EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns continue to show fractures in embarrassing loss to Clippers

Apr 9, 2024, 10:58 PM | Updated: Apr 11, 2024, 7:25 am

Bradley Beal...

Phoenix Suns guard Bradley Beal (Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)

(Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)

PHOENIX — Monday’s solar eclipse was supposedly the first since 2017, but astronomers must not have been checking the skies this Phoenix Suns season when certain stars are absent and how the sun is completely enveloped as a result.

Phoenix’s embarrassing inability to get up for games when the opponent is without its best players continued on Tuesday in a 105-92 stinker against a Los Angeles Clippers squad down Kawhi Leonard (right knee inflammation) and James Harden (right foot inflammation).

A second half rally to get within seven after trailing by as many as 37 made the final score look far better than it was.

Stakes could not be higher in the last week of the regular season with a potential play-in tournament fate in waiting. The Suns themselves said the playoffs basically started for them two weeks ago.

But you know when an organism consumes itself? That’s what it’s like watching this Suns team sometimes.

A few opening unforced errors immediately triggered the “oh no, here we go again” in all of us, and the Suns started to miss and miss and miss half-decent looks while the crowd grew more and more restless. A 35-4 beginning slashed open the scars of the last two playoff exits at Footprint Center, and fans were rightfully booing in droves before the score even got that ludicrous. When Devin Booker knocked down his first of two free throws to end a scoreless stretch lasting 5:18, they sarcastically cheered loudly.

They were making fun of Booker, the face of the franchise who has been here with them through all the highs and lows. It didn’t matter it was him and it shouldn’t have. The mockery was well deserved.

Phoenix’s continuous signs of showing this is exactly who they are came to fruition with frightening efficiency. Every slight surge since Christmas has been partnered by puzzlers like Tuesday, and if the loss in San Antonio without Victor Wembanyama wasn’t the last straw for many in losing complete faith in this team’s future, this was the final nail in the coffin of any remaining optimism for this Suns season.

All of the tailspin losses and awful connectivity on the court beg the question of accountability in the locker room. Here is what head coach Frank Vogel, Kevin Durant and Booker said when asked to describe it.

Booker: “I’d say better now than it was earlier in the season.”

Vogel: “They want to win tomorrow.”

Vogel received a follow-up: Does he sense whether or not the accountability is there for his team and he answered, “Of course.”

Durant asked for clarification on the question before getting told the fanbase wanted to know the types of talks that are happening at points like this in the season.

“We talked about the game and what we need to do better but we’re not putting the blame on one player or anybody,” Durant said. “I guess that’s what the fans want to do is place blame. But we win and lose as a team and that’s what we talk about every single day. We all can play better and so, yeah, that’s usually the talk. I know people want to place blame on one player or the coach but we win and lose as a team.”

Don’t shoot the messenger here, but if you’re looking for any quotes on how bad Tuesday got, there were none that arrived anywhere in the vicinity of properly portraying it. The closest was Booker confirming he knows how snowballing defeats like Tuesday feel.

Choose how much credit you want to provide the Suns for the push in the last two quarters. Who does deserve some is the fans, attempting to create a spark right alongside its team once momentum started to generate.

If there’s a basketball takeaway, it’s that Phoenix needs to abandon a second center in the rotation and employ small-ball lineups frequently.

Despite numerous tells that a backup center is not the way to go and the ways the Suns (46-33) need to activate their offense are best done by five-out groups, Vogel only uses them as a last-ditch option like he did to begin the second half. It’s not his style to lose even more physicality when the group hardly has any and his teams usually feature large frontcourts, but it’s beyond time to adapt to what best suits the roster.

Jusuf Nurkic (right ankle sprain) did not play and his status is in doubt for Wednesday’s rematch in Los Angeles (51-28).

A New Orleans Pelicans (47-32) win bumped the Suns back to No. 7 in the standings. Both teams were fortunate to get a Sacramento Kings (45-34) loss after they were up 20 on the Oklahoma City Thunder before falling late.

Sacramento plays New Orleans on Thursday and Phoenix on Friday. To avoid a play-in game, the Suns might need the Kings to beat the Pelicans to bring New Orleans’ loss total equal to Phoenix’s before the Suns have to defeat Sacramento to secure a tiebreaker that might now be necessary.

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