PHOENIX — The Detroit Pistons had not won a road game in two months, had not won a game in Arizona in six years and missed free throws at an almost historic rate against the Phoenix Suns on Friday night.
But the struggling Suns still had to work down the stretch to secure their 40th win of the season.
Guard Eric Bledsoe scored 15 his team-high 23 points in the fourth quarter and eight in the final 3:21 as Suns sent the Pistons to their 12th straight road loss, 98-92.
Guard Goran Dragic added 20 points for the Suns, who missed 11 of their 35 free throws (68.6 percent) but looked like a team of Mark Prices and Rick Barrys compared with the Pistons.
The Pistons missed 16 of 26 free throws in the game — forward Josh Smith missed all eight of his — in one of the worst night at the line in the NBA in nearly 30 years.
For a team that shot at least 26 free throws, Detroit’s 38.5 percentages was tied for the second worst since the 1985-86 season. The Miami Heat shot 37 percent (10 of 27) in Feb. 11, 2005, loss to the Charlotte Bobcats and the Sacramento Kings were also 10 of 26 in a 1991 game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“It’s a lot of things that you wish you could go back and correct,” said Smith, who managed 15 points and 10 rebounds and was two missed three throws from a triple-double. “I mean (after a few misses) you do start to think about it a little bit. You just have to try and stay positive. It’s frustrating because you know you are doing everything right, technique-wise, and they’re just not falling.”
But the Pistons were still right there, tied at 86 after Smith’s 19-footer with 4:43 left, before Bledsoe hit his only 3-pointer of the night to give the Suns the lead for good. He added six straight points down the stretch as Phoenix pulled to within a half-game of the Memphis Grizzlies, who lost to Miami on Friday night, for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“We’re more than right there ready to win the game and I thought our guys played their hearts out,” Detroit coach John Loyer said. “But we turned the ball over 19 times and then you go 10-for-26 from the line. We’re not asking you to make all of them, but if we shoot our percentage — which is about 66 percent — that’s a totally different ballgame.”
Forward Markieff Morris scored 16 points and guard Gerald Green had 12 off the bench for the Suns, who won their 40th game of the year after winning just 25 all of last season.
“Every win isn’t going to be pretty,” said Bledsoe, who had his best effort since returning from knee surgery on March 12. “That team is better than their record. They have all the talent in the world.”
Guard Rodney Stuckey scored 23 points off the bench for the Pistons, whose last win away from home came more than two months ago (Jan. 18 at Washington). The Pistons lost four in a row and 14 of 17 overall.
Detorit is 4-22 against the West this season.
Forward Greg Monroe had 16 points for Detroit, who has not lost 12 straight road games for 21 years (Jan. 5-March 5, 1993). Center Andre Drummond added 13 points and 16 rebounds and now has 46 double-doubles this season, second in the NBA to Minnesota forward Kevin Love.
The Suns struggled through three quarters of Wednesday’s win over the Orlando Magic and Friday was more of the same.
“I told the guys a couple of games ago they were going to have to scrap and claw and fight for every play, every possession, to have a chance to get into these playoffs,” Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek said. “That’s kind of how tonight’s game went. We did a nice job at the end of really scrapping, making tough shots and we got the boards at key times.”
Neither team led by more than six points in the first half as the Pistons nullified five Phoenix 3-pointers with eight offensive rebounds and 30 of their 50 points in the paint.
The Suns used 12 first-quarter points from Dragic to build two six-point leads. But the Pistons took a 27-26 lead into the second quarter and used 12 first-half points from Stuckey and four assists from guard Will Bynum to extend their lead to five.
Phoenix answered with a 14-4 run, with a Markieff Morris jumper giving the Suns a 40-35 lead with 6:45 left. The Pistons scored the final four points of the half, with Drummond following an alley-oop dunk with a putback to cut the lead to 51-50 at the break.
The Suns scored the first seven points of the third quarter, but the Pistons answered with a 13-2 run and trailed 73-71 entering the fourth quarter.
NOTES: Phoenix F Markieff Morris (13.7 points) and Detroit G Rodney Stuckey (13.3) are two of the top three bench scorers in the NBA. … Suns coach Jeff Hornacek has been pleased with the development of rookie C Alex Len and sees him even adding an outside shot to his inside game. “I envision a few years down the road he’s going to be able to shoot 3-pointers,” Hornacek said. “That guy’s got a good touch. He’s going to continue to get better and better.” … Suns G Goran Dragic is shooting 51 percent from the field and 41.6 percent from 3-point range. Kevin Durant (.549 FG, .403 3-pointers) is the only other 50/40 player in the league to this point. Only Steve Nash (six times) and Hornacek (three times) have put up those numbers during an entire season. … In their previous five straight losses at Phoenix, the Pistons averaged just 88.4 points.
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