don’t got it. It happens. But we’ve got to come back now and start winning a couple more, especially before All-Star break.”

Following the game against Golden State, the Suns host two-time defending champion Miami on Tuesday and then have the next five days off.

“We’ve got to have both of them, no matter who it is,” Tucker said. “We got to come out and play like we play and try to get these wins.”