For the Phoenix Suns, the start to a three-game road trip ended with a disappointing night against the league’s worst team, and with Devin Booker watching the final minute from the locker room.
The Suns hope for a significantly better result Thursday when their trip continues with a visit to the New York Knicks.
Phoenix enters its final game of the first half at 16-24, a significant improvement from last year’s 19-win campaign and its best mark through 40 games since winning 22 of its first 40 in 2014-15. The Suns also are 5-12 in their last 17 games, a stretch that includes an eight-game losing streak from Dec. 11-27.
Phoenix ended its skid Dec. 28 by winning in Sacramento and is 5-4 in its last nine games. The Suns were unable to win a third straight game when they allowed the 9-32 Atlanta Hawks to shoot 49.5 percent and score 39 points in the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s 123-110 loss.
Devin Booker scored 39 points and is averaging 31.3 points in his last seven games. He also was ejected with 1:35 remaining for getting a technical foul on a dunk and staring at Atlanta’s DeAndre’ Bembry.
Phoenix played without point guard Ricky Rubio, who missed the game due to personal reasons. Rubio averages 13.2 points and 9.3 assists. Without him, the Suns totaled 20 assists despite shooting 46 percent, as Elie Okobo started for Rubio and went scoreless in 22 minutes.
“I thought our offense just sputtered tonight,” Suns coach Monty Williams said after his team finished with its second-lowest assist total this season. “Certainly not having Ricky on the floor hurt. … But we had chances. The ball movement certainly wasn’t there.”
The Knicks are 7-12 since firing David Fizdale and replacing him with Mike Miller following a 37-point home loss to Denver on Dec. 5. New York also is enduring its worst stretch under Miller, with six losses in seven games since winning three in a row from Dec. 26-Jan. 1.
The one win during this stretch occurred Sunday, when the Knicks came back from 14 down to get a 124-121 home win over Miami. New York followed it up by absorbing a 128-102 loss Tuesday in Milwaukee, where it lost by 44 on Dec. 2.
“Can’t have too many errors, can’t have too many mistakes, when you’re playing a team like that,” Knicks forward Julius Randle said after scoring 25 points. “Early we gave ourselves a chance, but in the end, we didn’t. We’ve just got to be better.”
Like the Suns, the Knicks also took a loss with a player being ejected. Starting point guard Elfrid Payton was tossed after arguing with officials in the third quarter as the Knicks were already missing point guards Frank Ntilikina (groin) and Dennis Smith Jr. (oblique).
The Knicks were also missing Marcus Morris (sore neck) for the fifth straight game. Morris, who is a candidate to be traded by the deadline, leads the Knicks in scoring at 19.1 points per game and last played Jan. 5 against the Los Angeles Clippers when he scored 38 points.
Phoenix has won the last three meetings. The Suns posted a 120-112 home win on Jan. 3 when Booker scored 38 points.
–Field Level Media