Suns forward Jared Dudley discusses the Suns’ winless road trip after a loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday. Doug Haller/azcentral sports
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ATLANTA – After 11 days and six contests, this Suns trip finally came to an end Tuesday night. It ended just like the previous five, with a 95-91 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, overall Phoenix’s ninth setback in a row.
The regular season is winding down, just seven games remain. It’s possible Phoenix fans might not see another win from this team. Starting with Thursday’s home contest against the Clippers, the Suns have a difficult final stretch with games against Portland, Houston, Golden State and Oklahoma City still to come.
One thing that encourages coach Earl Watson: Despite all the adversity – the management shutdowns and late-season injuries – his team still shows fight. Watson had just nine available players against Atlanta, which included wing Jarell Eddie, who just joined the team this trip. Guard Devin Booker didn’t play because of an ankle issue. Reserve guard Leandro Barbosa missed his second consecutive contest with a hamstring issue. Complicating matters: Foul trouble.
Even so, the Suns showed resilience.
“This was the last game of a long road trip, a lot of teams kind of just pack in it and are ready to get home,” Watson said. “Our guys just stayed in the moment. Even though we didn’t shoot well, we had a chance to win down the stretch.”
BOX SCORE: Hawks 95, Suns 91
The Hawks – down three starters themselves because of injury – scored 17 in a row in the first quarter and took an 18-point lead early in the second. The Suns rallied. Rookie point guard Tyler Ulis made a nice move on Atlanta guard Dennis Schroder and scored in transition. Rookie forward Derrick Jones Jr., scored four quick points. Forward T.J. Warren scored off a nice Ulis dish.
The Suns outscored Atlanta 32-20 in the second quarter to pull within 47-44 at halftime. They pulled even twice in the quarter and took their first lead on an Alan Williams basket with 10:37 left in the contest. Nearly three minutes later, veteran guard Ronnie Price – unavailable most of this trip because of a lower left leg issue – hit a corner 3 for a 78-71 lead. Schroder, however, answered with back-to-back 3-pointers, triggering an 11-0 Atlanta run that ended Phoenix’s hopes.
Atlanta (38-36) snapped its seven-game losing streak. Schroder had 27 points.
“Those two 3’s were the difference in the game,” said veteran forward Jared Dudley, who shot 2 of 11 but still produced six points, eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals before fouling out. “If he misses one of them, they might lose that game.”
Without Booker, Watson said the Suns were forced to “get creative offensively.” Because of their shooting woes – the Suns shot just 36.5 percent – it wasn’t enough. Not helping matters: hitting just 14 of 24 from the foul line and 7 of 31 from 3-point range. Warren led the Suns (22-53) with 24 points. Jones – starting in place of Booker – scored a season-high 13 points. Ulis added 15 points, six rebounds and 10 assists.
“Honestly, it’s just time for us to get home,” Watson said. “With our roster situation, we need to be at home, have our fans give us that extra energy and it can help carry us and give us better endings in games.”
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Booker may return soon
Four days after making NBA history, Booker got the night off.
Watson said the second-year guard aggravated a right-ankle sprain in Friday’s record-breaking performance against the Boston Celtics, the night Booker scored a franchise-record 70 points. Booker scored 23 points in 35 minutes in Sunday’s loss at Charlotte.
“What’d he score, 23 in the third (against Boston)?” Watson said before Tuesday’s contest. “He didn’t want to come out and I don’t blame him because he ended up with 28 I believe in the fourth, so it finally caught up to him.”
Watson didn’t think Booker would be out long. The Suns host the Clippers on Thursday.
“He’s 20, I don’t remember what it’s like to be 20 and come back quickly from an injury, but I’m sure it’ll be pretty quick,” Watson said of Booker’s return.
Without Booker, averaging 21.6 points, the Suns were down three of their top four scorers. Guards Eric Bledsoe (21.1 points per game) and Brandon Knight (11) already have been shut down.
MORE: Booker scores 23 but Suns lose in Charlotte
This is a great time for Suns associate head coach Jay Triano. His son, Dustin, is a reserve guard at Gonzaga. The Bulldogs, of course, open Saturday’s Final Four against South Carolina at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.
Only problem: The Suns play that night in Portland.
“Hopefully, they make it to the final because we’ll have Monday off,” Triano said.
A 6-3 guard, Dustin Triano has played in 25 games, averaging 0.6 points in 3.1 minutes. His dad went up and visited during the All-Star break, taking in a couple of games. The elder Triano plans to watch as much of Saturday’s contest as possible from the team hotel.
“Even the NBA takes the night off for the Monday night game,” Triano said. “I’ve watched all the games. I did as a kid and now that my kid’s in it, that’s really cool. It’s a great event that not even a lot of NBA guys can say they ever did it.”
Contact Doug Haller at 602-444-4949 or at [email protected]