Marcin Gortat, Derrick Favors, Paul Millsap

Suns trying to come to grips with recent offensive struggles

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PHOENIX — The Suns dropped their second straight home game on Sunday, falling to a Memphis Grizzlies team it had matched up well against in two earlier meetings this season.

The loss itself, the team’s eighth in its last nine games, is the least of the problems in Phoenix.

Offensively, the Suns have regressed completely over the past two games, to the point where the results have been disastrous. After scoring just 80 points against Utah on Friday, they managed only 81 against Memphis, and the problems, while evident, have begun to demoralize and frustrate the team’s core players.

Jared Dudley, one of the co-captains, broke down what some of the issues have been, and said specifically that the cold shooting has been a result of Phoenix abandoning the offensive strategy in favor of isolations and questionable shots.

“I attribute it to a lot of isolations, bad shot selection, [being] careless with the ball, and bad turnovers,” he said. “You’ve got to move the ball. We’re not a team that can just hold the ball, stick, stick, and then give it to Kobe or LeBron to save the day. Until we figure it out though, we’re going to keep doing these interviews and keep losing.

“It’s not that hard,” he continued. “If you don’t have a good shot, swing the ball, set good screens, roll … we have to play with all five together to have a shot.”

The one-on-one play has been most troublesome, especially on a team that really doesn’t have any players capable of creating good looks for themselves in an isolation set. Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said as much on Sunday.

“We don’t have one on one players, period. It’s detrimental to our team [when that happens],” he said. “Very much so. We’re a much better basketball team when we have three or more passes. We shoot the ball better; the field goal percentage, there’s almost a 22 percent difference.”

What makes the offensive struggles most maddening, besides the breakdown in executing team concepts, is that this is a relatively recent phenomenon. Phoenix averaged over 97 points per game in its previous five before this two-game slide, but over it last seven quarters, has managed to score just 18.6 points per period.

Equally frustrating is the fact that the players seem to know exactly what the problems are, yet have been unable to fix them. Dudley tried to make this point as clearly as possible.

“Everyone’s got to look themselves in the mirror,” he said. “No one’s here babysitting — you know if you’re going 100 percent, you know if you’re shooting bad shots. We can definitely police you, we can definitely say something, which I have. We can argue about it, but at the end of the day we’re all losing together.”

Marcin Gortat, the more-than-occasional beneficiary of easy looks at the rim when the offense is clicking, would like to see more execution out of the team’s pick and roll sets.

“We’ve got to work on our pick and roll offense, I think that’s the main thing,” he said. “That’s the main problem. If we can develop our pick and roll offense, everything’s going to open up for the other guys.

“Last year, we were really successful on the pick and roll. We’d start the game where I’d receive a few easy buckets on the roll, and then the whole team had to clog the paint, and everybody else on our team at the three-point line was open. It has to start somewhere.”

Gortat made it clear that he wasn’t lobbying for additional touches, and said it’s simply the execution on the plays that are being run that needs to improve. But he was on the same page with Dudley that the shot selection is a problem.

“There’s just too many wild shots from the outside; shots that we don’t need,” he said. “And we’ve got to change that. We’ve got to shoot the shots that we can make.”

The frustration is palpable when speaking to these guys; they have the talent to compete on most nights, but not enough to stray from the game plan for extended stretches. Gentry recognizes that this is a critical time for his team, and tried to convey to them that they’ll need to stick together in order to turn things around.

“The message I said to the guys is that we, number one, have got to stay together,” he said. “You can’t fragment right now; that’s the easiest thing to do is to point fingers and go your separate ways. We’re not going to do that.

“We’re in a bad situation,” he continued. “We’re in a bad spot right now. The thing about this league is, the only ones who can dig us out is ourselves.”

Cory Joseph scores career-high 33 as Raptors beat Nets (VIDEO)

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NEW YORK (AP) DeMar DeRozan‘s double-double and Cory Joseph‘s career night propelled the Toronto Raptors past the free-falling Brooklyn Nets.

