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Seven games that defined the Phoenix Suns’ 2015-16 season

Phoenix Suns' Ronnie Price, left, and P.J. Tucker watch the closing moments of the Suns 116-94 loss to the Sacramento Kings in an NBA basketball game Friday, March 25, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

If there were two words to describe the Phoenix Suns’ 2015-16 season, “unexpected” and “regression” come to mind.

After a 48-win 2013-14 season built up expectations, last season’s possible growth into a playoff team brought disappointment in the form of a 39-43 record.

A rebound season was in order for 2015-16 after the Suns’ signing of veteran center Tyson Chandler and their cleaning up of the backcourt with two clear-cut starters.

As Suns fans know, that’s not what happened.

Seven games defined the season and hinted at the Suns’ future.

A sign of things to come?

All of the excitement brought by the Suns’ offseason didn’t take long to be overcome by the reality.

On the Suns’ Oct. 28 opening night performance, they were thrashed at home by a Dallas Mavericks team led by a backcourt of misfit veterans Raymond Felton and Deron Williams.

The Suns’ hyped up backcourt of Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight was unable to outplay two guards that looked far beyond their wonder years.

Felton and Williams outscored Knight and Bledsoe 30-28 and handed the Suns a shocking 111-95 loss in front of their fans.

The potential of the backcourt shines through in Denver

After a 6-5 start to the season, the Suns and their backcourt finally got the scoring explosion they were looking for from their duo.

Phoenix scored 65 points in the second half against the Denver Nuggets for a signature comeback win on Nov. 21.

Knight and Bledsoe combined for 60 points on 37 shots, with Knight scoring 24 of his 38 points in the second half.

Phoenix was going to need their backcourt to carry them some nights and the Kentucky products showed they were capable of doing so in what felt like the jumpstart the season needed.

Unable to close and the beginning of the end

Before hitting rock bottom, the theme of the Suns’ struggles would be their inability to close out games that came down to the last few minutes.

A 95-93 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Dec. 6 was the fourth loss in a row by 10 points or less and made the Suns 2-9 in games in that situation.

That Grizzlies game, however, will always be remembered more for the first game Markieff Morris was benched in.

The controversial power forward failed to produce after he claimed his trade demands over the summer were a thing of the past.

He shot only 41 percent in December, leading to Jon Leuer and Mirza Teletovic seeing a majority of the minutes at power forward.

Following the benching in Memphis, Morris played seven minutes against the Chicago Bulls and then did not play for the next six games.

He would not play more than 25 minutes until Jan. 12.

Reality Check

If the opening night loss to the Mavericks was a sign of things to come, the Suns’ 111-104 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Dec. 27 was a reality check.

The 76ers picked up their second win of the season and first on the road, moving their overall record to 2-30.

The Suns, meanwhile, fell to 12-20 and lost their fifth straight. The loss would be the fifth game in a nine-game losing streak that began to diminish any remaining hope of a playoff push.

The biggest loss of the night, however, was Bledsoe.

While attempting to fight through a screen on defense, Bledsoe took a bump to the right side of his body and went down to the floor. He stayed on the floor for the Suns ensuing offensive possession and was eventually helped off by two members of the Suns staff.

Bledsoe tore his left meniscus and would undergo his second major knee surgery in three years as a member of the Suns.

The effect of that loss was clear when the Suns fired assistant coaches Mike Longabardi and Jerry Sichting the next morning.

Reports broke after the firing that Jeff Hornacek’s future was “unclear” with the team and that Hornacek was “adamantly against the dismissal of his staff.”

Longabardi went on to serve on the Cavaliers bench.

Hornacek Out, Watson In

Another loss to the Mavericks makes the list and this time, Dallas didn’t even need Dirk Nowitzki.

The 91-78 loss on Jan. 31 was Phoenix’s 17th loss in their last 19 games and was the breaking point for Hornacek.

At 11:59 p.m. PST, Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted that the Suns had fired Hornacek.

On Feb. 2, the Suns named assistant Earl Watson the interim coach.

The End

Under Watson, the Suns made Morris the No. 1 option in the offense and Morris saw a rapid bump in his playing time and points.

In four games, Morris averaged 34.5 minutes and 21 points.

His fifth game with the increased role wouldn’t be about his play, however.

Morris got into a scuffle with teammate Archie Goodwin in the Suns’ 112-104 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Feb. 10.

The Kansas product appeared to be telling Goodwin about a previous play on the floor when Goodwin put his hands on Morris, who shoved Goodwin when he stood up.

It would be Morris’ final game with the team. The 2011 first-round pick by Phoenix was traded to the Washington Wizards in the final hour of the trade deadline for a protected first-round pick, Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair, with the latter two being released later on.

A(nother) sign of things to come?

The rest of the Suns’ season was a whole lot of losing and while that continued in Golden State on March 12, Suns fans got another peek of the future of the backcourt — this time including Devin Booker.

Knight and the rookie led a 24-12 run against the defending world champions in their house and the duo scored or assisted on every basket.

That included 17 points in less than five minutes from Knight, who finished with 30 points.

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