EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Phoenix Suns’ defense offers little resistance in road loss to Wizards

Dec 28, 2022, 7:38 PM
Washington Wizards center Kristaps Porzingis (6) looks to pass the ball as Phoenix Suns forward Mik...

Washington Wizards center Kristaps Porzingis (6) looks to pass the ball as Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25) and guard Chris Paul (3) defend during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Wednesday’s 127-102 loss for the Phoenix Suns to the Washington Wizards spotlighted how difficult it is going to be for the Suns to win shorthanded right now.

The Suns got good performances from their current Big 3 of Chris Paul, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges in the same game for the first time in weeks. They shot well from 3 at 13-for-31 (41.9%).

But after doing much better defensively in the last two games, Phoenix’s defense reset back to its poor level of play in December. Washington by quarter scored 36, 28, 29 and 34 points.

Offensively, there wasn’t enough help for that Big 3 and the only wave of scoring from any of them that effectively made up a deficit that got as big as 19 in the first half was Paul’s in the third quarter. He scored or assisted 20 of the Suns’ 24 first points to get Phoenix within one.

A few minutes later when the Wizards’ lead was still only two points, though, an 18-4 burst quickly had the Suns back down by 15. Phoenix had five turnovers over that 3:35.

It did not help that Phoenix was without Devin Booker (left hamstring strain), Cam Johnson (meniscus tear), Cam Payne (right foot strain) and Landry Shamet (right Achilles soreness) again. It also did help that Phoenix was on the second game of a back-to-back and didn’t arrive in the area until 4 a.m. local time, per Bally Sports Arizona’s broadcast.

But the Suns did not lose this game because of either of those things. They lost because their defense continues to commit far too many errors, an uncharacteristic element of their play even from an individual basis when you consider how nearly every player on the roster is at least an average defender, and a lot of ’em are pretty darn good.

The Suns (20-16) were down 15 through a first quarter in which it was outscored 18-2 in the points in the paint department, and that is to a Washington (15-21) team missing its No. 1 option Bradley Beal (left hamstring soreness).

When Phoenix’s offense began to click after producing just 21 points in the first frame, the defense didn’t. The Suns in the mid-second quarter scored on six straight possessions but failed to make up any ground because they let the Wizards do it on eight of their last nine. That is when Phoenix still trailed by 14, getting the deficit down to nine for halftime.

That’s when the Paul stretch, one of our first glimpses of true Point God form this season, nearly got the Suns in control before the Wizards snatched it back rapidly and didn’t let go the rest of the way.

Ayton was 14-of-22 from the field for a season-high 31 points with seven rebounds, three assists and two steals in 36 minutes. Paul added 20 points, two rebounds, seven assists and two steals. Bridges scored 17 points and contributed four rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block.

Washington’s Rui Hachimura scored a career-high 28 points off the bench, outscoring the Suns’ reserves on his own 28-24. Points the paint ended up at 60-28 Wizards.

The Suns grew frustrated with the officiating and head coach Monty Williams, Ayton and Paul all had technical fouls by the end of the game.

Phoenix is now 5-10 in December and 2-5 in games without Booker.

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