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Same old same old: Bender, Chriss hand Suns another mystifying loss

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) dries past Golden State Warriors forward Dragan Bender (10) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — There are moments over the past four-plus years when the Phoenix Suns have made you question at what point things will actually change for the better.

Another one was added on Saturday night when the Suns lost to the Golden State Warriors 115-99.

After Brandon Knight scored 19 points for the Detroit Pistons in Friday night’s Suns defeat, a 19 that was the most points Knight has scored since over three years ago when he was a member of the Suns, more ghosts of fired general manager Ryan McDonough’s past would appear.

Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, two top-10 picks by Phoenix in 2016 that flamed out within three years, started for the Warriors and were part of the win.

Golden State, by the way, currently has a borderline three, maybe four NBA players in their rotation. They are far more of a G League roster than NBA roster. They started two guys on 10-day contracts for crying out loud.

How do we assess this happening in back-to-back nights, during a season in which the Suns have definitely been the best they’ve been on the court since 2015?

It feels like a slap in the face given how Phoenix dumped these three guys and they haven’t done anything with their basketball careers since. The Suns’ players didn’t play as if it felt like one.

It was the type of two-game losing streak that makes you wonder where the accountability, leadership and such is in the locker room. And the Suns are never, and I mean, never going to do better in that department than head coach Monty Williams.

“I didn’t have ’em ready to play. That’s it. That’s it in a nutshell,” he said. “We haven’t played with that kind of effort all year. We haven’t played that selfishly with the ball all year.

“Two nights in a row we’ve been outplayed from an effort standpoint, we certainly didn’t share the ball, and defensively, we don’t guard anybody.”

After there was some brief buzz about the Suns potentially making a run at the eighth seed after the All-Star break, that concept has been given a swift and painless death.

“Forget all that,” Williams said. “You can’t talk about playoffs with that kind of effort. You can’t talk about playoff when you’re not willing to share the ball and stick together.

“Forget playoffs. We’ve got to get back to the foundation and essentials of what we were about pre-Chicago (and) Utah.”

So if he can’t get it out of these players, who can?

The Suns were down 11 entering the fourth quarter, and the likes of Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton couldn’t make up ground against Mychal Mulder, Eric Paschall, Damion Lee, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Andrew Wiggins, Bender and Chriss. Phoenix had it within six to only go back down double digits a few minutes later midway through the quarter and that was all they had left.

Should we even blame the players if this keeps happening with different groups year in and year out? Booker feels like the last guy who deserves blame, but he did not play well in either game. Should we discuss him potentially being a part of it since he’s the one guy who has been here through all of it?

It’s honestly hard to figure out where to point fingers within the basketball operations side of the picture.

By far the worst part was that the two days didn’t feel all that abnormal. It should have been the weirdest freaking thing to watch unfold, something you could never imagine as a new level of suck, but it wasn’t. It was just two more terrible performances by the Suns that had some special narrative sprinkles on top of it being at the hands of former failures from the organization.

Phoenix’s win total this season is going to be its highest in five years. They aren’t going to lose out for the rest of the season.

With that in mind, the fact that missed opportunities to get to that grand total of 25 wins included both of these losses is indicative of where the Suns still stand as a franchise despite the progress they feel they have made in the past nine months.


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