Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 4/18/12
PHOENIX -- It had been established that the Phoenix Suns' hopeful skip toward a playoff seed included a season-closing schedule with more potential danger than Dorothy's commute back to Kansas. Thunder and Clippers and Nuggets and Jazz and Spurs ... oh, my! Without a good witch riding shotgun during this perilous journey, Wednesday's encounter with Oklahoma City pushed the Suns a bit off the road. The seemingly-requisite bricks were supplied by a Phoenix offense that managed to shoot a measly 41 percent from the field in this 109-97 loss to the mighty Thunder. Still scuffling with four other teams looking for a way into the postseason, the Suns now check in as the Western Conference's ninth seed. The Utah Jazz ripped the reeling Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday to move past Phoenix and into eighth. The Denver Nuggets fell to the L.A. Clippers and now sit in seventh. The Dallas Mavericks knocked off the Houston Rockets to claim sixth, with the losers dropping to a tie-breaker-invoked 10th. The path certainly would seem a lot more hospitable had the Suns been able to take down OKC. But honestly, a good witch probably lacked sufficient mojo to make things even a little tricky for Thunder guard James Harden, who put a career-high 40 points on Phoenix. "That's the difference in the game," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said of Harden's effort before pointing out a couple of additional difference-making issues we'll get to in a moment. "You gotta give him credit ... he played a great game." And with Grant Hill and his knee watching this one from the bench, Gentry didn't have a stopper to move over from guarding Kevin Durant to take a shot at Harden. All Harden accomplished was that eye-popping 40 on 17 shots from the field (he made 12) and 11 of 11 from the free-throw line. His line included a 5-of-8 performance from behind the arc, 7 rebounds and 4 steals. "It was good when you get on a roll like that," Harden, a former Sun Devil who majored in understatement at Arizona State, said. "My teammates played really well. We bounced back from a bad loss and a bad second half to get a win." Harden was referring to Monday's beat down, administered by the Clipper in Los Angeles. The Clippers are next up for the Suns, of course, and -- by the way -- Harden's teammates weren't all that stellar on Wednesday. But with James back in his adopted town, it didn't matter. "It's always good," he said in reference to playing in close proximity to ASU. "It was special ... family, coaches, friends ... it was fun." There's no place like the place that was home for a couple of years. But fun? Scoring 40 seems like a blast. OK, so Harden was more like a high-noon gunslinger than any OZ-related character. Unfortunately, most of what doomed the Suns on this evening was self-inflicted. "The most disturbing thing is we never came up with any of the loose balls," Gentry said. "They seemed to come up with all of 'em." Right, that's not exactly the type of grit-questioning indictment you'd expect to see attached to a team fighting to make the playoffs. That goes double for a Suns team that required a serious uprising to get this close. Another disturbance was provided by a lack of productivity by the Suns' post players. Gentry didn't offer any names, but the overwhelming favorite as disappointment of the night was center Marcin Gortat. "I just didn't think we had a presence offensively or defensively with our bigs," Gentry said. "We have got to have more of a presence from our bigs. That's finishing at the basket, rebounding the basketball, defending our goal and being a basket protector. We just didn't get very much out of that tonight." Although Gortat did collect a game-high 12 rebounds, his inability to finish plays inside -- he was 2 of 13 from the floor, 2 of 8 in the opening period -- stalled an offense that had started quite well. Riding a trio of 3-point makes in the opening quarter, the Suns were up 19-6 at the 6:20 mark. Phoenix was still up 25-13 when Harden's 10 points escorted a 16-0 Thunder lead they put them in front, 29-25, going into the second quarter. Harden was just getting warmed up, leaving the Suns to chill for a few hours until the Clippers roll in to the U.S. Airways Center. "We've got to just go for broke right now," Suns spokes-guard Steve Nash said. "We've got nothing to lose. I mean, we put ourselves in a position to get in the playoffs, and we have to go out there and enjoy it, attack, and if the shots don't fall, it's one thing, but we've got to go for it ... we've got to go for broke and have fun with it and embrace this opportunity."
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Kyle Shanahan takes jab at controversial pass interference call

Le'Veon Bell on precipice of amazing Steelers record

Andre Ward: A champion’s career comes to a close

Tigers will not retain manager Brad Ausmus

15 key questions for NFL Week 3

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Why USC-Cal will be best CFB game this weekend

NFL won’t rule out Ezekiel Elliott being suspended for Week 3

Players with most to prove heading into NBA season

CC Sabathia not worried about booze-fueled celebrations

Belichick defers Hernandez CTE, lawsuit questions

Tom Brady claims sunburn can be avoided by drinking a lot of water

Sports & Politics Intersect: Mayor Garcetti rolls back the NFL red carpet

The 'Greatest Show temporarily not on turf' quiz

Separating MLS playoff contenders from pretenders

WNBA Finals preview: Lynx look for revenge against Sparks

The 'Chris Sale joins an elite club' quiz

Three Up, Three Down: The home runs just keep on coming

Building on the NFL's positive changes beyond 2017

NFL Week 3 predictions

The 'MLB is as powerful as ever' quiz

After a decade in the WNBA, MVP Sylvia Fowles is ready for the spotlight

College football 2017 Week 4 predictions

10 teams that can unseat the Warriors in 2018

NBA News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Yardbarker Privacy Policy and Terms of Service. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.

Sports & Politics Intersect: Mayor Garcetti rolls back the NFL red carpet

The 'Greatest Show temporarily not on turf' quiz

Separating MLS playoff contenders from pretenders

WNBA Finals preview: Lynx look for revenge against Sparks

Three Up, Three Down: The home runs just keep on coming

The 'Chris Sale joins an elite club' quiz

Building on the NFL's positive changes beyond 2017

NFL Week 3 predictions

After a decade in the WNBA, MVP Sylvia Fowles is ready for the spotlight

The 'MLB is as powerful as ever' quiz

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker