PHOENIX — Hard to make a run at the playoffs when you can’t run.
The Phoenix Suns are struggling in both areas, and because of it, they are in danger of falling out of the postseason race — if they haven’t done so already — with four losses in the last six games.
A team that prides itself in pushing the tempo and putting points on the scoreboard is suffering through its worst offensive stretch of the season. The Suns now have 17 games left to climb out of a three-game hole to catch Oklahoma City for the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
“We’re just not playing our game,” point guard Eric Bledsoe said after Tuesday’s practice, which included an hour of film study plus an hour of on-court work.
While the Suns still rank as the league’s third-best scoring team (104.9 points per game) and second-best on the fastbreak (18.9), they’ve failed to hit, or even come close, to those numbers in the past 10 days.
Their scoring has dropped to 90.7 points per game, which is dead last in the NBA, while the fastbreak offense has dipped to 14.0 points per game — 13th in the league — made worse by a streak of five consecutive quarters without a point on the break.
“We’ve got to push the ball, and that’s effort,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said. “Is it conditioning? It’s very difficult to have practices where you have a game and then a day (off) and then you have another game and, ‘Can we really run them today to try to help the conditioning?’ No, because then they’ll be dead tired for tomorrow. You’re trying to balance that. We went over a couple of things that maybe will help them speed it up, so we’ll see.”
Hornacek added he was critical of his team as they watched the game tape from Monday night’s 98-80 loss to Golden State, the third time in the last six games the Suns finished with 80 points or fewer.
“It’s tough because we’re doing it to ourselves,” forward Markieff Morris said. “We can score the ball; we’re just not putting ourselves in position to be able to do it. We’re not moving the ball well, and with that, we’re taking tougher shots. You can’t make shots when you’re taking tough ones, and we’ve been taking a lot of tough ones.
“We’ve just got to get back to moving the ball and playing together.”
Easier said than done, especially with point guard Brandon Knight sidelined indefinitely with a sprained left ankle.
His loss leaves Bledsoe as the one true point guard in an offensive system predicated on two floor generals.
“Different team, man,” Morris said. “After the trade (deadline), we lost 30 points (between Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas). You can count 30 for those two guys every game, and now we’ve just got to find a way to score. It’s basically what it is.”
Forward P.J. Tucker mentioned another reason for the team’s lack of quick transition baskets: their defense.
“If you get stops, you can run,” he said.
Over this same six-game stretch, the Suns are allowing 100.5 points per game, which is actually an improvement from their opponents’ season average of 104.7 points per contest; only the New York Knicks (-14.0) own a worse point differential than the Suns (-9.8) during this stretch.
“We’ve got to get back to our old ways when we were like, ‘Make or miss, we just run,'” Morris said. “That’s our identity. It’s been our identity for the past couple of years, and we’ve just got to get back to it.”