As they get closer to the finish line, the Phoenix Suns see their postseason goal move further away.
While the playoffs are not completely out of reach, it’s looking more and more like extending the season will end in vain for a fifth straight year.
LaMarcus Aldridge and the Portland Trail Blazers handed the Suns their second straight loss, an 87-81 defeat in front of an announced crowd of 17,219 at US Airways Center Friday.
Aldridge had a game-high 27 points — 12 coming in the fourth quarter — which was only three fewer than the Suns scored as a team in the final period.
The Suns (38-35) endured a three-and-half minute stretch without a successful field goal in the third quarter and then a nine-minute run without a basket in the fourth, when an eight-point lead disappeared along with their shooting and perhaps their playoff hopes.
The Suns, who have not played postseason basketball since advancing to the Western Conference Finals in 2010 and are currently three-and-a-half games back of eighth-place Oklahoma City, missed 17 of 23 attempts in the fourth quarter and were outscored 27-15.
Marcus Morris led four Suns players in double figures with 19 points. He added a game-high 12 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season, with three of those coming in the last four games.
Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers (46-25) won for the first time in Phoenix since Dec. 10, 2010, snapping a seven-game losing streak.
Interesting start for Markieff Morris: He scored the game’s first five points, including a 3-pointer, but then he also committed the Suns’ first three turnovers. By the time the first quarter ended, Morris’ line read: seven points, four rebounds and four turnovers — team highs in each category. He finished with an eighth straight game of at least 14 points, scoring 15.
Faced with their biggest deficit of the first half (11 points), the Suns went on a 13-2 run with Gerald Green hitting two 3s and Marcus Morris scoring five points. Green’s second triple tied the game at 43. Both he and Morris each scored a team-high eight second-quarter points.
The Morris twins combined for 15 first-half rebounds, helping the Suns win the battle of the boards, 28-23. However, in the second half, the Suns were out-boarded 31-20, including 17-8 in the fourth quarter, and lost the overall rebounding mark 54-48, seeing a season-best seven-game rebounding advantage over their opponent snapped.
Bledsoe scored five points during a 9-0 Suns run that turned a three-point deficit into a six-point advantage, 62-56, at the 4:41 mark of the third quarter. At the same time, the Blazers missed 10 straight shots, going six minutes without a basket, plus they committed three turnovers. Bledsoe finished with 13 points, but even better was his seven assists with zero turnovers. It was his highest assist total with no mistakes since an eight-assist, zero-turnover game against Philadelphia on Jan. 2.
Green’s 17-foot jumper 48 seconds into the fourth quarter gave the Suns their largest lead of the game at 68-60. He scored 12 points in 13 minutes off the bench. This marks his first double-digit scoring performance since March 7 and the most points he has scored since a 15-point effort on Feb. 25 at Denver.
The Suns made their first nine free throws and finished 11-of-12 (91.7 percent) — not bad for a team that had not shot better than 71 percent from the foul line in its past six games (64.5 percent), missing on average eight attempts per game.
After falling behind 5-0, the Blazers scored on 10 of their next 11 possessions, which included an 11-4 run with Aldridge hitting four consecutive field goals. He ended the first quarter with six straight makes for a game-best 12 points in 12 minutes. Aldridge added two rebounds, part of a nine-board effort.
It took just six minutes for Steve Blake to nearly double his season average of 4.3 points per game. He made a jumper and then back-to-back 3s for eight points and help the Blazers extend their lead to 34-25 only two minutes into the second quarter. Blake finished with 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting.
Robin Lopez scored the Blazers’ last four points of the second quarter and the first four of the third to put him in double figures for just the second time in five games. The former Suns center finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the season — his first since March 11.
Aldridge scored the final 10 points of a 15-2 fourth-quarter run that put the Blazers ahead 85-76 with 1:04 left to play. He hit turnaround jumpers from 11-, 14-, 17- and 17-feet out before adding a 19-foot jump shot. Aldridge now has 26 games of at least 25 points this season, which is sixth-most in the NBA.
From the 9:26 mark of the fourth quarter to 23.9 seconds remaining in the game, the Suns made only one field goal, a Marcus Morris 18-foot jump shot at 3:03. During this stretch, 14 attempts were missed, including 10 in a row at one point, all contributing to a 26.1 shooting percentage in the period.
STAT OF THE GAME
36.8: The Suns’ shooting percentage for the game, the fifth time since the All-Star break they’ve shot less than 40 percent
HE SAID IT
“We’re not making shots. Our shooting percentage has been horrible since the All-Star break,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said. “We were right there, and then, obviously, Aldridge made those last four or five and then we didn’t make any. That’s the 10-points — or six points — that made the difference.”
Brandon Knight missed his eighth straight game because of a left ankle sprain suffered March 9.
At halftime, the Suns honored head coach Sam Duane and the Corona del Sol Aztecs for winning a fourth straight AIA Division I state basketball championship.
The final extended homestand of the year comes to a close with perhaps the most important game of the entire season.
The Thunder visit on Sunday, March 29. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning 30 minutes earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.
Oklahoma City, as already has been discussed, is the eight seed in the West, three-and-a-half games clear of the Suns with nine games remaining.
The Thunder have won two of the three previous meetings, but it was the Suns winning the last matchup on Feb. 26, 117-113 in overtime, in which Bledsoe and Russell Westbrook became the first opponents in the NBA since Elgin Baylor and Bob Pettit in 1961 to each record at least 28 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists in a game.
Despite the victory, the Suns own just three wins in their last 16 tries against the Thunder.