dragic hornacek

The Extra Pass: Suns struggling to stay in postseason picture after recent, disappointing slide


NEW YORK — No matter how the Phoenix Suns finish the 2013-14 season, the year will be considered an overachievement by every metric possible.

But after spending so much of the season as one of the league’s feel-good stories, firmly entrenched in the Western Conference playoff picture for most of it, falling out of postseason contention and finishing in the lottery as many predicted would be supremely disappointing.

The Suns find themselves a game and a half behind Memphis for the final playoff spot in the West after getting rolled by the Nets on Monday, in a contest where Phoenix brought nowhere near the required effort — something that was evident from the game’s early moments.

“It sure looked like [a difficult night was ahead] right from the start,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said afterward. “The energy level wasn’t where it was in the [previous game, a win in Toronto] — missing easy shots right off the bat, timeouts. They came out of timeouts and didn’t run the play we had on the board, didn’t know where to go. I just didn’t think their heads were in it.”

The final numbers weren’t as bad as they were at the game’s lowest point, when the Nets had built a lead of as many as 23 points in the second half and were threatening to finish the game shooting better than 60 percent from the field — a mark they would have hit easily if not for too many third quarter heat-checks, and some rough shooting from Alan Anderson and Marcus Thornton that dragged the average down.

Phoenix looked out of sync offensively all night long, but the defense was even worse as Brooklyn had amassed 44 points in the paint by halftime while shooting better than 67 percent over the game’s first 24 minutes. The missing cohesion defensively, along with 11 first half turnovers were an indication to Hornacek that his team wasn’t all there in this one.

“That’s all lack of focus,” he said. “If you don’t mentally prepare for the game, thinking about it all day long you’ll have the slip-ups — the lazy passes, not holding a guy off to get open. It’s all the little things in a game that help you win, and we did none of ‘em.”

The Suns haven’t been doing those things consistently in quite some time. Back on Feb. 22, Phoenix was sixth in the Conference standings with a record of 33-21, but eight losses in their last 13 games now have them on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. Hornacek has talked to the team about games that could impact their playoff positioning before, but he’s wary of continuing to do so because it hasn’t yielded the desired results.

“We try not to talk about it, because last time we talked about playoff positioning — just, ‘hey, we’ve got to win this game for playoffs’ — we played kind of like this again,” Hornacek said. “So I don’t know if that was pressure that got to ‘em tonight, but we just didn’t have the effort, for whatever reason.”

Goran Dragic, who’s played at an All-Star level even though he just missed the cut for an appearance in the midesason exhibition, was limited against the Nets by foul trouble and couldn’t get into a rhythm. But he didn’t think the pressure of the playoffs was getting to him or his teammates to the point where it’s impacting their performance.

“We talk about that we want to be a playoff team, of course,” Dragic said. “But I don’t think that because of that we’re losing those games.”

Dragic instead pointed to the teams the Suns have been losing to — playoff teams, to be exact, in five of the eight that have come during this recent slide.

“We didn’t shoot the ball well and our defense has been a problem, but we’ve had a tough stretch,” Dragic said. “We played against teams that are playoff teams. We tried to battle; some games we lost really close, by three or four points. It’s just a tough stretch for us, but we’re not going to complain. We still can make the playoffs. We’ve still got 15 games left to play and hopefully we’re going to regroup and try to get a lot of wins.”

The schedule is difficult to end the season, however, with six of the final eight against teams currently in playoff position in the West.

Phoenix entered the year in rebuilding mode, and the fact that they’ve experienced so much success in spite of that isn’t lost on them. But with a chance at the playoffs having gone from a faint dream to a reality that’s become somewhat expected, missing out on that is going to hurt — especially if it happens because of lackluster efforts like the one we saw against the Nets.

“Some nights you just have a bad night, you flush it down the toilet and go on to the next one,” Hornacek said. “There’s nothing you can do about this one. We’ve got a couple of games at home against teams where we should win if we come out and play, but if we come out and play like we did tonight, we could lose those games, too.”

Report: Bulls close to deal with former Celtic R.J. Hunter

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 17:  R.J. Hunter #28 of the Boston Celtics carries the ball against the New York Knicks during the third quarter at TD Garden on October 17, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The No. 28 pick, R.J. Hunter became the first first-rounder from last year’s draft to fall out of the NBA when the Celtics waived him.

He won’t be out of the league for long.

The Bulls, the only team with an open roster spot, appear close to adding him.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Hunter belongs in the league.  Though he must knock down shots far more reliably than he has, Hunter has potential as an outside shooter with complementary ball skills to provide value. Boston just had more NBA-caliber players than roster spots.

He’s far from a lock to succeed in the NBA, but I value Hunter about as much as Tony Snell – whom the Bulls just traded for an upgrade at backup point guard in Michael Carter-Williams. That they could so cheaply replace Snell makes that deal look even better.

Celtics’ Gerald Green braids shamrock into his hair (photo)

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 15:  Gerald Green #30 of the Boston Celtics dribbles up the court against the New York Knicks during the second half of their preseason game at Madison Square Garden on October 15, 2016 in New York City. 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 Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Gerald Green was drafted by the Celtics and spent two seasons with them before being traded (in the Kevin Garnett deal).

After stints with the Timberwolves, Rockets, Mavericks, Nets, Pacers, Suns and Heat, he signed with Boston this summer.

Think he’s happy to be back?

Abby Chin of CSN Mid-Atlantic:

Quote of the Day: Joel Embiid says he learned to shoot by watching ‘just regular white people’ on the internet

CAMDEN, NJ - SEPTEMBER 26: Joel Embiid #21 and Dario Saric #9 of the Philadelphia 76ers participate in media day on September 26, 2016 in Camden, New Jersey. 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 Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Joel Embiid couldn’t endear himself by playing in an NBA game, because he’s been too injured to do that in two pro seasons.

He’s had to resort to witty nicknames, practice-gym dunks, fun-loving stunts, attention-seeking tweets and self-deprecating humor.

Embiid is scheduled to make his NBA debut tonight, when the 76ers play the Thunder. Soon, we’ll judge him more for what he does on the court.

But, first, Embiid went out with one last bang of a quote.

Embiid, via Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated:

“You know how I learned to shoot?” Embiid says. “I watched white people. Just regular white people. They really put their elbow in and finish up top. You can find videos of them online.”

Tyronn Lue says ‘they said’ LeBron James has a body of a 19-year-old, but nobody else knows where Cavaliers coach got that

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LeBron James might be the greatest athlete in NBA history.

But even he has shown signs of decline at age 31.

He has gotten multiple back injections and even took a break during the season to rehabilitate in Miami. The forward has treated the last two regular-seasons as glorified warmups for the playoffs.

Just where does LeBron stand physically?

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue gave quite the answer.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Lue said James, at 31, “had a chance to get tested this summer and they said he had a body of a 19-year old. Maybe he’s getting younger. Benjamin Button.”

It was a little perplexing because neither James, nor his personal trainer, Mike Mancias, nor general manager David Griffin had any real idea what test Lue was talking about.

This reminds me of Derrick Rose attributing the Knicks and Warriors being super teams to “They’re saying.” Who is they, and what are they smoking?

That LeBron, Mancias and Griffin won’t cop to knowing is quite revealing.

LeBron does not have the body of a 19-year-old. Years of other-worldly play and long playoff runs has taken a toll.

Because he’s declining from such a high peak, LeBron should remain elite for a while. His athleticism might even fluctuate as it trends downward overall.

But Father Time is undefeated, and LeBron didn’t just get a mid-career reset to his rookie physical form.