Defense has helped the Suns become the NBA's surprise team

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns are the most surprising team in the NBA through the first two weeks of the season. Going into Monday night’s NBA action, they are tied for the fourth best record in the NBA, a far cry from where prognosticators had projected this team to be before the season begin.

Even with the strong start to the year, Suns coach Jeff Hornacek is not pleased with some of the play in the past few games.

“It’s a long season and it is not easy to win in this league,” Hornacek said. “We have been able to sneak up on some teams, but that won’t last long if we continue to keep playing like this.”

Hornacek is referring to the stretches in every game when the Suns get sloppy with the ball and allow teams to hang around. In the Suns’ win on Friday against Denver, they gave up a 36-10 run in the third quarter that allowed the Nuggets to take the lead in a game that Phoenix controlled for the majority.

Last night in a 101-94 win against the Pelicans, it was turnovers and poor shooting that Hornacek was not pleased with, but he is happy with how the team keeps finding ways to win games.

“Maybe I can relax a little bit when I watch them out there,” Hornacek said Sunday night. “You look up and I didn’t think we played all that well, the guys didn’t think they played that well, but we still got a win and scored 101 points and gave up 94.”

What has Hornacek happy is the way the Suns have been playing defense. They have held their opponents to under 100 points five times in seven games this year and rank sixth in opponent field goal percentage.

Last night against New Orleans the Suns closed the game on a 21-15 run over the final 6:30 with six of the Pelicans’ 15 points coming in the final minute with the game already in hand.

“If you play defense then you will be in games,” Hornacek said. “You look at past championship teams and they all play good defense.

“They may not have the greatest offense, but the defense keeps you in the games. We have had success getting the big stop at the end of games and the guys seem to get it. We are still a work in progress and it’s a good start.”

The Suns clutch defense has come up big in most of their wins.

Last night it was blocking four Pelicans shots in the final 2:41. On Friday it was holding the Nuggets to just 16 fourth-quarter points. On opening night against Portland, it was holding the Trail Blazers to just four points in the final 5:15 of the game. The Suns will face Portland again on Wednesday night.

In fact, the Trail Blazers’ 91 points scored against the Suns in the season opener is their lowest total through their first six games and they have scored over 100 in four of those five games.

“Portland has played extremely well since the first game and we will have to buckle down and not take plays off,” Hornacek said.

The Blazers are 4-1 since the loss to the Suns. In that game, Portland got 60 points combined from Damian Lillard (32) and LaMarcus Aldridge (28) and just 31 points from the rest of the team.

“Sometimes it is OK when stars get their points and you eliminate everyone else,” Hornacek said. “You don’t want them to get 30 each, but hold them at 20 and eliminate everyone else.”

And 1

  • Goran Dragic did not practice with the team on Monday to be with his wife, who went into labor with their child. The baby boy, named Mateo, is healthy, as is Dragic’s wife, Maja. Hornacek is not sure if Dragic will make the trip to Portland.
  • Markieff Morris was named the Western Conference Player of the Week. Indiana’s Paul George was the Eastern Conference Player of the Week.

Editor’s note: We’d like to welcome Jeffrey Sanders to the Valley of the Suns staff. He will primarily cover practices and shootarounds for us and of course will be helping out with previews, game coverage and our Google Hangouts. You can read more about Jeff on our “About” page or follow him on Twitter @jesanders11

  • EBJM

    Horny should doesn’t sound like a guy coaching a lottery team.

  • Sunsn7

    Markieff Morris POW

    Far cry from “retirement”, eh E?

  • Scott

    Welcome Jeffrey!

    And Mateo!

    And congrats to the Dragics and Markieff Morris!

  • EBJM

    Sunsn7 it was my “tough love” motivation that set Markieff on to the path of All-Star!

  • Sunsn7

    Heh that was my second thought E

    Now for that Marcus cat…

  • EBJM

    Hey Forever, you being the resident attorney will appreciate this the most:

    The NBA is engaged in settlement talks with Ozzie and Daniel Silna to end a contract that has long been described as “the greatest sports business deal of all time,” according to sources close to the situation.

    No agreement has been reached, but talks are ongoing.

    The Silna brothers are the former owners of an old ABA franchise known as the Spirits of St. Louis. When the ABA merged with the NBA in 1976, the Silnas agreed to dissolve their team in exchange for a small percentage of the NBA’s future broadcast revenue.

