SEATTLE - The Suns are walking a fine line these days. They’ve wrapped up the No. 2 playoff seed, something that’s been a near-lock since the February All-Star break.
So they’re resting their key players more than usual while still trying to win games and stay sharp for the playoffs.
The formula came up a shot or two short here Sunday night, as the Suns — with struggling bench players logging major minutes — lost a late lead and bowed to the Supersonics, 116-114.
With the loss, the Suns (50-26) now are 8-9 over the past month.
For all this, the Suns still clinched the division title and the No. 2 seed Sunday night thanks to the Los Angeles Lakers’ win over the Clippers; the Suns are six games ahead of the Clippers with six to play and have the tiebreaker.
But there was no celebration.
Instead, Steve Nash who had 13 points, 11 assists and one turnover while playing just 31 minutes, said, “The way we’re playing, I hate to sit . . . We’re going through the motions a little.
“You are who you are. To go 3-4 is one thing, but 8-9 . . .
“It doesn’t seem to be sinking in. We need to take a longer look at ourselves and demand more of ourselves.
“I’d like to get this thing right. If we go down, we should go down swinging.”
In addition to Nash, Shawn Marion (22 points) played just 32 minutes.
Meanwhile, the reserve group of Leandro Barbosa, Tim Thomas, Brian Grant and Eddie House shot a combined 11-for-34.
“I’m trying to rest my guys a little bit,” Suns coach Mike D’Antoni said.
“We battled hard and played well enough to win, but we missed some shots at the end. It’s too bad.”
The Suns, who shot 14-for-37 on 3-pointers, led 107-99 with 5:44 left after a Nash 3-pointer.
The Sonics answered with a trio of 3-pointers, including one by Ray Allen (30 points) from the left corner with 25 seconds left.
That made the score 116-114, the Sonics’ first lead after halftime.
The Suns still should have won, but they failed to score on their last five trips down the floor even though they twice grabbed the offensive rebound.
“I don’t think we could have gotten better shots,” D’Antoni said.
On the final attempt, Barbosa missed an open 3-pointer, the Suns got the ball back but Boris Diaw lost the ball on a drive while trying to draw a foul.
The ball bounced out of bounds to the Suns with just a tenth of a second left.
The Sonics then put a sixth man on the floor while the Suns tried to inbound the ball. That gave the Sonics a look at the Suns’ attempted play, while the Suns didn’t have a time out left to draw up another one.
D’Antoni protested that a technical foul should have been called. But it wouldn’t have made a difference, as the Suns trailed by two points and had almost no chance of getting off a shot.
“It seems like something isn’t right,” D’Antoni said of the lack of a technical. “Either the rule needs to be changed or something. It seems quirky.”
SUNS WANTED WILCOX
Chris Wilcox suddenly has blossomed into the Sonics’ best inside player since coming over in a trade from the Los Angeles Clippers on Feb. 14.
D’Antoni confirmed the Suns were interested in acquiring Wilcox from the Clippers earlier in the season, but “we couldn’t work it out.”
“He’s a heck of a player,” the Suns coach said. “He runs and he fits our style.”
Wilcox is now in a position to command big money, especially after he put up 26 points and 24 rebounds against Houston on April 4. It was the Sonics’ first 20/20 game since Shawn Kemp did it in November 1995.
“Now, the price probably won’t be right,” D’Antoni said.
Wilcox was drafted in 2002 by the Clippers just ahead of the Suns’ pick of Amaré Stoudemire.
On Sunday, Wilcox had 23 points on 9-for-11 shooting plus 12 rebounds. He’s averaged 15 points and eight rebounds for the Sonics.
CHANGE THE SYSTEM
Criticism of the NBA’s seeding system, with some club officials are starting to talk openly about the desirability of certain playoff seeds, is mounting.
D’Antoni suggests that the top two teams in a conference (San Antonio and Dallas in the Western Conference this season) be automatically given the top two seeds.
Then, he argues, no division winner should be seeded lower than fourth (in this case, the Suns would be No. 3 and Denver would get the No. 4 seed). A division winner would be given the home-court advantage automatically in Round 1.
As things stand, “you might have the two best teams playing in the conference semifinals,” he said. “You never want that.”
Also under D’Antoni’s system, teams wouldn’t be talking about the desirability of dropping from No. 5 to No. 6 as they are now, because the No. 6 seed could face Denver — a team perceived as vulnerable — but could get the home-court advantage to boot (if it has the better record).
“Sixth is probably a lot better place to be than fifth place. That should never be the case,” D’Antoni said. “You want to give a team sugar for winning a division championship.”
But the No. 3 Nuggets may start out on the road, if the No. 6 team — likely either the Clippers or Memphis Grizzlies — has the better record.
This is the Suns’ second straight Pacific Division title and fifth division title all time; it’s the first time they’ve won titles in consecutive seasons. . . .
The Suns are 0-7 in games decided by three points or less. . . .
Thanks to Nash’s upbringing in nearby British Columbia, the Suns probably have their biggest fan support on the road in Seattle. Nash lamented the loss of the Vancouver Grizzlies to Memphis, saying, “I wish they could have stayed. It’s one of the premier cities in North America. It’s tough to judge the city (by the Grizzlies). They never had a competitive team.”