DeRozan had 36 points and 11 rebounds, and Joseph set a personal high by scoring 33 on Tuesday night in Toronto’s 119-109 victory over Brooklyn.

After shooting 3 for 14 in the first half, DeRozan found his stroke and finished 13 for 28.

“I just kept playing the same way,” he said. “You know, getting good looks and just going out there and I know it’s going to come, it’s just more so being patient, not really worrying about the misses.”

Toronto won its fourth straight game and extended Brooklyn’s losing streak to 11 in a row.

Joseph started in place of Kyle Lowry, given the night off to rest.

“Kyle provides a lot of scoring for us,” Joseph said. “I knew that slot would be missing today, so I took it upon myself to be more aggressive, try to be aggressive and take what the defense gives me. They were giving up a lot of layups and short floaters, so that’s what I was taking and so I happened to be making them.”

Terrence Ross added 15 points for the Raptors, who opened the game with an 11-0 run but fell behind after the first quarter.

Still, the Nets have not won since Dec. 26.

“You’ve got to keep going,” center Brook Lopez said. “We have a young group and we’re learning a lot on the fly, so you’ve got to just stay positive. We’re doing a lot well, just has not translated in the win column. I think we’re definitely going to break through soon. We’ve just got to give ourselves a chance every night.”

Lopez had 28 points for the Nets. Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson scored 14 apiece.

Toronto took a 92-85 lead into the fourth quarter and never looked back. DeRozan led the way with 10 points in the third period, equaling LeVert’s total in the quarter.

Lopez and Joseph each scored 14 in the second.

After the 11-0 spurt by the Raptors at the start, Brooklyn rallied to take a 29-26 lead at the end of the first quarter.

TIP-INS

Raptors: Coach Dwane Casey was asked what his expectations are for this season after losing in the Eastern Conference finals last year. “We always want to advance. I’m not going to put a level on where we’ve got to get to or anything like that. Our thing is to continue to get better. We can’t just try to get as many wins as we can and hope it works in the playoffs,” he said. … Joseph started for the first time since April 8, 2016. … Lucas Nogueria experienced blurred vision and was checked for a concussion in the locker room after being hit in the head during the first quarter. He did not return. . Patrick Patterson (sore left knee), Jared Sullinger (left foot surgery) and Delon Wright (right shoulder surgery) were out.

Nets: Coach Kenny Atkinson discussed what he’s seen from veteran Quincy Acy, who is nearing the end of a 10-day contract. “Love his energy. Love his pop, his aggressiveness and how competitive he is. We’ll talk about it after the game with our group. I’ve been pleasantly surprised in his limited minutes,” Atkinson said. … Jeremy Lin (strained left hamstring) was out.

UP NEXT

Raptors: Visit the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday.

Nets: Visit the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday.

Watch Wesley Matthews hit the game-winner as Mavericks beat Bulls

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Wesley Matthews is a tough guy, and perhaps Tuesday night’s game-winning shot over the Chicago Bulls will see the Dallas Mavericks guard back to his old form.

Matthews, who tore his achilles in March of 2015 and has scarcely looked like the same player since, took it to Chicago with a go-ahead 3-pointer with 11.7 seconds left.

It was a good thing too, as Jimmy Butler had come down the play before to give the Bulls a two-point lead.

After Matthews hit the trey, Dwyane Wade would go on to miss a 21-foot jumper for the win as Dallas beat Chicago, 99-98.

Meanwhile, Matthews does appear to be on the verge of a mini-resurgence. In the last three games — all wins for Dallas — the former Portland Trail Blazer has averaged 16 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.6 assists. Perhaps more importantly, Matthews has scored in bulk from 3-point range while shooting an eye-popping 53.4 percent from deep.

The Mavericks aren’t very good, but Matthews getting better is the first step into at least giving teams like Chicago a hassle on their home court like they did on Tuesday.

