Under interim coach Alvin Gentry, the Phoenix Suns returned to their traditional up-tempo offense in hopes securing a playoff spot.
Without Steve Nash in the lineup, however, they’ve struggled just to push the ball up the court.
Nash hopes to avoid missing a second straight game on Friday night when Phoenix looks for its 11th straight win over the Toronto Raptors.
A two-time MVP, Nash is day-to-day after injuring his right ankle in the Suns’ 112-102 win over Charlotte on Tuesday. He didn’t play in their 132-106 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday.
Already without leading scorer Amare Stoudemire (eye surgery), Phoenix (32-25) was overmatched against the Western Conference leaders. The Suns came in averaging 128.4 points on 56.7 percent shooting in their previous five games, but shot only 42.9 percent for the game, which they trailed 70-55 at halftime.
“This was going to be a good test for us, but obviously we failed the test tremendously,” said Shaquille O’Neal, who had 12 points and seven rebounds. “This is a good team and you have to do everything right against a team like that. Tonight, way too many turnovers (19).”
Leandro Barbosa led Phoenix with 18 points, one of six players in double figures.
The loss dropped the Suns to 2-4 this season without Nash, who needs only three points to reach 13,000 in his career. Without him in the lineup, Phoenix averages 96.5 points - 10.0 fewer than its season average.
“It’s tough getting guys touches when we don’t have Steve out there,” Gentry said. “He creates a lot of easy stuff for everyone, easy shots for guys on the perimeter.”
The Suns are two games behind Dallas for the final playoff spot in the West, and have a tough upcoming schedule, hosting the Lakers on Sunday before a four-game road trip against Orlando, Miami, Houston and San Antonio.
The Suns’ revamped offensive style is something Shawn Marion is trying help foster in Toronto (23-36). Marion spent eight-plus seasons in Phoenix before being traded to Miami in February 2008 for O’Neal.
Marion made his first return to US Airways Center on Nov. 28, and had 10 points, nine rebounds and six assists in the Heat’s 107-92 win—a game Nash missed with a thigh injury
Marion on Feb. 13 was traded to Toronto, where he’s averaged 12.5 points and 10.3 rebounds. The Raptors averaged 86.5 points in his first two games in the lineup, but have scored 114.5 in the last two.
Despite sitting in 14th place in the Eastern Conference, the Raptors still consider themselves in the playoff hunt as they trail eighth-place Milwaukee by 4 1/2 games.
Bosh says the team needs to toughen up.
“We have to realize nice guys sit at home and watch the playoffs,” he said. “That’s just how I feel. Maybe I’m wrong, but if you play with more intensity you’re more likely to win and you’re more likely to play better basketball.”
After missing five games with a sprained right knee, Bosh had been held to a combined 23 points in his first two games back. He was 10-of-19 from the floor and had six rebounds and two blocked shots against the Wolves.
Nash scored only nine points in a 117-113 win over Toronto on Jan. 18, but also had 18 assists. He’s averaged 15.4 points and 13.1 assists in his last 10 games against the Raptors.