    At the time, it seemed like an irrelevant concession by the league. But it’s become a financial windfall for the Silnas. They receive 1/7 of the television revenues of the four ABA teams that were absorbed: the Spurs, Nuggets, Nets and Pacers. The NBA currently has $7.4 billion in TV contracts with ABC/ESPN and TNT.

    The kicker in the Silnas’ deal is that it goes on in perpetuity.

    Last season, the Silnas, who bought the Carolina Cougars for $1 million in 1973 before moving the club to St. Louis, received a reported $19 million from the NBA.

    Since the deal was reached in 1976, the league has paid the Silnas $300 million in TV royalties. Recently, a judge ruled that the brothers also have rights to Internet revenue.

    Because the Silnas’ cut diminishes the dividends of the NBA’s 30 team owners, the league has long sought to settle the contract.

    Why in the world would they settle? I wonder since the contract goes on in “perpetuity” if that means their heirs will continue to receive royalties upon their passing? What is your professional and well-respected opinion?

  • http://none Keith

    Ah, things make a lot more sense now.

  • SJose

    I’d like to get that kind of K.

  • Mel.

    I almost feel like Stein’s in tangible, physical pain when he’s writing up the power ranking entries for some of these teams: the Suns’ return to a reasonable level of play might be “inevitable,” but it’s sure fun watching him have to qualify that with his bullet points.

  • hawki

    Congrats to Goran & his lovely wife, Maja….Hope all is well.


    welcome jeffrey…nice inaugural article

  • hawki

    Love that picture of Jeff Sanders….guy would make a great poker player :)

  • foreveris2long

    EBJM, Man I had no idea of that deal but what a deal. While I do not handle whether a particular interest will vest in an heir, generally speaking an interest must vest within a life in being at the creation of the interest plus twenty one years. Therefore if you consider Silna as the life in being at the creation of the interest, if he created a will passing his interest in that deal to an existing heir like a child, the NBA is on the hook UNLESS the contract expires on the death of Silna.

    Unless you handle these issues daily, the Rule Against Perpetuities was one of the most convoluted concepts to learn. It gets interesting if Silna attempts to vest interest in the deal to a future grandchild who was not living when he created his will. Hope this helps.

  • EBJM

    Thanks Forever, it sure does. Those brothers made one heck of a deal!

  • hawki

    EBJM….The Silna brothers are indirectly responsible for New Orleans being named the “Pelicans”.
    Last year, Tom Benson, owner of the New Orleans Saints, bought the New Orleans NBA franchise with the intent of re-naming them the “Spirits”.
    That hinged on the NBA buying out the Silna Brothers in exchange for the exclusive right to the “Spirits” name.
    That, of course, didn’t happen & instead New Orleans was re-named the “Pelicans”

    The NBA would have been better served having St. Louis enter the League.
    In the last 2 years of the Spirits existence they had stars such as Moses Malone, Maurice Lucas, Marvin Barnes, Don Chaney & M.L. Carr.
    Instead, there has not been an NBA Franchise in St. Louis since 1968 when the St. Louis Hawks moved to Atlanta.
    Incredible .

  • EBJM

    Hey Hawki we are really showing our age, here are a couple more tidbits for Old School fans. Former All-Star center of the St. Louis Hawks, Zelmo Beaty passed away this year as well as HOF center Walt Bellamy who played for the Atlanta Hawks.

    Back in the days when centers had skills, not just phenomenal athletes like Dwight Howard.

    As a rookie Bellamy posted incredible numbers: 31.6 points, still 2nd to only Wilt Chamberlain rookie’s season. 19 rebounds per game 3rd behind only Chamberlain and Bill Russell’s rookie seasons. He once scored 47 to Chamberlain’s 55 in a head to head match-up. Against Russell he dropped 35 and grabbed 30 boards.

    Zelmo was a double-double machine that peaked as a Utah Star when he scored 23 and grabbed 15. He ended his career as a Laker backing Elmore Smith, the center after Chamberlain and before Abdul-Jabbar. Former Sun Connie Hawkins was on that same squad.

    Alex I’ll take NBA trivia for a 1000 please!

  • Voqar

    It’s been great so far but the suns could play better. Control turnovers and keep the defensive pressure consistent.

  • EBJM

    I love these stories! Chris Gatling whose best days were with the Warriors in the early 90′s was arrested for breaking into a Paradise Valley home and squatting there. He also attempted to rent the house. I give him credit for being able to pick ‘em! The home’s owners lived in another home in CA. and had left the electricity on.

