PHOENIX - DECEMBER 10: Channing Frye #8 of the Phoenix Suns puts up a shot over Brandon Roy #7 of the Portland Trail Blazers during the NBA game at US Airways Center on December 10 2010 in Phoenix Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Suns Dismal Early Effort Dooms Late Rally, Blazers Win 101-94

The Suns played flat and with very little fire on the defensive end for three quarters. By the time they turned it up and started getting stops, it was too late. The Portland defense held the lead.

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Phoenix Suns Say They Need To Find The Missing Fun After Loss To Portland Trail Blazers

The Phoenix Suns coming off two losses in Portland to the Trail Blazers and having played a disappointing game at home on Wednesday against the Memphis Grizzlies, needed to give a good showing tonight at home. That didn't happen and the visiting Blazers won the game 101-94.

The Suns were flat to start the game and weren't able to match the energy or intensity level of a Portland team that played the day before and traveled overnight to play again today. The tired-looking team was the one that had been sitting at home with an off day on Thursday. There's no way that lack of energy is not a gut punch to the fan and players alike.

The Phoenix defense, as it's been prone to do over the last stretch of games, waited until the second half to show up and make a mark on the game. That works against poor teams like the Wizards or Pacers, but against the good teams like Portland who had an effective game plan that limited the Suns rhythm, it wasn't nearly enough. Waiting until the fourth quarter to turn on the pressure isn't going to work and Coach Gentry is well aware of that.

"During that stretch in the fourth -- just like we always do -- we played great defense (holding Portland to 14 points). But as I said to the guys, when you dig yourself that kind of whole, everything has to be perfect," the exasperated Suns coach explained. 

That much is obvious and well known to this veteran team. The question is why and what can be done to regain the confidence and loose -- but still competitive -- energy the team's leaders say they need to play with. Steve Nash has lead the Suns through slumps like this before but there's an additional hurdle to overcome this season.

"The difference I think this year, is there are a lot of new guys so there's not a lot of continuity. The guys that have been here have to really try and make those new guys feel good and feel like they're important, that there's no pressure and just go out and play and have fun," Nash said.

"If we don't have fun, we're not going to be as good a team anyways, and we're not going to win many games. Our team's not a muscle team. We can't go out there with a scowl on our face. We have to go out there with a smile and a swagger and a little bit of cockiness to jump up and make shots and hustle on defense and dive for loose ball and pick each other up."

Perhaps no player typifies that lack of a positive attitude more than Jason Richardson who is mired in a horrible three-game slump where he's averaged only six points per game which is similar to a three-game slump he had last season between January 15 and 18. Richardson going into tonight, led the Suns in scoring with 19.6 points per game.

"Right now I just have to go out there and play ball and relax. I think that's the main thing right now. I think I'm so tensed up right now. I just have to go out there and play ball," Richardson said about his own mentality right now. He calls himself his biggest critic and admits that he's trying a little too hard.

While the Suns players were mostly focused on the mental aspects of the game and still insist that they can be a good team when they play the right way which steams from being in the right frame of mind, the Portland Trail Blazers also had something to say about the outcome tonight.

Portland shot the ball from outside extremely well, scoring 61 of their 101 points from outside the painted area. The Suns defense certainly made things easy for them at times, but they still deserve credit for knocking down open looks. If the Suns had been able to hit as many of their open shots tonight the result probably would have been different. 

Portland was lead by Brandon Roy's 26 points, who despite his knee problems, played 41 minutes on the second night of a back to back. 

Defensively, the Blazers switched all the Suns screens and stayed home on the shooters. That left it up to Nash to create much of the offense. He lead the team with 11-19 shooting and 24 points but he only had five assists as the Blazers were able to bottle up the pick and roll with only two defenders. Portland also used a zone defense for extended periods which gave the Suns open outside shots that they simply weren't able to convert.

Statistically, the Suns did well in rebounding (39-36) and points in the paint (38-40) but weren't able to hit enough shots to keep up with Portland's 49.3 percent shooting.

The Suns (11-12) now have four days off to recover and work things out on the practice floor before playing again at home on Wednesday against the Minnesota Timberwolves. 

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Earl Clark For Solomon Jones Trade Rumor Analysis

There's a minor trade rumor reported by Hoops World that the Phoenix Suns are talking to the Indiana Pacers about trading Earl Clark for Solomon Jones. Clark and Jones are both 6-10 forwards, but they are very different players. 

Earl Clark

Earl Clark, the Suns' 2009 draft pick (14th, first round), is a perimeter-oriented guy who has potential in a lot of areas, but hasn't really shown the ability to play yet at the NBA level. Some argue that he's simply not had the chance and, given more time and opportunity to play on a regular basis, he would develop into a solid NBA rotation player.

Perhaps Clark can become a guy like Tyrus Thomas or Travis Outlaw. who come off the bench to provide their teams some scoring from the front line and can play a little defense. Earl has a different set of skills than those two, but in terms of impact and role, that's probably his upside.

Solomon Jones

Solomon Jones, drafted in 2006 (33rd overall, second round) by the Atlanta Hawks, is more of a physical, interior rebounding-type power forward with a 7-foot-4 wingspan. He's never put up good numbers and isn't this season, either, as a backup big man behind Roy Hibbert. He's averaging 4.6 points and 3.0 rebounds in about 14 minutes per game. He does shoot the ball well from the line (78%) and is hitting over 60 percent of his shots from within ten feet.

Jones' upside after four-plus years in the league is about where he is now. I don't know if he has the energy and other intangibles to fill a Louis Amundson role, but in theory he could give the Suns that kind of skill set.

Trade Analysis

Both Jones and Clark are on expiring contracts, with Clark making about $400,000 more than Jones' $1.5 million contract for this season.

The Pacers, who already have Josh McRoberts and Tyler Hansbrough, could use a forward with some offensive potential and Clark certainly has that. He can put the ball on the floor and attack the rim and has the vision and passing ability to create for his teammates, as well. Mid-range shooting is streaky, but given consistent minutes would probably improve.

The Suns haven't found a way to use Clark, but could potentially use the toughness and defense of Jones. There's no room in the already log-jammed 10-man rotation, but he at least gives the Suns a defensive option off the bench to play power forward, which is something they lack right now.

It's hard to swallow a trade that sends a number 14 pick with upside for a number 33 pick who has pretty much reached his NBA potential. However, it is a deal that makes sense for both sides, so you can see why the teams might be talking.

You have to imagine (and hope) the Suns are trying to get a bit more in the deal, even if it's just a second-round draft pick, since the Suns trade away their 2011 second-round pick in the Hakim Warrick sign-and-trade deal.

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