As much as it hurts to have his starting point guard and center injured, Phoenix Suns coach Alvin Gentry needs his team to play better defense.
Houston Rockets coach Rick Adelman can certainly relate, as he’s in an identical position.
With Steve Nash(notes) expected to miss a third straight game, the slumping Suns will try to avoid a winless trip Monday night when they face the Rockets, who are off to their worst start in five years.
After missing just one game last season, Nash, the team leader with 19.7 points and 8.9 assists per game, has been sidelined the past two with a strained groin. Without the two-time MVP on Saturday, the Suns (6-7) fell to 0-3 on their trip with a 123-105 loss to Charlotte.
Phoenix has been outscored by an average of 20.3 points during its slide.
“This isn’t about Steve, guys,” said Gentry, whose team is 9-19 without Nash since the start of the 2004-05 season. “We had 12 guys out there and didn’t play with any kind of effort.”
With Channing Frye(notes) starting his fourth straight game for injured center Robin Lopez(notes) (two moderate knee sprains), the Suns’ interior defense was nonexistent versus the Bobcats, yielding 64 points in the paint.
“We didn’t guard anyone. We let a team that’s averaging 93 (points) put up 123, and they were nice about it,” Gentry said. “They should have gotten 140.”
Adelman understands that frustration. The Rockets (3-9) are allowing 107.2 points per game - 1.8 fewer than Phoenix - and are in the Southwest Division basement with center Yao Ming(notes) and point guard Aaron Brooks(notes) out with injuries.
Yao is expected to miss at least two more weeks due to a bone bruise in his left ankle, while Brooks could be sidelined another two weeks after missing the last seven games with a sprained left ankle.
Playing without the pair for the fifth consecutive game Friday, Houston lost its third straight, 106-96 at Toronto.
“We put people in games, they’ve got to step up and play,” said Adelman, whose team is committing 19.0 turnovers per game and getting outrebounded by 6.0 during its slide. “Everybody’s in the NBA now and we can’t go in there and try to do it ourselves or not be ready. If you can’t score, then you’ve got to defend or rebound.”
The Rockets, 1-3 at home, might want to start by better defending the 3-point line. Opponents have hit 48.6 percent (17 of 35) from long range in the last three games, which could benefit the Suns’ struggling shooters.
Since making a franchise-record 22 3s - one shy of the NBA record - in a 121-116 road victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Nov. 14, Phoenix has made 17 of 78 (21.8 percent) from 3-point range in four games.
The Suns hit four consecutive 3s, two from Frye and one apiece from Nash and Richardson, to spark a late 14-0 run in a 116-106 home win over Houston on April 11. That gave Phoenix its first season sweep of the Rockets since 2005-06.
The Suns have won five in a row in this matchup by an average of 6.6 points. The two games in Houston in 2009-10 were decided by six points or fewer.