    He listed the home as that of an ex-NBA player and could be rented for $800 per month. A couple actually gave him a down payment before becoming
    suspicious and calling police.

    The man earned $30 million while playing in the NBA.


    What is wrong with these ex-players?

    I’ll be fair though and counter with the story of a smart ex-NBA player, former center Elmore Smith. He played in the seventies so he might have been lucky to have earned a million dollars total. He is famous for rejecting 17 Blazer shots in one game and being traded for Abdul-Jabbar.

    He is now a successful entrepreneur, owner of Elmore Smith’s All-Natural Gourmet BBQ Sauces. Gluten Free, no trans fat, no cholesterol, all natural ingredients, no high fructose corn syrup.

    Another Old School center with skills on and off the court!

  • Foreveris2long

    EBJM and Hawk, those are great stories. I remember hearing or reading about Gatling who I hated as a player and thought what guts. Not only did he stay there without paying rent but he then tried to monopolize on his criminal venture by making money on someone else’s property. This guy was creative but dumb nonetheless.

    Regarding the defense, it appears Coach Horny is a definite disciple of no nonsense Sloan in making everyone accountable. When it is all said and done the Suns will still be a surprise team when the season ends because they play very good defense. that is not going to change. This is a non negotiable core principle. If this team finishes with 35-40 wins, while it will likely knock us out of the top 3 lottery it will make us more attractive to free agents over the next two years because our direction and young talent looks promising.


    No one on Earth predicted that MO Keef would be a WCPOY. Astounding! If his inspired play continues then we have Amare’s heir apparent who is so far injury free.

    Seems a shame that Ish Smith is only a backup. I remember how tough it was to get a backup PG for Nash for years, and now there’s more than the Suns can use.

    Speaking of that, Plumlee is exactly the type of playa the Nash SUNS always needed but could never acquire. Can’t wait til PHX plays IND.

  • http://none Sillmarillion

    Welcome Jeffrey!
    And to all of the VotS-staff: your page is really great! Now that Gortat changed the team I’m obviously more interested in the Wizards, but there is no website out there which would be nearly as good as yours, not even! I miss your good articles, game coverages and most of all the community (there are really some smart guys commenting here).
    I’ll keep following this page, because you’re doing a great job and in these 2 years I became a Suns fan as well ;) Go Suns!


    Here’s a snippet from a USA Today article about the Nets…shows how lucky – or smart – McDonough and Horny are:

    Assembling multiple NBA All-Stars on a roster is tantalizing.

    Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez – with their 35 All-Star appearances combined – and a bench with Andrei Kirilenko (another former All-Star), Andray Blatche and Jason Terry on one team equals title contender.

    You want to jump into the playoffs and see the Brooklyn Nets against the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers in a seven-game series. If only it were that easy. The Nets are 2-4. They have lost the past two games and haven’t won on the road in three tries.

    Garnett might have put it best recently: “It’s not as simple as hitting a button,” he said.

    Patience is the operative word right now.

    “We can’t get frustrated,” Pierce said. “We’ve got to stay together and we’ll figure this thing out. … We have to be patient. We’re a veteran team that’s going to show a lot of patience. We’re going to stay positive until this turns around.”

    The Nets – and not that they didn’t know this coming in – are learning what other star-laden teams have discovered: Playing as a cohesive team is not easy. At the least it doesn’t happen overnight.

  • hawki

    Yeah EBJM, it was with sadness that I heard of the passing of Walt Bellamy a week or so ago.
    Centers of that era were much more fundamentally sound then the athletic but unskilled big men of today….Dwight Howard can jump out of the gym but just recently learned how to walk & chew gum at the same time…..Plumlee’s 4 years at Duke however have made him into an Old School throwback.

    Bellamy was the starting center on the USA’s 1960 Gold Medal winning basketball team…the backcourt on that team was Jerry West & Oscar Robertson.
    Can you imagine West & Oscar going up against the Dream Team’s backcourt of Magic Johnson & Michael Jordan ?

  • hawki

    Some big college basketball games tonight…

    Michigan St. vs Kentucky
    Adrien Payne vs Julius Randle
    and the biggie
    Duke vs Kansas
    Jabari Parker vs Andrew Wiggins

    If the Suns somehow get Julius Randle will he be nicknamed “Orange Julius” ?

