The Phoenix Suns have fallen off the top seed of the Western Conference after losing five straight games, four of which were defeats by way of an 11-point margin.

The team has been shorthanded the last two games after Devin Booker suffered a hamstring during the front end of their back-to-back against the New Orleans Pelicans. However, their center DeAndre Ayton, believes Phoenix has no excuse for getting outplayed the way they have during this latest stretch of games.

“The teams we see on film aren’t the teams we play,” Ayton said per NBA Central. “They’re playing harder and with a chip on their shoulder against us.”

Their two contests with the Pelicans have raised concerns amongst Phoenix fans that the momentum that helped the Suns rise to first place in the Western Conference has halted. Zion Williamson dropped 35 points on a combined 71.1 percent shooting from the field. In the second matchup, CJ McCollum’s posted 29 points and seven assists in 45 minutes to New Orleans get the overtime victory.

Although Ayton credits the efforts of their opponents, the Suns have to answer the reason their defense has gone downhill. They currently have the worst defensive rating (122.4) over five games and have been unable to secure the boards, averaging the lowest defensive rebounds (28.4) across the League during that same stretch.

Opponents have dominated the painted area against the Suns too, and their next three matchups are against teams finding their form offensively. The Los Angeles Clippers with the return of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, Williamson and the Pelicans once more, and finally, the Los Angeles Lakers with Anthony Davis, who has averaged 33.8 points (third best) so far in December.

The Suns can’t afford to lose games in a stacked Western Conference. With the year coming to a close, Chris Paul and Ayton’s leadership must be on full display to regain momentum near the All-Star break.

The post DeAndre Ayton: Opponents Are ‘Playing Harder and With a Chip On Their Shoulders’ Against’ the Suns appeared first on SLAM.

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