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

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