Suns point guard Tyler Ulis reacts to Friday’s home loss to the Magic.
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Tyler Ulis on Suns’ loss to Magic
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Late in Friday’s second quarter, Tyler Ulis missed an 18-foot jumper and an official called a foul on the rebound. As the Suns prepared to shoot a free throw, coach Earl Watson called Ulis over to the side. He slapped hands with the rookie point guard, put his arm around him.
“He’s getting better and better,” Watson said after the Suns’ 109-103 loss to Orlando at Talking Stick Resort Arena. “He had some early turnovers. He was playing them for the pocket pass, and he’s learning right now in the NBA you can’t come out and play the same game every game as a point guard.”
The time to measure Phoenix on wins and losses ended a while ago. For the record, Friday’s loss dropped the Suns to 22-47, two games from the bottom of the Western Conference. The Suns have shut down leading-scorer Eric Bledsoe and others, placing the rest of the season in the hands of their youngest players, particularly Ulis.
Over the last two games – the first two starts of his NBA career – Ulis has showed he is more than capable of handling Phoenix’s future backup duties, perhaps more. After posting 13 points and 13 assists in Wednesday’s loss to Sacramento, Ulis had 19 points and eight assists (with three turnovers) against the Magic. He hit his first five shots, but cooled as the night unfolded, finishing 8 of 17 from the field.
BOX SCORE: Magic 109, Suns 103
“I think I’m playing pretty well,” Ulis said. “I just need to adjust to my new role. Earl wants me to be a lot more aggressive coming out. I’m used to coming in as the backup, facilitating and getting guys involved early. I’m just trying to adjust to it.”
Said Watson: “You might have to come out and start scoring. Elbow jump shots. Mid-point jump shots. Then that opens up the pocket pass. And then you might come out the next game and pocket pass, pocket pass, (3-pointer), throw ahead. There are so many games within a game for a point guard, and he’s learning through experience.”
Something else Ulis has learned: If Derrick Jones Jr., and Marquese Chriss are on the court, always be on alert for the potential lob. Entering Friday’s contest, Bledsoe led the Suns with 30 lob assists. T.J. Warren was next with 18, followed by guard Devin Booker with 11 and Ulis with 10. The rookie added to his total against Orlando.
In the second quarter, while dribbling right, Ulis spotted Jones cutting toward the basket from the left wing. His pass was perfectly placed, leading to an easy Jones dunk. In the third quarter, Ulis found Chriss on a back cut down the middle, a pass that Chriss caught with his right hand and slammed through.
“I just throw it up and I trust them to go get it,” Ulis said. “Marquese has missed a lot of dunks this year, but when I throw it to him he makes it happen. For the most part, he’s got me.”
With 6:25 to go, Ulis gave Phoenix its last lead – 94-93 with a 16-foot jumper. Ninety seconds later, Orlando’s Aaron Gordon had his own impressive dunk, catching an Elfrid Payton pass and dunking with one hand in transition. The Magic scored 10 of the game’s next 14 points to put the game out of reach. Gordon had 17 points. Evan Fournier chipped in 25.
Warren led the Suns with 26 points. Booker struggled for the second consecutive contest, scoring 10 points on 3-of-13 shooting. Orlando coach Frank Vogel said the Magic (25-45) called the Phoenix guard “Devin Booker-Thompson” because Golden State’s Klay Thompson had torched them for 29 points Thursday night in Oakland.
“We’ve got to guard Booker-Thompson because it’s the same kind of plan,” Vogel said. “He hurts you with cuts. He hurts you with drives and he a quick catch-and-shoot guy.”
Watson said Booker is playing through ankle and Achilles’ pain. He said he could tell how the guard moved that Booker wasn’t 100 percent. He also pointed out that Booker knew Phoenix’s situation, that he was needed with Bledsoe, center Tyson Chandler and guard Brandon Knight shut down, and reserve guard Leandro Barbosa out with illness.
Said Booker: “Most games (the ankle) loosens up and then I’m able to go. Tonight, it was stiff most of the night. Came back here (to the locker room) and tried to work on it and just couldn’t get it going. But like I said, I’m sure 9 out of 10 people on the floor have something going on, so no excuse there.”
That left a heavier load for Ulis, who put up a team-high 17 shots, while running the offense. Booker, who teamed with Ulis in college at Kentucky, has seen similar production before. He’s not surprised.
“He’s controlling the team,” Booker said, “being a floor general out there, getting everybody in their spots, and just making the game easier for a lot of people.”