What to make of the enigmatic Phoenix Suns? Just when you think they are headed to the lottery, they beat San Antonio on the road and Portland at home.
Just when you think they'll be a dangerous playoff foe, they drop back-to-back games to Minnesota at home and Golden State on the road.
One step forward, one step back.
"After 63 ballgames, you would have thought that the mix of veterans and youthful guys on this team would be on the same page and figure a way to play more consistently — especially after two such good wins against San Antonio and Portland," a disappointed Scott Williams said after Wednesday's loss in Oakland. "We ought to have steamrolled some momentum out of those two victories. Instead, we just didn't put our best effort out on the floor."
As a result, Phoenix found itself in the Western Conference's ninth spot — and out of the playoffs — when it woke up today following Houston's overtime victory over the Clippers Wednesday.
Suns coach Frank Johnson thought the Suns were prepared to play Tuesday, following a solid practice Monday.
"We didn't have any carryover from practice to (Tuesday's) game. Sometimes it happens, but that shouldn't happen at this time of year," he said.
So why is it happening? In fairness to the Suns, they are young and still adjusting to one another and their constantly changing roles. Toss in the rash of injuries and subsequent returns of forward Tom Gugliotta, guard Penny Hardaway and center Jake Tsakalidis and there's a sensible explanation.
"That won't matter though if we miss the playoffs. Nobody will care why," Hardaway said. "To be honest, the bottom line is we're not playing hard enough and that has to change now."
Johnson said Tsakalidis is probable for tonight's game against the Sacramento Kings, although the decision will be made at game time.
Tsakalidis, who has been on the injured list since Jan. 2 after undergoing back surgery, has been practicing with the team for about a week. Tsakalidis' 7-foot-2 frame would be helpful in defending Kings center Vlade Divac in the post.
Tsakalidis has said he has no problems with conditioning, but that his back is still tight when he runs up and down the court.
SAME OLD, SAME OLD
Despite a less-than-stellar performance from guard Joe Johnson Tuesday night in Oakland — he shot 2-for-14 from the floor in a 113-98 loss to Golden State — Frank Johnson said he has no immediate plans to shake up the starting lineup and reinsert Hardaway, who has three games under his belt since returning from right thumb surgery.
"Penny struggled (Tuesday) night as well," said Johnson, noting that Hardaway went 4-for-13 from the floor as Golden State held Phoenix's backcourt to a combined 12-for-46. "Joe struggled last night, but prior to that he did all right against Minnesota and Portland, and in San Antonio he did well."
Before Tuesday night's game, Johnson had averaged 13.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists over his last six games while shooting 50.8 percent from the field and 54.5 from behind the 3-point arc.
"Eventually Penny will get back in there," Johnson said. "It's just a matter of
finding the right time to do it."