The Arizona Republic

Suns deal with multiple issues

- Duane Rankin Arizona Republic USA TODAY NETWORK Have opinion about current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRanki­n. Support local journalism. Start

OKLAHOMA CITY – Monty Williams says Sunday’s 124-120 loss at Oklahoma City was on him.

A loud contingent of Phoenix Suns fans would second that, but this game was decided by more than just Williams still struggling with the rotations and failing to find the right players to match the Thunder’s small ball.

He could’ve at least called a timeout to try to interrupt an 18-2 run that put Phoenix in a six-point hole with less than six minutes remaining, but not having Deandre Ayton (hip) certainly didn’t help.

No Kevin Durant (ankle) hurt even more. They’re 3-0 with him in the floor.

Then again giving up 31 points off just 14 turnovers is insane.

The Suns keep trending downward defensivel­y as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander gutted them for 40 points and they didn’t have enough help for Devin Booker, who scored a game-high 46 points in a losing effort.

Then there are the free throws – OKC 29-of-36 to Phoenix’s 17-of-24.

Gilgeous-Alexander went 16-of-19 to Booker’s 7-of-8.

What else is new as the Suns lost the free throw battle again in large part because they continue to foul more than most teams in the league.

However one wants to divide the blame, bottom line, Phoenix is 1-4 in its last five games, have the fourth-toughest remaining schedule and Durant can’t come back soon enough as he’s scheduled for an re-evaluation in late March.

Here are five takeaways as Phoenix continues their three-game road trip Wednesday against the Lakers (35-37), who are looking to stay in play-in contention. They close the trip Friday at Sacramento (43-27).

Playoff picture

The Suns (38-33) remain fourth in the West, but they’re just only a half game ahead of the Clippers (38-34), while the Mavericks (36-35) are just two games back of them.

That’s how close they are to losing home court advantage in the first round.

The Suns are also just 2 12 ⁄ games ahead of the Warriors and three over the Thunder.

The Suns should want no parts of the play-in tournament.

Say they had to face the Thunder in a win-or-go home situation after dropping the first game to say the Warriors at home. They present matchup problems for the Suns starting with Gilgeous-Alexander, who was certainly a difference maker in his first game against Phoenix this season.

Josh Giddey is also a problem.

The young fella wants to make the right play, can dish that rock, but he’s a capable scorer who could add a few more sprinkles of selfishnes­s to his game.

He came up huge in late to cap a beyond-solid effort Sunday of 16 points, six assists and six boards.

Oklahoma City and Phoenix meet one more time next month in OKC. The Suns could use a win in that final matchup.

Having a healthy Durant would help.

Momentum shift

If Booker didn’t pick up that fourth foul right before the end of the third quarter on Gilgeous-Alexander’s 3-point play to cut Phoenix’s lead to six, he probably starts the fourth.

That was a huge turnaround.

Not only did Booker collect his fourth, Phoenix also didn’t get off a shot on that possession as Cameron Payne’s turnover led to the transition opportunit­y for OKC.

Instead of being up nine at the worst or possibly leading by 11 or 12 with a two or three, the Suns were only up six with the Thunder fans going crazy.

Fourth quarter lineups

The Suns ended up starting the fourth with Torrey Craig as their only starter to go along with Damion Lee, Jock Landale, Terrence Ross and Payne. That group pushed the lead back up to 10, but OKC answered with that 18-2 run.

The Thunder eventually pushed their advantage to 10 points, 119-109, with 2:44 left.

During that stretch, Williams played Ish Wainright, Bismack Biyombo, who started for Ayton, Darius Bazley, Landry Shamet, Chris Paul, Josh Okogie, Booker and Craig. Every active player saw action except T.J. Warren.

Bazley has hardly played this season. He was back in familiar surroundin­gs as the Suns traded Dario Saric and a secondroun­d pick to the Thunder for Bazley, but what a tough spot to put him in there.

He knows OKC, but that hardly matters if he’s unclear about what to do for Phoenix.

The combinatio­ns from all of that were a mess Oklahoma City made look even worse with its small ball lineup.

The Suns weren’t on the same page defensivel­y, gave up untimely 3s and they all stood and watched Booker try to go 1on-5.

Now with Durant and Ayton, the rotations are different and certain guys aren’t playing. That’s fair, but say Durant and Ayton are both in foul trouble in the fourth Sunday?

The Suns bench could be better, but how Williams uses it can mask some of their flaws. They keep asking Wainright to make clutch shots.

He came up big at Dallas, but his play should be a bonus, not a necessity.

Shamet’s return

Shamet missed 25 games with a right foot injury he says was on the brink of becoming a second stress fracture before he and the Suns caught it.

The dude suffered stress fractures in his left and right foot in college and has screws in both feet.

Based on what he said, Shamet could’ve suffered a season-ending foot injury had he kept playing through it in January.

Talk about a blessing in disguise. They’re going to need him down the stretch here because he can defend and knock down 3s. Shamet finished Sunday’s game with 10 points, going 3-of-4 from 3. He understand­s the defensive concepts better than Lee, who is in his first season with Phoenix and Ross, who just joined the Suns last month.

Bottom line

The Suns should make the playoffs.

They probably stood a good chance of catching Memphis had Durant not gotten hurt during a pregame workout March 8 before what would’ve been his Suns home debut.

The Grizzlies have struggled without suspended Ja Morant, but they’ve won their last two games.

The Clippers are scary.

The Mavericks could get on a roll if Luka Doncic returns soon to pair back up with Kyrie Irving.

Golden State can’t win on the road. Period.

Minnesota appears to have wasted another year, but the Thunder are dangerous and the Lakers finally have a roster that doesn’t need LeBron James to teleport back to 2012 every game.

If he can somehow get back from injury? The Lakers become contenders.

Still, Phoenix should get Durant and Ayton back in enough time to put away any playoff doubts, but if the Suns have to play their way into the playoffs through the play-in?

They’ll need Durant and Booker to come through like the Dallas game – and defend as a team.

Like really defend. They can score with anybody, especially with Durant,, but the losses to Golden State, Sacramento and now OKC proves they can’t stop teams that can score, too.

The win in Dallas proved that, too.

 ?? ALONZO ADAMS/USA TODAY SPORTS ?? Thunder guard Josh Giddey and Suns forward Ish Wainright fight for a loose ball during the second half at Paycom Centers.
ALONZO ADAMS/USA TODAY SPORTS Thunder guard Josh Giddey and Suns forward Ish Wainright fight for a loose ball during the second half at Paycom Centers.

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