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Summer Suns have sluggish performance in loss to Mavericks

Phoenix Suns' Mike James shoots over Dallas Mavericks' Torian Graham, left, during the second half of an NBA summer league basketball game, Sunday, July 9, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

LAS VEGAS — After Friday’s encouraging Summer League opening win over the Sacramento Kings, the expectations for the Phoenix Suns only grew looking at the week ahead in Las Vegas.

Maybe the players thought that too and got ahead of themselves, because the Summer Suns were their own worst enemy Sunday against the Dallas Mavericks.

Looking like a completely different team, the intensity on both ends for Phoenix was replaced by a sluggish, low-effort performance that resulted in an 88-77 loss.

“It was a rough game,” Summer League head coach and team assistant coach Marlon Garnett said.

“We kind of brought it on ourselves.”

Garnett spoke of the Mavericks playing the day before and the Suns having a day off, making him think they were going to be the team looking more lively. That was not the case, as the Suns nearly had more turnovers (25) than field goals (26).

“It was a little bit embarrassing to see that,” Garnett said.

A 50-36 deficit in the first half for Phoenix could have been much worse had it not been for point guard Mike James’ 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting.

By the end of it all, Dallas first-round pick Dennis Smith Jr. was the best player on the floor, finishing with a dominant 25 points, eight rebounds, four assists and four steals.

The Suns used both Derrick Jones Jr. and Josh Jackson to defend him, but Smith still didn’t look to have much trouble going about his play.

For the Suns, a spark was provided in the third quarter by G League veteran Joe Jackson, who has spent time on the Suns’ G League affiliate the NAZ Suns. Jackson was not on the team’s announced Summer League roster but played for the team Sunday, reinvigorating it with his aggressive fullcourt defense.

No. 4 overall pick Josh Jackson had 10 of his 15 points in that quarter, but the Suns couldn’t carry that play over to the fourth quarter and fell short in their comeback attempt.

“We hope that it hurts and then they use all that energy for tomorrow’s game, and it won’t take 20-something minutes into the game until we kind of get after it,” Garnett said.

The team’s final game before tournament play is Monday at 3:30 p.m. against the Houston Rockets.

LAYING IT IN

Of all the attributes the Suns’ players made an impression with through two games, Josh Jackson’s ability scoring the ball at the rim stood out.

He’s had a handful of difficult finishes made easier by his feel, particularly on reverse layups, where he rises right at the net of the hoop to put virtually no space between the ball and the backboard.

It’s a part of Jackson’s overall game worth keeping an eye on, especially with the improvement needed with his jumper.

GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS

A large concern for forward Marquese Chriss when being drafted was his overall lack of basketball IQ and awareness on the floor. He made great strides through the regular season, but that inexperienced player reared his head again on Sunday.

Chriss’ pick-and-roll defense throughout the game was a mess. He was either a step or two in the wrong spot as the motion started, moving to the wrong spots or not being quick enough to get to the right spots when he was going there.

Like he did through his rookie year and on Friday, Chriss was constantly objecting calls made by the officials. There were also two separate times he had something to say to the coaching staff from the floor, including a conversation with head coach Earl Watson coming back from a timeout.

He finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds on 3-of-10 shooting with seven turnovers.

To be fair, he was not alone. Most of the Suns looked out of it in all of the first half and portions of the second as well.

The way Chriss played Sunday, though, is what made him a gamble for any team in the top-10.

INVISIBLE

The same could be said of Dragan Bender’s performance.

Bender is never going to be a player to shine with his point totals or overall box score, but when he isn’t playing well defensively, hitting open shots and making little plays elsewhere, that makes him almost invisible in a way.

His biggest strength is his defensive versatility, but Smith proved there are limitations to that, repeatedly schooling Bender when the Croatian switched onto him.

Bender was hustling and crashing the boards, but that’s not going to be enough for him to stick as a top talent if he’s not making an impact in those aforementioned areas.

Even with the expectations of his possible limited offensive role in the future, a top-5 pick coming back for his second year of Summer League should be able to have his way with most defenses, but Bender and Chriss didn’t for the second straight game. Bender shot 3-of-11 for 10 points and seven rebounds.

Follow Kellan Olson on Twitter

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