Posted: Dec. 31, 2010
Poor defense has plagued the Phoenix Suns for quite some time, though that didn't get in the way of them being a regular playoff contender.
That doesn't appear to be the case anymore.
At risk of their first losing season since re-acquiring Steve Nash, the Suns are mired in one of the worst funks of the two-time MVP's tenure going into a New Year's Eve matchup with the visiting Detroit Pistons.
Phoenix has ranked 23rd or lower in points allowed in every season since Nash returned to the team in 2004-05, but finished with a winning record each time and missed the playoffs only once. The Suns (13-17) are allowing a Western Conference-worst 107.5 points per game this season, but their run of winning campaigns is in jeopardy.
They haven't been below .500 this late in a season since 2003-04, also the last time they endured a 10-game stretch this bad. Phoenix is 2-8 in that span and has lost the last four, matching its worst skid from all of last season. The Suns haven't had a longer one since dropping six straight March 3-12, 2009.
"We're practicing our defense and it's not carrying over to the game, and it's frustrating, so we got to fight through it," Nash said. "We've got to test ourselves, our mental strength and our emotional commitment everyday and try to bring it and get better and not let it get to us."
The Suns rank toward the bottom of the league in steals, blocked shots and field-goal percentage defense -- their last two opponents shot better than 53 percent. They let Philadelphia post its highest point total of the season in a 123-110 loss Wednesday.
"I guess the most disappointing thing is that -- as I said to the guys -- we spent so much time working on our defense and it doesn't seem to be getting any better," coach Alvin Gentry said.
Detroit (11-21) has been playing fairly well on the offensive end, scoring at least 100 points in four of five games and shooting better than 50 percent in three of them.
The Pistons have gone 3-2 in that stretch -- the two losses were by a combined eight points -- and are coming off Wednesday's 104-92 victory over East-leading Boston.
"We played like a team tonight more than I've ever seen this year," coach John Kuester told the Pistons' official website. "This was a great win for us."
It was particularly impressive considering Detroit was missing leading scorer Rodney Stuckey, who hopes to return Friday after sitting out with a stomach virus.
Tracy McGrady stepped into Stuckey's starting spot and scored a season-high 21 points, playing more than 30 minutes for the first time since March.
"I've been confident mentally, physically for quite some time now," McGrady said. "I'm just continuing to get better because I work. ... I'm excited about my future."
McGrady could help Detroit end a four-game skid to the Suns and will see a familiar face as he goes up against Vince Carter, his Toronto teammate from more than a decade ago.
Carter had 18 points Wednesday in his Phoenix debut after missing four games with a knee injury following his acquisition from Orlando. He's confident his new club can get things turned around.
"It's a long season still. It's not panic mode," Carter said. "We just wanna get everybody on the same page and get things rolling."
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