Suns continue losing skid, get hit with injuries after high point of season

Jan 28, 2019, 3:48 PM
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, right, confers with coach Igor Kokoskov during a timeout in the se...

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, right, confers with coach Igor Kokoskov during a timeout in the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, in Denver. The Nuggets won 132-95. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Young teams are going to have ups and downs but the Phoenix Suns are being a bit ridiculous with the level they are taking it to.

After winning five of seven games in the second half of December, a stretch that included acquiring Kelly Oubre Jr., the Suns have lost 15 of their last 17.

The team had formed some continuity on the floor, locked down a rotation and starting lineup after weeks of tweaking and had Devin Booker back healthy playing to his usual high level.

Mix in some close losses to the Charlotte Hornets and Toronto Raptors and the Suns dropped nine of their next 11.

Then came the injuries, a snowball effect to the team’s momentum without starters Deandre Ayton, De’Anthony Melton and T.J. Warren.

Ayton has missed the last five games due to a right ankle sprain and is listed as doubtful for Tuesday’s matchup with the San Antonio Spurs.

Melton sprained his ankle against the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday and didn’t come back in the game. He proceeded to miss the next two games, and head coach Igor Koksokov told reporters on Sunday Melton is expected to be out until the All-Star break. The Suns have seven more games left on the schedule before that break, meaning Melton could miss double-digit games.

Warren has missed three games because of a bone bruise in his right ankle and the timeline given of 2-3 weeks on his return also lines up with potentially being out until the All-Star break.

The Suns’ roster is barely equipped to compete night in and night out with a fully healthy roster, so in taking out three starters, they’ve expectedly fallen apart.

Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers went on cruise control to beat the Suns on Thursday. Phoenix was then smacked by the Nuggets on Friday by 37 points and a Lakers team without Lonzo Ball, LeBron James and Kyle Kuzma never looked worried in a 14-point win over the Suns on Sunday.

Included in that three-game run were the infamous “long showers” after the loss to Denver, a presumed players-only meeting that tends to come for reeling teams.

Outside of those obvious tidbits, the issue for the Suns is Booker has the talent to carry the Suns to a win or two here or there no matter who he is playing with but teams are phasing him out of the game and his play has declined this month.

The Lakers executed hard traps on Booker continuously Sunday or provided over-the-top help when Booker was able to actually dribble forward and the Suns were a disaster trying to score off it.

Booker got run off all the way to the half-court line here and nothing good came of the space.

Booker was able to set up plenty of open shots off this but the Suns shot 7-of-26 from 3-point range.

Even with Ayton’s eventual return, the Suns are going to need maximum output from Booker offensively to have a chance most nights.

Whether that’s converting on shots created by him for others or himself, that’s the reality of their current construction while missing key names.

Booker’s 22.9 points per game this month would be his lowest of the season and lowest for a full month of the season since February 2017. His assists are also down to 5.5 a game after 7.4 a night in December and 7.1 for November.

If anything, those numbers should rise given the funk the Suns are in.

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