While the Phoenix Suns thrived playing away from home early in the season, an NBA-high 16 road games appear to finally be taking their toll.
On the verge of starting a home-heavy stretch of schedule, the Suns play another rare game in Phoenix on Tuesday night when they face the San Antonio Spurs, who are looking to avoid a fourth straight loss in the series.
Phoenix (16-8) went 8-3 in its first 11 games away from US Airways Center, but has since dropped five straight on the road. The most recent was a 105-99 loss to Denver on Saturday - their fifth in seven games overall.
The Suns, who played seven of their last nine away from home, were outscored 30-17 in the third quarter as they blew a 17-point lead. They shot 54.5 percent from the field compared to the Nuggets’ 41.0, but committed 21 turnovers that led to 31 Denver points.
“We lost our rhythm,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “We are a rhythm team. … We didn’t win the game, but we played our butts off, gave ourselves a chance to win and that is all I ever ask of them.”
Despite averaging 108.4 points to rank among the league leaders, Phoenix was held to fewer than 100 for the fourth time in seven contests. The Suns reached that mark in their first 17 games.
Returning home should help. The Suns, 8-0 at US Airways Center and averaging 116.5 points there, follow this contest with a trip to Portland on Thursday, then play 10 of 12 at home.
First, they face a tough home date with San Antonio (12-9), winner of three straight overall. The Spurs are seeking their fourth victory in a row in the series after taking the last three meetings of 2008-09, and have won three of the last four matchups at US Airways Center.
The Spurs defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 115-90 on Sunday, continuing their hot 3-point shooting by going 11 of 20 from beyond the arc. San Antonio was 10 of 17 on 3s in a 104-85 win over Charlotte two nights earlier.
Ginobili and the rest of the San Antonio bench were instrumental as the Spurs topped 100 points in the last four games. The reserves averaged 47.8 points over that stretch.
San Antonio appears to be overcoming a slow start and welcomes the matchup with Phoenix, a fellow Western Conference contender. The Spurs’ last three wins came against teams with losing records.
“I think we still need a couple of quality wins against quality teams and some quality road wins,” forward Richard Jefferson(notes) said. “There are certain teams that we have not played that well against and as we grow and mature I think those things will start to happen.”
The level of competition, though, falls off again for the Spurs after Tuesday’s contest, with 10 of the next 11 games coming against teams with records at or below .500.