PHOENIX, AZ — A loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was bad enough for the struggling Suns on Saturday.
The loss of point guard Eric Bledsoe would be devastating.
But it appears the Suns were able to avoid a serious injury to Bledsoe, who went down with a sprained knee with about eight minutes to go in the second quarter of a 111-104 loss to the 76ers and didn’t return.
Bledsoe was to undergo an MRI, but early reports seemed to indicate that he avoided major ligament damage after tweaking his left knee on a non-contact play on the defensive end, coach Jeff Hornacek said.
That’s a best-case.
This team is built around Bledsoe.
“I don’t want to sound wrong, but it’s not a torn ACL or anything like that,” Hornacek said after speaking to team orthopedist Dr. Tom Carter.
“That was stable, I guess. He looked pretty sore. He couldn’t step on it. But I think the major ACL thing, the doc said that was stable.”
After falling to the floor, Bledsoe still managed to make a pass from his backside when a loose ball bounced directly to him. But he was unable to get up as the play continued at the Suns’ end, and he put no pressure on his left leg while being helped off the floor. He was taken directly to the Suns’ locker room, and Hornacek chatted briefly with him at halftime.
“I didn’t see how it happened. All I saw was that he was down,” Hornacek said. “He didn’t say he hit it on somebody. He said he just kind of felt something.”
Bledsoe entered the game averaging 20.9 points a game, leading the Suns and 15th in the league. He had four points in eight minutes and nine seconds.
“Said a little prayer for him and hoped for the best,” Suns reserve guard Ronnie Price said. “Never like to see anybody go down on any side, and you don’t like to see anybody in the NBA get hurt, let alone one of your teammates, one of your warriors.”
The Suns also played Saturday without forward Markieff Morris, who was serving the first game of a two-game, team-imposed suspension after throwing a towel at Hornacek in the fourth quarter of a loss to Denver on Wednesday.
The temporary loss of Morris is nothing compared to what a long-term loss of Bledsoe could mean.
The Suns opted to build the team around Bledsoe last year, first when they signed him to a five-year, $70 million contract before the season started and then when they traded away other backcourt players Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas at the February 2015 deadline while acquiring Brandon Knight, the other half of the dual point-guard attack general manager Ryan McDonough wants to feature.
Knight had 21 points on Saturday and could take over the main point-guard duties in Bledsoe’s absence, however long that may be. Rookie reserve guard Devin Booker had a career-high 19 points in almost 20 minutes while starting the second half in place of Bledsoe.
The Suns can only hope the injury isn’t as serious as the ones suffered by Arizona Cardinals standouts Carson Palmer and Tyrann Mathieu in the last two seasons, or the one that plagued Bulls All-Star guard Derrick Rose.
Bledsoe knows knee injuries, which might have been why he was understandably cautious Saturday. He missed 33 games in the 2013-14 season, his first with the Suns, after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.
The Suns (12-20) need all hands on deck during this stretch. They’ve lost four in a row and six of seven, and they’ve fallen to 11-20 Portland, 12-18 Milwaukee and 12-17 Denver at home since Dec. 11.
Then this, a seven-point loss to a 76ers team that entered 1-30 and had won none of its 18 road games. Their only victory was against the Lakers at home Dec. 1.
“It’s pretty embarrassing, point blank, period,” Suns forward P.J. Tucker said.
The Suns, who’ve had trouble starting games recently, gave up a 20-4 run in the first quarter to fall behind 29-15 after one. Their biggest lead was four points, and their last lead came when Tucker made a three-point play with 3:27 left in the third period for a 73-70 edge. The 76ers scored the final 11 points of the period and never trailed.
After starting 7-5, the Suns have lost 15 of 20.
“Not doing the things we set out to do early,” Tucker said of the slump. “Not continuously holding each other accountable and doing the things we are supposed to do to get better each and every game.
“We got to a point where we would win three quarters and lose in the end, with something to fight for in the fourth quarter. Now we’re just flat out losing and something has to change quick. It could get real ugly real fast.”
The Suns next three games are against Cleveland here, and then San Antonio and Oklahoma City on the road.
“Yeah, obviously it’s probably a low point for us,” Hornacek said. “It seems like they are lacking a little bit of confidence. We have to figure out a way to get that confidence back in them and continue to play.”