Phoenix Suns coach Terry Porter wasn’t happy with his team’s defense down the stretch in its most recent victory. He’ll be looking for a better performance against a last-place Indiana Pacers team that’s had even more trouble stopping opponents.
The Suns look to continue to take advantage of a favorable stretch of schedule Wednesday night when they host the Pacers, who are coming off their worst defensive effort in nearly seven years.
Phoenix (19-12) led the lowly Los Angeles Clippers 33-15 after the first quarter Friday night before getting outscored 83-73 the rest of the way in a 106-98 victory.
“I’m happy about the win, but obviously disappointed with the way we closed the game out,” said Porter, in his first season with the team.
“… We have some more work to do. When you play in this league, none of the teams are going to give up. We just have to do a better job of when we have control of those games, to put the pedal to the metal, so to speak, and allow those guys to close the game out.”
The Suns could have an easier time doing that against the Pacers (12-22), the fourth straight opponent they’ve faced with 12 wins or fewer. Phoenix has won the first three, topping Oklahoma City, Memphis and the Clippers to move seven games over .500 for the first time this season.
The Suns will put their win streak on the line against an Indiana team that’s near the bottom of the league in scoring defense, giving up 105.8 points per game.
Indiana was particularly ineffective defensively in Monday night’s 135-115 loss to Denver. The Pacers allowed their highest point total since a 141-140 double-overtime loss to Dallas on Feb. 5, 2002, and their highest in regulation since a 140-121 defeat to Golden State on Jan. 4, 1992.
“It was one of those nights where our defense wasn’t that great and (the Nuggets) were executing really well,” Indiana’s Danny Granger said. “It’s something that’s so frustrating … There’s no excuse for the type of defense we played.”
The defensive struggles overshadowed another big night from Granger, who had 36 points. The fourth-year forward is averaging 29.1 points and shooting 48.8 percent from the field - 50.0 percent (21-for-42) from 3-point range - in seven games since returning from a two-game absence caused by a stomach virus.
Granger could get some help on both ends of the court if Mike Dunleavy is able to return soon. Dunleavy, Indiana’s second-leading scorer with 19.1 points per game last season, hasn’t played in 2008-09 because of soreness in his right knee. He hopes to make his season debut before the end of this road trip, which concludes Jan. 12 in Utah.
“Obviously, it’s been a long few months,” Dunleavy said. “I’m on the mend, and I should be back soon. I’m looking forward to it. … We don’t have any concrete dates in mind. It’s a day-by-day thing, see how I feel.”
While the Pacers got good news on their shooting guard, the Suns’ Jason Richardson is facing charges of driving under the influence of alcohol in an American Indian tribal community in metropolitan Phoenix.
Richardson, averaging 15.8 points in eight games since being acquired from Charlotte on Dec. 11, apologized Tuesday for creating a “distraction.” A hearing date hasn’t been set.
Suns forward Amare Stoudemire was one point shy of his career high with 49 in a 113-103 win over Indiana on Nov. 5, Phoenix’s seventh straight in the series.