Goran Dragic finds ease with help from teammates

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PHOENIX — The prettiest box score in the Phoenix Suns’ 104-91 win against the Portland Trail Blazers on opening night belonged to Goran Dragic. To no fault of his own, the storylines on Wednesday made it feel as if Eric Bledsoe, Miles Plumlee and maybe even P.J. Tucker had the best three individual performances. Yet it was Dragic who led the Suns with 21 field goal attempts, 12 makes, 26 points and nine assists.

“It’s much easier,” Dragic said in various ways and on separate occasions when asked questions about Bledsoe, Plumlee and Tucker.

Four Suns scored in double figures, with Bledsoe adding 22 points on just 12 field goal attempts, Plumlee dunking and hook-shotting his way to 18 points, and Tucker scoring 16 second-half points.

Yet, the ease at which Dragic produced 26 points was the thing of beauty. Last year, he would’ve been hobbled and dead tired, but Wednesday he was simply appreciative. OK, so it was the season opener. But the Suns won’t apologize for acting like they knew how to win tight games.

Portland brought a double-digit lead to four or five points at different stages of the game, and each time Hornacek’s team responded. The Suns scored 30 and 31 points in the first and third quarter, respectively, but were erratic in the second and fourth, when they scored 20 and 23 points. But unlike 2012-13, Phoenix’s rhythm never waivered. The defense had timely stops, and the speed of the new-look Suns compacted the Trail Blazers’ mistakes.

With five minutes to play and the Suns leading by nine, Dragic was called for what appeared to be an offensive foul induced from a flop by Portland’s Damian Lillard, who torched the Suns for 32 points. Still questioning the refs as Portland pushed the ball up the court, Dragic, out of position and unattentive, then fouled Wes Matthews on a drive.

Suddenly, it looked like the momentum swing would come back to haunt the Suns. Portland cut the lead to seven points, but then something interesting happened.

A minute later with four minutes left, LaMarcus Aldridge decided to go at the undersized Marcus Morris in the post. Morris finished the game with six points and seven rebounds while missing all four three-point attempts. But on this play, he bodied Aldridge to rip him as Aldridge presented the ball, then dove on the floor before flinging the ball back into play. Bledsoe chased down the ball on the left wing and as he began to advance up the court, tripping on a Blazer, he flung the ball to a streaking Dragic, who dunked it.

“You don’t look at the stats,” Hornacek said when asked about the four double-digit scorers. “You go, ‘We won the game.’ Those guys played well but everybody stepped up out there. LaMarcus Aldridge is a great player. He made four, five, six, seven, I don’t know how many shots he made in a row, it seemed like it was 100. Marcus kept battling, kept battling, got a steal one time.

Of course, the Suns’ night of winning the fastbreak 31-19, the points in the paint 52-24 and the rebounding 47-39 — and thus the final result — might say more about Portland than it does about Phoenix. However, it’s hard to find issues when the Suns won the way good teams do — playing better than the opponent down the stretch and with defense.

“They made a couple nice stops,” the Suns coach added. “That’s the key for us. When we get stops we’re able to fastbreak. We had pretty good transition, I think it was that one play where Eric ended up throwing it all the way down to Goran that really helped separate at the end.”

It was a collective effort, and for one of the few times since returning to Phoenix, it was easy for Dragic.

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During one timeout break, the Suns played a Duck Dynasty parody with some of the Suns players. It was titled “Tuck Dynasty.” The skit involved American bandanas, camo and a lawnmower race.

“We had a fun time shooting,” Tucker said. “I learned how to drive a lawnmower, never drove a lawnmower before. Anybody needs their grass cut, I got it.”

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