What’s behind Phoenix Suns’ slide toward NBA cellar dwellers?
MEMPHIS – Torrey Craig said he didn’t look at the NBA standings even when the Phoenix Suns were atop the Western Conference last month.
“I know we need to focus on these games now,” the Suns forward. “When we need to focus on the standings, we’ll do it.”
Phoenix is in a much different place since early December
The Suns (21-24) have fallen all the way down to 12th in the conference after losing, 136-106, Monday to now West-leader Memphis at FedExForum on Martin Luther King Day.
“We’ve just got to regroup and go back home,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “This has been a tough, tough stretch for us on a number of fronts. The wins and losses. The injuries.
Once 16-7, Phoenix has gone 5-17 since.
The Suns are 10 games out of first place heading into Tuesday’s NBA schedule.
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“Keep playing,” Suns guard Josh Okogie said. “You can’t get out of it. You’ve got to get through it. The only way to get through it is to keep playing, stick together. In the early years of my career, I’ve been through some rough patches, some losing streaks.”
Okogie is in his first season in Phoenix after spending his first four seasons in Minnesota.
“I will say this team has that I didn’t have with other ones is our spirit is high,” Okogie continued. “We might be under .500, but the way we operate, the way we practice, the way our attention to detail is here, we’re still operating like we’re one of the top three teams in the West.
Here’s where the Suns are right now heading into a five-game homestand that begins Thursday against Brooklyn (27-15), which is without Kevin Durant (right MCL sprain).
They’re a team riddled with injuries just a year removed from having the NBA’s best record.
They were just in the finals two years ago with a 2-0 lead before losing four in a row to Milwaukee.
A huge chunk of the core from those two teams remains.
Once “whole” as Williams has said numerous times this season, Phoenix believes it can get back in the playoff picture and make a deep playoff run.
Anything can happen in the postseason, but right now, the Suns look like one of the NBA’s worst teams.
Two of the last three losses have been by 29 points at Denver and 30 Monday at Memphis.
The Grizzlies and Nuggets share the conference lead in the West
Phoenix trailed by as many as 36 points against the Grizzles, winners of 10 straight after losing Dec. 27 to the Suns at home.
“I don’t have a problem about (Monday night),” Suns big Deandre Ayton said. “I thought the guys played hard. Although it was by 30, we’re working on us and we know the pieces that are missing, but we played hard. We started off the game pretty well, just got to finish.
One of those major missing pieces, Cam Johnson, is set to return as early as Thursday versus the Nets. He hasn’t played since tearing his right meniscus on Nov. 4 against Portland.
Chris Paul stayed back in Phoenix during the four-game road trip to receive treatment for a sore right hip.
Having Johnson and Paul back could quickly turn the Suns around.
“It’ll be great, can’t wait,” Suns wing Mikal Bridges said. “It’s going to help us get a chance to win every game we have. Excited.”
Devin Booker (groin) and Cameron Payne (foot) are set for re-evaluation later this month. The Suns could be full strength right before the Feb. 9 trade deadline and All-Star break.
The deadline is a more pressing date as they have yet to trade Jae Crowder.
Suns president of basketball operations, James Jones, has been trying to move Crowder, but seeing where his roster is by, say, the first of next month may give him a better idea of what the Suns need in return for Crowder.
Then again, with an interim team governor in Sam Garvin, a minority owner who needs approval from Robert Sarver to make a major trade, and the NBA having not yet approved billionaire mortgage lender Mat Ishbia as the new team owner, the Suns may not be able to make a game-changing trade before the trade deadline.
It usually takes two months for the league to approve a new owner. Ishbia agreed in principle on Dec. 20 to buy the Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury from Sarver for a record $4 billion.
Injuries and ownership status aside, right now, Phoenix is a below .500 team trying to stay positive through its roughest stretch under Williams.
“We’ve been dealt a tough hand,” said Williams, who is in his fourth NBA season in Phoenix. “And everything you want is on the other side of hard. You’ve just got to keep going until you get past it.”
Have opinion about current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Phoenix Suns collapse in NBA standings from first in West to 12th