PHOENIX – On the calendar, it’s the shortest month of the year.
On the Phoenix Suns schedule, it’s been the longest month of the season.
February began with a coaching change, continued with a trade and now ends with a pair of games, the first of which appears to provide the best chance at snapping what is now tied for the second-longest losing streak in franchise history.
Thursday, the Suns host Brooklyn, a team, like the Suns, that has seen better days having lost two straight and nine of 12 overall.
The Suns, meanwhile, are in the midst of a 12-game slide, with No. 12 coming in humiliating fashion, a 40-point loss at the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday.
It was the Suns’ largest margin of defeat. And when the Clippers took a 119-76 lead at 2:56 of the fourth quarter, it marked the Suns’ largest deficit of the seaso, the sting of which still remained during Wednesday’s two-hour practice.
“And it wasn’t a two-hour practice of punishment,” interim head coach Earl Watson said. “It was a two-hour practice of teaching, prepping the details and the last game is totally unacceptable, to lose by 40 points. It bothers me when you bring it up, and it bothered us today in practice.”
The work was intense but not without incident.
Toward the end of practice, center Alex Len tweaked his right ankle, according to Watson, and left the court with head athletic trainer Aaron Nelson to receive treatment.
Len is officially listed as questionable with an ankle sprain, an injury he first suffered over the All-Star break and kept him out of action against Houston on Feb. 19.
“We can’t make excuses. We have a no-excuse policy for our players which means we have a no-excuse policy for the staff as well so we’re sticking with that,” said Watson, who has yet to have a fully healthy roster in the eight games he’s coached, all losses. “Whoever is healthy and whatever the roster we have available, we want to make the best out of that situation.”
The good news is the Suns’ other center, Tyson Chandler, is expected to return.
Chandler proclaimed himself ready after missing the past two games with a right shoulder bruise.
“I got to be out there for my team. I want to be out there for Earl,” he said. “I feel like we’re doing some good things. Last game was a step backwards, but the San Antonio game was a step forwards. He needs me out there. He needs vets out there to help him through this. And I just want to be out there for my teammates. I don’t want to be on the sideline. If I can play, I want to play.”
Both the Suns and Nets find themselves near the bottom of the NBA standings — at 14-43, the Suns own the third-worst record, making the 15-42 Nets the fourth-worst — which makes Thursday’s matchup pivotal in terms of the draft lottery.
“I don’t pay attention to that stuff,” Chandler said.
No, but fans do, which should make for an interesting scene inside Talking Stick Resort Arena.
In a season with 25 games remaining, Chandler, like fans, is able to see the big picture, but his picture includes wins, or at least as many as the Suns are capable of recording.
“I feel there’s an urgency to establish the culture. I came here wanting to help turn this organization, the franchise in the right direction,” Chandler said. “We understand where we are. For me, the biggest thing is trying to establish the correct culture going into next year — going into the summertime — so that we start ready and focused to move in the right direction because things in this league can change overnight.”
The Suns have not celebrated a victory in more than four weeks, when they beat Atlanta, 98-95, on Jan. 23.
Should they not defeat Brooklyn or Memphis on Saturday, they will go winless for a full month of games for the first time in franchise history.
“We know it’s a process and the main thing is, who do we become in this process?” Watson said. “We can win the wrong way but that’s hollow. It’s not going to last you a full season, we’ve seen that. So, we want to win and lose — most importantly play the right way — and if we lose the right way it still should sting but to lose the wrong way like last game, totally unacceptable.”
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