Following last Friday’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks in which his team faded down the stretch, Phoenix Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek wondered aloud about players’ conditioning.
“We had an 11-point lead and it disappeared quickly and then we ran out of gas,” he said. “All of a sudden we were running in sand and couldn’t get into anything. I’m not sure why they got so tired, but we’re going to have to work on that.
“We had practice yesterday, but we didn’t do anything but shoot so we shouldn’t be tired. Are they tired because it’s (67 games into the season) or is it just the conditioning part of it? I’m starting to believe it’s conditioning, so we are going to have to do more running when we practice.”
Sunday night, the Suns rebounded by beating the woeful New York Knicks, getting stronger as the game wore on.
Is that conditioning getting better? Hornacek says it’s something that continues to be looked at.
“Well, we’ll have a hard practice today,” the head coach told Doug and Wolf Tuesday on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “We’ve looked at it — our training staff, they have heart monitors on these guys in practice so they’re able to monitor it. Their levels aren’t any different than the first month of the season when they’re in great shape.”
Hornacek acknowledged that maybe he spoke out of school following the Atlanta loss.
“I think I was frustrated and it looked like we just didn’t have enough energy to run up and down the court,” he said. “I always believe there is a fine line between conditioning and being worn out. After talking that night to the trainers and looking at the numbers, it’s not a conditioning thing.
“Sometimes, it’s mental when you get a little tired, you’ve got to push through it.”
Whatever the case may be, the Suns currently sit just 2.5 games behind the Oklahoma City Thunder for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference with 16 games remaining.
To break their four-year postseason drought, the Suns must play solid basketball every time out, but especially in their three remaining games against the Thunder and New Orleans Pelicans, who are also in the thick of a playoff push.
The Pelicans, who trail OKC by just a half-game, visit US Airways Center Thursday night in a pivotal matchup.
Hornacek doesn’t think he’ll have to verbally place more importance on that game to his players.
“I wouldn’t think so, I think they understand the situation we’re in,” he said. “Especially with our finishing schedule. For us to have any hope, we have to beat New Orleans the two times we play them and we’ve got to beat Oklahoma City the one time we play them.”
In addition to Thursday night’s game, the Suns face the Pelicans in New Orleans April 10. Phoenix will host Oklahoma City March 29.