Minnesota Timberwolves kick in more money to renovate Target Center

Flip Saunders, Glen Taylor
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx owner Glen Taylor is kicking another $9-12 million into the Target Center renovation project.

The Timberwolves announced the additional funds on Tuesday. The team says the new money will be used to get new seats, railings for the lower bowl, a new skyway off of the backside of the arena and a more improved Wi-Fi platform.

Taylor says the new money is geared toward making sure the project to refurbish the dated arena in downtown Minneapolis is as effective as possible. It will push the total cost of the project to between $138-141 million.

Renovations are underway and the city-owned building is scheduled to close this summer so the project can be completed in time for the start of the 2017-18 NBA season.

John Wall, Bradley Beal and defense keying Wizards’ 12-game home streak

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 04: John Wall #2 celebrates after Bradley Beal #3 of the Washington Wizards hit a three point shot against the Atlanta Hawks in the fourth quarter of the Wizards 95-92 win at Verizon Center on November 4, 2016 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON (AP) The same fans who John Wall once joked get more excited for a free chicken sandwich when an opponent misses two free throws than a victory are now being treated to something even better: A winning streak.

Wall and the Washington Wizards have won 12 in a row at home heading into the midpoint of the NBA season and haven’t lost at Verizon Center since Dec. 6. Better starts and improved defense and bench play have sparked this run, pushed Washington to fifth place in the Eastern Conference and made home feel pretty sweet.

“We like playing on our home floor, there’s no question we have a comfort level,” coach Scott Brooks said. “The baskets, everything seems to be good for us. I think our guys are comfortable, they like playing here. We want to make this a special place. Crowd’s been great. We just got to continue to give them something that they can be proud of.”

Brooks tells his players that Wizards fans don’t expect perfection but want 48 minutes of great effort. After a disappointing .500 season last year depressed turnout, this retooled team plays a more exciting, up-and-down brand of basketball that’s worth watching.

The Wizards have eclipsed 100 points in 17 of their past 20 games with Wall on pace to set a career high in points and steals. Backcourt mate Bradley Beal is also on the way to a career-high scoring season, but he points to the other end of the floor as the reason for Washington’s success and home winning streak.

“In terms of us, it’s just been our defense and just us getting after it and playing with energy,” Beal said. “It makes everything easier on offense when we get out and run. That way we don’t necessarily have to call plays all the time, we just get out and flow, and it works. In order to do so, we have to play defense and defend, and we can’t do that if we’re always taking the ball out.”

Brooks wanted the Wizards to become a defensive-minded team that could score instead of an offensive team that defended when it felt like it. Second-year guard Kelly Oubre showed that progress with on-ball defense by locking down the Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard on Monday and said that aspect of the game is better now with more familiarity of scouting reports.

Beyond starters Wall, Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat, the second unit led by Oubre, rookie Tomas Satoransky, Trey Burke and Jason Smith is coming along.

“Guys know their roles now,” Oubre said. “We’re a solid defensive team. We’re getting better. … We have a good home-court advantage coming on now. We got 12 in a row? We’ve got to keep that rolling, man. These fans want to see wins. We’re here to give it to them.”

Wall took some heat last year for suggesting that the free fast-food chicken sandwich fans get if an opponent misses both free throws in the fourth quarter generates the most excitement. It’s oftentimes the loudest cheer of the night, but not lately thanks to the Wizards winning.

He definitely notices a difference.

“We start to win, we go to the starting lineup, the gym is kind of packed more than empty and not getting packed later on,” Wall said. “There is a lot of excitement, and it’s great to know that when they call our names they are cheering for us. It’s something we can use as an advantage.”

After the finale of this home stand Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Wizards play five of their next six games on the road. Their challenge now is to adapt the home winning recipe to winning in less-friendly confines.

“We have to now view it the same way, respect our opponent no matter who it is and just come out with energy knowing that the crowd is against us, nobody’s there to cheer for us,” Beal said. “It’s us against everybody. Just having that same mindset in our approach to the game is probably all we need to do.”