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Lights out shooting from Wizards too much for Suns to handle

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) drives on Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal in the second half during an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019, in Phoenix. The Wizards defeated the Suns 140-132. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

PHOENIX — In what is becoming a theme for the Phoenix Suns while starting center Aron Baynes is sidelined with a hip injury, it’s a whole lot tougher to win when you don’t play good defense.

They didn’t again facing off with Washington on Wednesday, and while the Wizards were aided by some unreal shooting numbers, poor defending is what led to a 140-132 loss.

“It’s defense and it’s knowing your personnel,” head coach Monty Williams said of what went wrong. “We just didn’t bring it to start the game.”

Washington hit 13 of the first 18 three-pointers they attempted. But the craziest part about the Wizards’ shooting was that it didn’t lead to much of an advantage at halftime.

Despite shooting 63%, Washington only led by five thanks to a strong closing of the half by Devin Booker.

Finally, however, those numbers started to align with a legitimate lead at 21 points midway through the third. It was a 21-5 run against the Suns to open the third.

Even though all seemed lost in the moment, there would be multiple opportunities to come back. Washington’s shooting was unsustainable and they had just loss in Denver the night before.

One run came in the late third quarter when the shots stopped falling for Washington and the Suns got it down to nine. They did the same again in the fourth, cutting the lead to four with 3:08 left.

The Suns, though, didn’t have enough execution to close it out, similar to a couple of other close losses this season. That was despite Washington shooting 6-for-17 from deep after they made their first two to begin the second half.

Bradley Beal was spectacular for the Wizards, as spectacular players will do.

He hit some really tough shots, creating most of them for himself, finishing with 35 points on 18 shots.

“He’s a great player. He had a great night,” Williams said.

Beal is going to do that to you sometimes and you can survive due to a bad Wizards roster, but when Ish Smith is hitting those shots, you’re in trouble if the rest of the defense isn’t together.

The former Sun who once shot 1-for-23 from three-point range in a whole Suns season hit two for the Wizards and had 21 points, four rebounds and seven assists.

Williams consistently referenced “know your personnel” after the game, meaning the Suns have to realize who they can’t leave on the perimeter and who to get a hand up on.

Davis Bertans, one of the best shooters on the planet, made three shots from deep right away that Williams called “inexcusable.”

A good chunk of those defensive issues were on Frank Kaminsky, who continues to look like a liability once you stick him in a legit role. So when he’s starting, that’s a problem.

There’s a reason he played under three total minutes in the second half. Williams said that was because the game was too quick for him to be out there.

Booker had 27 points and eight assists. It felt like it could have been more, even with the scoring spurts he had in the second and third quarters, scoring 19 of his 27 in those 24 minutes.

Cam Johnson continues to earn more trust from Williams and has been the preferred wing of the three. He played over Kelly Oubre Jr. and Mikal Bridges in crunch time, totaling a career-high 32 minutes. He scored 17 points and was a team-high plus-14.

Dario Saric added 17 points and 12 rebounds while Ricky Rubio looked back to normal after returning from a three-game absence due to back spasms, racking up 18 points and four assists.

The Suns’ attempted comeback in the last 18 minutes of the game put us in “this will either be a really great win or a really terrible loss” range.

It was indeed a terrible loss, given Washington landing in Phoenix at 2 a.m. from Denver, the poor defensive play and having Rubio back.

While close losses to potential playoff teams like New Orleans, Utah, Denver and the Lakers sting, these are the ones that hurt more.

As Williams and Booker said, the Wizards deserve credit for playing a terrific game and making a ton of shots. But the Suns were the better team and should be taking care of business in matchups like this one.

They showed the ability to do that earlier in the season with convincing wins over Memphis and Golden State, but now they’re back to square one, and in a stretch where they’ve lost five of six.

Booker knows exactly what this is like from several different perspectives.

He’s seen great teams come into Talking Stick Resort Arena, lull around for 2.5 quarters before flipping a switch and easily dismantling bad Suns teams.

He’s seen his own team start to get comfy after a good win or two, only to get smoked by bad teams because they tried to win the game back late, like this loss and another in Sacramento.

“We just have to understand we’re in a position where we’re not one of those teams that can just turn it on and just finish the game,” Booker said. “I mean, we came close to it, cut it to four, but I think if we do that work early we’ll be in a better position throughout the game.”

Coach agrees.

“This is different because we’re better than that and we’ve shown we’re better than that,” Williams said.

“About a week and a half ago, everybody was excited and there was a buzz, and now that’s died down and now we gotta stand up and be good teammates and all the stuff we talk about when we’re in practice and I believe we will.”

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