In midst of 9-game skid, Hornacek takes Suns bowling

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PHOENIX (AP) Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek is trying whatever he can think of to get the Suns out of a losing streak that's reached nine games, including ugly losses to some of the NBA's worst teams.

So he took them bowling.

''We talked over these last few days trying to figure out how do we get these guys back into having energy,'' Hornacek said. ''Going back to the 20 games in 34 days and coaches, when we looked at the tape of these last couple of games, it looks like they're worn out.''

The Suns did some shooting and went over some defensive principles on Tuesday, he said, before walking across the street to do some competitive bowling.

''The guards came out on top just barely over the coaches,'' Hornacek said. ''They were cheering for each other like we expect them to do on the court, and maybe some of this stuff carries over.''

Guard Brandon Knight thought it helped.

''Guys had fun. That's really what it's about,'' he said. ''Just continue to be a team and continue to grow together, no matter what we're going through.''

This season, only Philadelphia has a losing streak longer than the current Suns skid.

And the Phoenix streak includes a home loss to the 76ers. It was Philadelphia's second victory of the season, first on the road.

The last two Suns losses were the ugliest, though, one with lousy defense, the other with bad offense.

Sacramento routed them 142-119 on Saturday. On Sunday in Los Angeles, Phoenix was pounded by the Lakers 97-77. The Suns scored a franchise record low 22 points in the first half in that game.

''It's tough,'' Hornacek said. ''Sometimes you try so hard you make it worse.''

They have lost 20 of their last 25 games to fall to 12-25, leading inevitably to speculation about the job status of Hornacek, who's in the final year of a three-year contract. The deal includes a team option for a fourth season, but the Suns have not exercised it.

''As coaches, we're just trying to do our best,'' Hornacek said. ''We feel we can get this thing going. We've tried several different things. It's again kind of what we tell the players. `Are you going to be a quitter or are you going to keep fighting?' None of us coaches are quitters.''

That coaching staff is smaller, though, after the team fired Hornacek's top two assistants - Mike Longabardi and Jerry Sichting.

A day after those firings, the Suns discovered their best player, Eric Bledsoe, is out for the season with a torn meniscus in his left knee.

That thrust 19-year-old rookie Devin Booker into the starting backcourt with Knight, who is just 24.

The starting small forward, second-year pro T.J. Warren, is 22, leaving the team with an exceedingly young trio at its top scoring positions.

''When you look at our guys and you watch tape, guys are trying,'' Hornacek said. ''They just don't have enough. ... Especially with Eric out, even with Eric in there, we have to be playing full bore all the time to win a game. So without him, it's even more where we have to get out there and really play our best.''

General manager Ryan McDonough's main offseason acquisition, center Tyson Chandler, has not made the difference that had been hoped for, and he has been slowed by a hamstring injury.

Then there's Markieff Morris.

Upset when his twin brother Marcus was traded to the Detroit Pistons, Markieff has played so poorly that he's now the No. 3 power forward behind Jon Leuer and Mirza Teletovic, and that means very little time on the court for a player earning $8 million this season.

Markieff Morris' struggles led to comments from owner Robert Sarver in an interview with that have created a buzz around the league.

''My whole view of the millennial culture is that they have a tough time dealing with setbacks,'' Sarver said, ''and Markieff Morris is the perfect example. He had a setback with his brother in the offseason and he can't seem to recover from it.''

The only glimmer of hope is the way the Suns played tough against Cleveland and Oklahoma City during the losing streak.

''That's definitely an encouraging sign,'' Knight said. ''Those are two pretty good teams - some of the better teams in the NBA. We just have to find a way to make sure it carries over. Sometimes we show up, sometimes we don't. And that's signs of a young team, signs of a bad team as well.''

The Suns are home against Charlotte on Wednesday night.