the Phoenix Suns have been 6-16 since they started off with the best record in the Western Conference, something that has been usual for the team in the last three seasons under coach Monty Williams.
This season has been more peculiar. The Suns, who had the best record in the NBA since the bubble, instead had been hurt with injuries and odd events that have limited their success. Phoenix does not have All-Star guard Devin Booker through January and will not have usual starting point guard Chris Paul in the immediate future due to hip soreness.
It leaves the Suns in a tough place as it entered its eighth road contest in the last 10 games. The Suns took on the Minnesota Timberwolves, who ranked a half-game behind them in the Western Conference and did not also have its top big available, Karl Anthony-Towns. Phoenix had a solid outing against the Golden State Warriors Tuesday but needed to build on Friday against Minnesota to improve its seventh-place standing in the Western Conference.
That didn’t happen. The Suns, hobbled by injuries to Paul, Booker, backup guards Landry Shamet and Cameron Payne, as well as the king time absence of Cameron Johnson and Jae Crowder, lost to the Timberwolves, 121-116, due to several runs they could not recover from at Target Center in Minneapolis.
Phoenix is now 21-23 and is now a half-game behind the Timberwolves for eighth place in the Western Conference. The Suns are also now behind the seventh-place Golden State Warriors and tied with the Utah Jazz at ninth place.
As they often have in the last 23 games, the Suns fell behind early. They surrendered a 21-9 run at the start of Friday’s game that included nine points from Timberwolves star guard Anthony Edwards and five points from All-Star guard D’Angelo Russell.
Phoenix fell behind by 10 points entering the second quarter and later succumbed to a 20-9 spurt from Minnesota in the second quarter that saw the Timberwolves build a 17-point lead with 3:13 left in the period. The Suns trailed by 15 at halftime and could not seem to find a way to crack into Minnesota’s lead consistently.
The Suns did not do more of that in the second half. They fell behind by 22 points in the third quarter – Minnesota went on a 15-8 spurt to start the period – and never closed the gap to single digits in the third quarter.
Phoenix’s best fight, even though it is likely to be exhausted since this is its eighth road game in their last 10 contests and do not have their perceived top two players, Booker and Paul. The Suns trailed 102-81 with 9:18 left in the fourth quarter but fought back with a 12-2 run over the next 2:24, which included eight points from backup guard Damion Lee, two free throws from starting point guard Duane Washington Jr. and two free throws from backup guard Saben Lee, who played at local Tempe Corona Del Sol High and recently signed a 10-day contract.
However, Minnesota shot its lead back up to 13 and it remained close to that margin for the rest of the game. The Suns cut the lead to six and then five points in the final seconds but the game was over by that point.
Damion finished with a career-high 31 points on 10-of-17 shooting and made 6-of-7 attempts from 3-point range. Starting forward Mikal Bridges was one of three other players who scored in double figures with 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting (3-of-5 from 3-point range) with six assists, four rebounds and three assists.
Minnesota was led by Edwards, who had 31 points on 12-of-24 shooting (2-of-8 from 3-point range) with six rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Up next for the Suns will be the Memphis Grizzlies in Memphis Monday at 4 pm The game, which will be on Martin Luther King Day, will be broadcast on TNT.
The Suns benefited from a strong start against the Golden State Warriors Tuesday and needed another to build an edge against Minnesota, which did not have Karl-Anthony Towns and struggled to do much through the end of December with six straight losses. Minnesota entered Friday’s game with seven losses through 10 games.
The Suns fell behind early due to a 21-9 run from Minnesota in which Edwards had nine points and star guard D’Angelo Russell had five points. Meanwhile, Phoenix shot 4-of-10 from the field while Minnesota shot 7-of-11 at the Suns’ first timeout with 6:53 left in the period.
Phoenix did little to stop Edwards, who moved around Phoenix’s defense to score inside on multiple occasions.
The Suns cut Minnesota’s edge to eight points with 1:07 left in the quarter but the Timberwolves ultimately closed the quarter up by 10.
The Suns had a nearer second quarter but fell in a lead as large as 17 in the second, when their lack of depth showed.
Phoenix forward Ish Wainwright had back-to-back 3-pointers that cut his team’s deficit to 38-31 with 10:44 left. Jock Landale capitalized with a 3-pointer a few possessions later that moved the Suns as close as 40-34 with 9:09 remaining.
But that was as close as the Suns got. Minnesota went on a 20-9 run – nearly identical to its first-quarter spurt – that gave it a 60-43 edge with 3:31 left in the quarter.
Half time stats:
Minnesota opened a 22-point lead in the third quarter the Suns impressively cut down to 12 points with 2:25 left in the period.
But that was the extent of Phoenix’s run. Minnesota responded with a 9-4 spurt to close the period that put the Suns down 17 points entering the fourth quarter.
Edwards had nine points in the quarter and forward Taurean Prince had five points. The Suns had a 2:46 stretch without a point early in the quarter that limited them.
The final score was closer than the game indicated.
Phoenix fell behind by 21 points early in the quarter before it cut the lead to 11, nine and as few as five points when backup guard Damion Lee hit a 3-pointer as time expired.