PHOENIX SUNS

Suns not overanalyzing buzzer losses; Deandre Ayton close to return

Jan 31, 2019, 3:37 PM
(AP Photo/Matt York)...
(AP Photo/Matt York)
(AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — Suffering three buzzer-beating losses in the past two weeks hasn’t got the Phoenix Suns down. The losing, yes.

That’s something weighing on the team hoping to end a nine-game losing skid.

“I don’t think we think so much about the buzzer-beaters, just the losses,” said veteran guard Jamal Crawford.

In all three buzzer losses, against the Raptors, Timberwolves and Tuesday against the Spurs, the Suns’ defense held up as the clock wound down.

Toronto forward Pascal Siakim banked a lefty bank shot over the outstretched arm of Deandre Ayton on Jan. 19. Days later, Derrick Rose hit a midrange pull-up with De’Anthony Melton’s hand squarely in his face. Tuesday, Rudy Gay did the same over Kelly Oubre Jr.

“Unless it’s a really, really (bad) defensive breakdown, which it wasn’t, you can go 200 possessions that you have over the course of the game that you can do something differently, better,” said Suns coach Igor Kokoskov. “So last possession, I didn’t even think about it.”

Crawford cited end-of-shot-clock threes by Bryn Forbes and Davis Bertans late in the fourth quarter Tuesday as key plays that helped San Antonio ultimately be there to take a game-winning shot.

“They had a couple threes they hit at the end of shot clocks. One was Forbes — he shot it, at first he didn’t even know the shot clock. Bertans had a tough one,” Crawford said.

“That’s what Doc (Rivers) used to tell us in L.A., especially in the playoffs. There could be a play in the third quarter, second quarter, maybe even the first quarter, that can alter things or change things.”

Ayton nears return from ankle injury

Phoenix took Wednesday off before another three days of preparation preceding their next game against the Atlanta Hawks (16-34) on Saturday.

It’ll help the Suns that Atlanta will be on the second night of a back-to-back after playing at Utah on Friday night.

Another thing: Phoenix is likely to have rookie center Deandre Ayton back after he went through a full practice Thursday. He’s missed the last six games with an ankle sprain.

“Knocking on wood, he is showing huge improvement,” Kokoskov said. “Good chance he’s going to play.”

Looking for positives

That the Suns found themselves keeping up with the Spurs in the 126-124 loss Tuesday was enough reason to be hopeful for Phoenix.

A week ago, Kokoskov was attempting to bring more offensive life out of his team, especially when it came to broken plays in the halfcourt.

“One thing that (I) definitely feel better about is ball movement, spacing and moving the ball side-to-side,” he said after watching tape of the loss in San Antonio.

Older Crawford isn’t Crawford of old

The 38-year-old Crawford has still got it.

He can challenge for a win in an after-practice one-on-one competition. Against the Spurs on Tuesday, Crawford put up 22 points to go with seven assists.

His season and career high of 14 assists in December against the Knicks, however, wasn’t an outlier but an indicator. Crawford, the three-time Sixth Man of the Year Award winner and microwave scorer, is playing differently this year.

“This is probably the most I’ve been in a mentorship type role, I guess. It’s the least amount of shots, most I would pass, trying to help others grow their games,” he said. “It’s challenging from that regard. You still want to contribute … how you can. But it’s just the role.”

Per 36 minutes, Crawford is averaging 6.8 assists per game, something he hasn’t sniffed in his career. He hasn’t even averaged more than 4.5 assists per 36 since he averaged 5.2 in the 2003-04 season.

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