In the midst of a rocky stretch in Terry Porter’s first season as coach, the Suns look to snap a four-game losing streak Saturday night when they host the Jazz.
Phoenix won at least 54 games in each of coach Mike D’Antoni’s four full seasons with the team, but the Suns didn’t extend D’Antoni’s contract in the offseason, letting him sign with New York and hiring the less-experienced Porter to replace him.
The Suns (11-9) fared well early, winning eight of Porter’s first 11 games, but they haven’t lived up to their lofty standards lately. They’ve lost six of nine, including four straight. They haven’t had a longer losing streak since dropping six in a row from Jan. 12-21, 2005.
Suns players sounded particularly discouraged after a 112-97 loss in Dallas on Thursday night. Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire combined to shoot 18-for-32 from the field (56.3 percent), but the rest of the team was 18-for-49 (36.7 percent).
“We haven’t found a rhythm or a good balance yet,” said Nash, a two-time MVP who had 20 points and 10 assists without playing the fourth quarter. “We haven’t shown a fighting spirit yet to get over the hump. Right now we’re in a dark place but we have to believe in each other.”
The Suns have made a number of moves to improve defensively under second-year general manager Steve Kerr, including last season’s trade for Shaquille O’Neal and the hiring of Porter to replace the offensive-minded D’Antoni.
Despite the new focus on stopping opponents instead of just outscoring them, Phoenix is allowing 100.5 points per game this season, including 110.0 per game during the current skid. In that four-game stretch, the Suns have given up 43 points to Miami’s Dwyane Wade, 47 to New Jersey’s Devin Harris and 39 to Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki.
“We haven’t done a good job of taking the challenge and guarding their guys,” Porter said after Thursday’s loss. “There’s no doubt we’ll get better.”
The Suns may need to be better to beat the Jazz, who have overcome significant injury problems to stay near the top of the Western Conference. Utah (13-8) has been without point guard Deron Williams for 13 games, center Mehmet Okur for five and All-Star power forward Carlos Boozer for nine.
Williams and Okur have returned, but Boozer remains sidelined with a strained left quadriceps.
Boozer likely won’t rush back with Paul Millsap playing so well in his place. The third-year forward posted his seventh straight double-double in his eighth start Friday night, recording 17 points, 11 rebounds and a career-high seven assists in a 114-87 rout of Toronto.
“(Millsap’s) play has just been outstanding,” said coach Jerry Sloan, whose team shot 50.0 percent or better for the sixth time in nine games without Boozer, its leading scorer and rebounder. “The way he played tonight - going after the ball relentlessly, finding rebounds, doing whatever he has to do— it’s really been fun to watch. I can’t say enough about him.”
Utah is 10-1 against Western Conference opponents, including a 109-97 win over Phoenix on Nov. 17. Williams and Okur missed that game, but Boozer had 21 points and 15 rebounds as the Jazz outrebounded the Suns 47-26.
Stoudemire led Phoenix with 30 points in that game, and is averaging 29.3 points and 10.0 rebounds while shooting 59.6 percent from the field in his last three games against Utah—all losses.