After winning four consecutive games, there was renewed optimism surrounding the Phoenix Suns’ chances to break their streak of playoff-less seasons.
They had crept to within two games of the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.
But the young Suns have followed that winning streak up with three straight losses, the third coming Sunday night to the Oklahoma City Thunder, 109-97.
Phoenix led the game by 20 points in the second quarter, but watched the more aggressive Thunder outscore them 75-43 the rest of the way.
“We had too many lapses in our scoring and we got down and dejected,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said after the loss. “That’s when you have to execute and make sure you get a good shot and pound it in and take it to the basket hard and draw a foul.”
The Suns now trail OKC by four games with just eight games remaining in the regular season. Six of those eight are against teams who will play in the postseason. The other two are against New Orleans, who is still fighting for a playoff spot, and Utah, who owns a sterling 13-7 record since the All-Star break.
“All we can do is just go out and try and win games,” Hornacek said. “I told the guys this is not mathematically over, but we’ll find out what kind of character they have. We’ve got to play these games and there all against good teams.
“Have pride to go out there and try to win that game. Worry about what the record is at the end. We got ourselves back in position but just couldn’t win any of these three games.”
A big part of the problem Sunday night again was turnovers. Phoenix committed 18 turnovers, including six in the fourth quarter alone which dampened a comeback attempt.
“It was just sloppy, we were kind of soft with the ball. We weren’t sharp,” the head coach said. “To me, there were more unforced turnovers. When somebody comes from behind and nobody yells out that they’re coming, to me, that’s an unforced turnover.
“We have too many of those all the time.”
The Suns average 15.3 turnovers per contest, the fourth-worst mark in the league.
Could a sloppy loss be chalked up to the youth factor? One player thought so.
“We’re a young team,” forward Markieff Morris said. “We’re immature. That’s what young teams do, they lose games they’re supposed to win.”
Despite the pall over the locker room, Morris remained positive about the Suns’ final eight games.
“Being professional and just doing your job,” he said when asked about he plans to finish the season. “Finishing something you started. It definitely didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but you never give up. Anything’s possible and you’ve got to just keep fighting.”
The Suns are in Portland Monday night to take on the Trail Blazers. The game tips off at 7:00 p.m. and can be heard on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.