NAZ Suns lose 4th in a row
Updated as of Friday, March 24, 2017 6:48 AM
Eliminated from NBA D-League playoff contention on Tuesday, the Northern Arizona Suns have turned their attention toward improvement with four games left on the 2016-17 schedule.
NAZ looked strong in spurts Thursday night, but they still lost to the Texas Legends, 107-101, at Prescott Valley Event Center for their fourth straight setback.
Texas center Jameel Warney led six Legends in double figures scoring, notching a double-double with 23 points and 15 rebounds (7 of 8 from the free-throw line). Guard Pierre Jackson followed with 22 points and eight assists (6 of 6 from the charity stripe).
For NAZ, guard Xavier Silas scored a team-high 18 points. Eli Millsap followed with 16 points, six rebounds and seven assists. He committed seven of the Suns’ 20 turnovers.
“I’ve got to be better as a leader of this team – I can’t turn the ball over late in the game,” Millsap said. “I can’t make silly fouls. But I hope we continue to fight like we did tonight, close out games and try to win as many games as we possibly can and finish strong.”
The Suns (21-25 overall record) still have a chance to end the regular season at .500 if they win out. Texas (25-22) trails the current fourth-seeded Santa Cruz Warriors (28-19) for the fourth and final berth into the Western Conference playoffs.
“We have self-motivation and we’re trying to win every game,” Warney said. “If we’re lucky and make it to the playoffs, that would be a good thing. But we’re still being watched by scouts, so we want to keep ourselves playing well and having a good time.”
The Los Angeles D-Fenders (32-14) have already clinched the Pacific Division and an automatic playoff berth. L.A. the likely No. 1 seed in the four-team Western Conference playoffs, are 11 games ahead of the Suns. The Oklahoma City Blue (31-15) holds down the No. 2 seed as the Southwestern Division leader.
The Rio Grande Valley Vipers (29-17), who beat the Suns twice March 17 and 19 in Texas, and Santa Cruz are jockeying for the third and four seeds.
On Wednesday at PVEC, the first half was a back-and-forth affair complete with 13 lead changes and six ties. Despite outrebounding the Legends, 24-16, the Suns committed 13 turnovers and converted only 4 of 14 3-pointers.
“Turnovers is what hurt us the most tonight,” Suns guard Askia Booker said. “They [Legends] play great team basketball. They move the ball really well, especially Pierre Jackson, and his teammates are deadly.”
The Suns finished the game with an 8 for 34 clip from 3-point range. Texas scored 20 points off of NAZ’s turnovers. But NAZ registered a season-high 30 assists, outrebounded the Legends, 48-40, and shot a better overall field-goal percentage (40 of 87, 46 percent to Texas’ 38 of 91, 42 percent).
The Legends drained 20 of 25 free throws, however, and seemed to have an answer for everything the Suns threw at them.
“I’m disappointed because they took advantage of our mistakes,” NAZ coach Ty Ellis said. “I am looking for professionalism from our guys [the rest of the way]. That’s the biggest thing. We come here to work.”
NAZ will head out on a two-game road trip for back-to-back contests at 5 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Iowa Energy (11-34) and Sioux Falls Skyforce (26-20), respectively.
The Suns will conclude the season with their home finale at 6:30 p.m. next Wednesday, March 29, versus the Austin Spurs and at 7 p.m. next Saturday, April 1, at the Reno Bighorns.
“I want to see everybody get better individually,” Booker said of the Suns in their remaining games. “Everybody on this team has grown mentally. We just can’t make the same mistakes twice.”
Follow Doug Cook on Twitter @dougout_dc. Reach him at 928-445-3333 ext. 2039, or via email at email@example.com.