  • Mel.

    @BUTLER: I love stories like those. They not only demonstrate how remarkable the Heat’s ability to put together their SuperTeam really is, but also shows the growing divide in GM/TO mentality in relation to the “Build-a-Bear” school of roster construction.

    If the Pacers do as well as they’re slated to this year–and topple Miami (Which I honestly believe that they can)–it’s going to set off the whole “homegrown product/longview vs. championships through signings” debate all over again. The NBA needs cases like these and the 2004 Pistons to pop up every decade or so, just to completely upend the assumptions and expectations that begin to coalesce when you’ve got payrolls like the Nets and the Knicks floating around.

  • john


    That nickname is a foregone conclusion. I’m rooting for that to happen just because I want to say “Orange Julius” so badly.

  • Foreveris2long

    Hawk, I am leaving work early to catch the games tonight. Brilliant in referencing Julius Randle as “Orange Julius” if he became a Sun. Him against Payne should be special as I like Payne a lot.
    Mel, I too am pulling for the Pacers for the reasons you outlined. Internal growth as the primary vehicle for a championship caliber team is the preferred way in my mind. I like what OKC has done as well however they need one of their recent draft picks (hopefully Lamb) to step up more this year. However keep an eye on Adams as he looks better than I expected.

  • john

    If any of you keep up with Zach Lowe over at Grantland, you should definitely check out his most recent article. The Suns are mentioned about a dozen times in the article, and it’s all positive. I can’t believe it. People are talking about the Suns in a positive light. Incredible.

  • EBJM

    So the Pacers didn’t sign free agent David West and trade for George Hill? The Pacers like the Thunder drafted very well but neither have drafted their entire line-ups.

    The opportunity to sign three players of James, Bosh and Wade abilities in the same summer is so rare to took collusion among the players themselves to make it happen.

    The Nets TRADED for Garnett, Pierce and Terry.

    The Pistons only drafted Tayshaun Prince and traded for both Wallaces, Billups and Hamilton.

    What exactly is coalescing through your mind?

  • hawki

    Forever & John….haven’t had an Orange Julius in years…due for one.

    Forever….doesn’t get much better than leaving work early….Gatling has got me thinking….reading the law of “Adverse Possession” right now :)

  • EBJM

    I think John is trying to believe! It’s OK John, forget about the logic of it and enjoy it!

  • EBJM

    Forever, the Rockets drafted Jeremy Lamb.

  • EBJM

    Hawki if you are looking for a safe place to squat, there are 167,000 abandoned foreclosed homes in Las Vegas today.

  • JK

    As long as the Suns get Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, or Julius Randle in next year’s draft, I’m a happy camper.

  • john

    Must. Not. Buy. In.

    Must. Keep. Doubting…

    I’ve suffered too many broken hearts over the years to believe in them this early. It’s never easy being a Suns fan. :)

  • Ty-Sun

    It seems as though the “super team” formation route isn’t really the best approach after all. It’s worked for Miami but they also have LeBron who mostly by himself turned Cleveland into a contender. NY is falling apart, Brooklyn looks like a very expensive flop, and let’s not forget how bad the Lakers were last season even with Kobe, Howard, Nash and Gasol.

    Indiana is my favorite to win it all this season and they’ve done it the good old fashion way. They built instead of bought their team.

    Whether you want to call it luck or skill (on the part of McD and Horny), the Suns seem to be ahead of schedule on rebuilding. While it looks as though the Suns could very well finish the season without even a top 10 pick in the draft, they do potentially have 6 1st round picks in the next two drafts which they could possibly use to move up or trade for a player (Detroit’s 2014 pick goes to Charlotte unless it falls in the top 8. If not, they will have NO 1st round picks in this years draft. Golden State also has NO 1st round pick in this years draft).

  • hawki


    Vegas squatting > Detroit squatting


    EBJM thanks for the story about the Silnas. What a deal they got.

  • Foreveris2long

    Hawk, quit with the adverse possession research, you are killing me. EBJM, you are absolutely correct that Houston drafted Lamb. Just an improper generalization on my part that if a team gets someone in the infancy of their NBA career like the Suns got Joe Johnson, although incorrect, I consider them as being drafted by their present team from a practical sense. Put me on probation for a stupid comment, I accept the punishment.

  • BCrayZ

    Welcome Mateo & congrats to Maja & Gogi!!!!