Sure, there were a few more bright spots Friday. The Suns weren’t as awkward in transition. Raja Bell got his offense on track. Phoenix was more efficient on offense and got their arms around the fast-break points situation.
But then comes the defense — or what’s supposed to be the defense — and the darkness.
Seemingly now helpless on the end of the floor that has always hurt them, the Suns watched Utah shoot 57 percent from the field as a team with 13 road wins all season scored 41 points in the fourth quarter of a 126-118 win at US Airways Center.
Sound familiar? It should. So should the explanations from the Phoenix dressing room.
“We can’t allow guys to get whatever they want out there and that’s what they’re doing,” said Amaré Stoudemire, whose 37-point night went to waste.
“We’ve just somehow have got to find a way to defend a little better,” coach Mike D’Antoni offered.
“They had a hard time guarding us and we had a hard time guarding them,” opined guard Steve Nash.
And so it goes, as the Suns are sagging and slipping while the rest of the Western Conference playoff teams are peaking. The hole continues to get deeper — they are still sixth in the West, but now just 1½ games ahead of eighth-place Golden State and 2½ games ahead of ninth-place Denver, as they deal with the futility of the Shaquille O’Neal trade. The team that waited 40 years for a franchise center now appears to have no idea how to best use one.
Again, they couldn’t stop an endless run of points. Again, they got sloppy when it mattered most. Leading 94-85 after three quarters and 30-4 when taking a lead to the third quarter this season, the Suns watched the Jazz hit their first five shots, take the lead back with a 12-2 run as Phoenix opened a five-game homestand with a resounding thud.
Kyle Korver had all 14 of his points in the final quarter, as the Jazz hit 12 of 16 shots from the field.
The final blow came with 31.1 seconds left — and one second on the shot clock — when Carlos Boozer banked in an 8-footer to give the Jazz a four-point lead.
Now the Suns face the best team in the West — a perch they held only a month ago — when San Antonio comes to town Sunday.