The Phoenix Suns are in trouble, real trouble. And that may be the understatement of the season, which is barely two months old.
For the third straight game the Suns lost to a sub.-500 team.
Even worse, the Denver Nuggets (12-17) had played the night before, losing to a poor L.A. Lakers team, 111-107. Worse yet, the Nuggets were down to their third-string point guard and without leading scorer Danilo Gallinari due to injury.
With Emmanuel Mudiay (right ankle sprain) and Jameer Nelson (illness) unavailable, Randy Foye got the start and scored a season-high 31 points in Denver’s 104-96 win in front of an announced Wednesday night crowd of 17,034 at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Foye made 12-of-27 shot attempts, including 7-of-16 from 3 to lead five players in double figures.
Behind Foye’s efforts, the Nuggets led by as many as 22 points (50-28) thanks to a 30-10 first-half run.
To their credit, the Suns (12-19) answered with a run of their own, 38-12, going mainly with a three-point guard lineup to take a 66-63 lead midway through the third quarter.
The advantage, however was short-lived.
Brandon Knight (21 points and 10 assists) and Jon Leuer (18 points and 10 rebounds) each finished with double-doubles, while Ronnie Price scored 20, setting a new career-high that was aided by a career-high six made 3-pointers.
Eric Bledsoe missed nine of his 11 shot attempts to finish with nine points to go along with his seven assists, five rebounds, four steals and four turnovers.
P.J. Tucker grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds.
The win, the Nuggets first in three tries against the Suns this season, snapped a three-game losing streak.
Early on it was all Leuer. He scored the Suns’ first eight points and added three rebounds in the game’s first 5:30 of action. All his points came in the paint with three lay-ups and a dunk off a pass from Bledsoe, who despite missing all three of his first-quarter shot attempts had two assists, one rebound and a steal.
With the Suns down six midway through the first quarter, Knight went on a personal 6-0 run, part of a larger 10-4 Suns run to pull to within two, 20-18, at 2:24. Knight hit two jumpers and a 4-foot runner, plus setup Archie Goodwin for a fastbreak lay-up. Goodwin, by the way, was the first guard off the bench and had four points after the first period.
Credit small ball for the Suns’ second-quarter turnaround. Knight and Price each scored six points, while Bledsoe added five (three free throws) as the Suns closed the period on a 22-6 run and trailed by just six points entering halftime, 56-50. Price hit a pair of 3s, including a buzzer-beating 22-footer with officially 0:00.1 left on the clock.
With three point guards (Bledsoe, Knight and Price) plus Tucker and Leuer, the Suns opened the second half with a 12-5 run. Price’s third 3 of the game capped the three-plus minute stretch and gave the Suns their first lead of the game, 62-61, at 8:48 of the third quarter. It was Price’s only made basket of the period. He did add an assist.
Never before in his 10 previous NBA seasons had Price shot the 3-ball this well. Entering the fourth quarter with three 3-pointers, Price nailed three from beyond the arc in the period’s first three-plus minutes, doubling his game total and establishing a new career-high of made 3-pointers with six. Price played a season-high 30 minutes.
Not looking like a team that played the night before, the Nuggets jumped out to early 8-2 lead. Foye accounted for all eight points with a pair of 3-pointers and an assist. Later, he spearheaded an 8-0 run with a third 3 for a 16-8 advantage at 5:21 of the first quarter. Foye finished the quarter with nine points, three assists and one rebound.
It was a nine-point first-quarter effort for Arthur as well. He scored six during a 13-3 close to the period, giving the Nuggets a 33-21 lead. Arthur was a perfect 4-of-4, including a 26-foot step-back 3-pointer. As a team, the Nuggets shot 14-of-25 (56 percent), hitting 11-of-13 after a run of seven consecutive misses made them 3-of-12.
Hitting eight of their first 16 3-pointers, the Nuggets opened up a 22-point lead, 50-28, at 6:50 of the second quarter. Kostas Papanikolaou and Will Barton hit back-to-back triples; the latter eliciting “boos” from the home team fans. At that point, the Suns had been outscored 30-10. Markieff Morris had six of those 10 points with a pair of 3s.
Just as he started the game, Foye began the second half on fire, scoring the Nuggets’ first nine points. Later, he nailed successive 3-pointers, his fifth and sixth of the game, to cap a 14-1 run (77-67 at 2:38 of the third quarter) in which the Suns went more than five minutes between made baskets. They missed nine straight shot attempts.
Once again it was that Foye character coming up big when it mattered the most, this time in the fourth quarter. His 25-foot 3-pointer with 1:57 to play put the Nuggets up 98-89. It was part of an 11-2 Denver run after the Suns had pulled to within one, 88-87, at the 5:44 mark on a Knight fastbreak lay-up. For Foye, it was his seventh 3-pointer.
STAT OF THE GAME
3: Each of the Nuggets three bench players scored in double figures and outscored the Suns reserves, 49-43. Plus, they added 28 rebounds, two more than the combined total of the Suns’ starting unit
HE SAID IT
“Guys got to strap it up and take pride. Our guards are getting lit up, it’s as simple as that. Until they take some pride in stopping somebody, then it will continue,” said head coach Jeff Hornacek, who failed for the third straight game to earn his 100th head coach victory.
– Morris expressed his displeasure of being removed from the game at the 9:47 mark of the fourth quarter by throwing a towel in the direction of Hornacek.
– Tucker earned a “T” just 75 seconds into the third quarter for arguing a foul call. It was his third technical foul of the season, second-most on the team (Morris, 4).
– The Suns suffered their first loss, 16-1, under Hornacek when shooting 50 percent or better from 3-point range as they made 13-of-25 (52.0 percent) from beyond the arc.
– The Suns suffered their first loss this season, 7-1, when facing an opponent playing their second game of a back-to-back and are now in the midst of a 5-14 stretch.
– Phoenix started the second different lineup in as many days and seventh overall this season with a five-man unit of Bledsoe, Knight, Leuer, T.J. Warren and Alex Len.
The homestand continues with a visit by rookie Jahlil Okafor and the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday, Dec. 26. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning 30 minutes earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.
This is the first of two meetings this season, and the Sixers lone appearance in the Valley.
The Suns have won five straight in the series for the first time since winning five in a row from 2004-06. If the streak is extended to six, it would be the Suns’ longest since winning 10 in a row from March 1992-March 1996.
In the most recent matchup back on Jan. 2, Morris and Gerald Green tied for the Suns’ team-lead with 21 points apiece and Len set a career-high with six blocks in a 112-96 home victory.
The Suns made NBA history in the fourth quarter when Goran Dragic and his brother, Zoran, and Morris and his brother, Marcus, all played together for 31 seconds, marking the first time that two sets of brothers had shared the court at the same time.
Overall, the Suns have won 32 of the last 45 meetings.