PHOENIX — The Suns could blame it on a lack of familiarity.
There is still a learning curve between veterans returning from injury and those like Jared Dudley and Leandro Barbosa, who re-joined Phoenix this offseason. The starting lineup, after all, only got two limited runs together during the preseason.
But in the Suns’ 113-94 loss to the Sacramento Kings to open the year on Wednesday, newcomer Jared Dudley arguably looked most comfortable. The starting lineup, for what it was worth, began the game strong, holding Sacramento to 27 percent shooting through eight minutes. How the young bench players produced in the second half was proof enough that using the feeling-each-other-out excuse isn’t a good one.
So getting comfortable, developing chemistry and learning the offense: Those aren’t great excuses as the Suns hit the road to face the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday.
One game is one game. But fixes need to happen now.
“We were 24th (in the NBA) last night in defense (points allowed per 100 possessions), period. We haven’t done that all preseason,” head coach Earl Watson said after what he called a no-holding-back film session and practice. “We talk about our team: I don’t know who that team was last night. But everything happens for a reason. So what we call a loss is a losing opportunity to stay strong.”
That answer came after Watson was asked about the Suns’ transition defense and their 18 turnovers leading to 22 points off turnovers, an ominous sign considering that was the team’s biggest problem a year ago. Their 20.2 opponent points off turnovers was historically poor.
Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker and Marquese Chriss accounted for two-thirds of those miscues with four turnovers each.
Of course Watson wasn’t pleased with that aspect of the performance against the Kings.
The turnovers, along with 29 personal fouls and defensive breakdowns, zapped what Phoenix hoped would be its offensive identity. So did the lack of forced turnovers — the Kings had 13 — that instead showed up as over-aggressive foul trouble.
“It’s early in the season. They’re bad fouls, early fouls,” said Devin Booker, who was limited to 25 minutes due to foul trouble. “Game got out of rhythm. It happens, try to avoid it next game.”
What can come on offense other than transition points?
Against the Russell Westbrook-led Thunder, the Suns hope to hunt down and take more shots from deep.
The Suns went 4-of-16 from the three-point line, but the percentage arguably isn’t as telling as the number of attempts.
“We got to take more,” center Tyson Chandler said. “We got to take more and that’s getting out in transition and then, you know, making the defense flatten out and then kicking out to open shooters. But because we were turning the ball over and then walking the ball up, that defense is set.
“I think defensively we got away from a lot of what we do,” Chandler added. “Even offensively, we have to use our defense to turn into fastbreaks and energy points. We were able to do that early in the game — that’s why they were shooting 27 percent of whatever they were doing (in the first eight minutes).”
Watson doubled down that his 10-man rotation indeed needs a change following just one outing. He called it a “fluid” situation.
“P.J. Tucker has to get healthy, find his rhythm, L.B. has to find his body. Our young guys are ready to play. We’ll kind of let that be fluid for right now, but the young guys are ready to play,” the coach said.
“We didn’t think we’d get an inclination that early in our season to see if the young guys could contribute immediately and it shows us they can.”
KNIGHT’S FIRST NIGHT
Brandon Knight might be first to receive criticisms for the Suns’ bench struggles.
Watson prefers to call him the most important player on the team.
Knight had two first-half turnovers and scored the only point of the Suns’ 16-1 run allowed to the Kings to close the first quarter. He recovered to point guard the Suns’ bench unit that rallied with a 20-4 run in the second half.
“It’s a lot of everything,” Watson said of Knight’s up-and-down debut as sixth man. “I think it’s an adjustment being the sixth starter. I think that second unit overall wasn’t good together, so it kind of avalanched on him. It’s not the game we like, we know he can play a lot better.”