Maybe it was a win against the lowly Utah Jazz, but it was probably a bitter-sweet moment for Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek. The former Jazz legend returned to Salt Lake City on Friday to lead his Suns past the Jazz 112-101 in a game that featured little defense.
The dead-eye shooting head coach saw his team connect on 54.7 percent on the night, an accuracy that only trailed off in a cruising fourth quarter. Through three periods, the Suns shot 65.5 percent and hit 8-of-17 threes to lead Utah, 95-78, before putting the nail in the coffin.
A late push by the Jazz forced Phoenix to close the game out with an unfamiliar lineup of recent days. Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe finished on the court together after the latter returned from a shin bruise that kept him from the last six outings. Bledsoe finished with 19 points, six rebounds, two assists and three steals in just 27 minutes. And the point guard wasn’t even the leading bench scorer. Markieff Morris played a productive 28 minutes to lead Phoenix with 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting from the field.
How’d the game go according to the questions posed by Ryan Weisert?
Can Goran Dragic keep up his incredible run of play?
That, he can. Dragic got the relief of Bledsoe’s return from a bruised shin on Friday but continued to find Gerald Green acting as his wingman in the starting lineup. The Dragon continued looking like the player who last season peaked at the end of the year despite his team floundering. He forced the issue at the right times, dribbled in circles on pick-and-roll action with the lumbering Utah big men and overmatched rookie Trey Burke trying to force him into mistakes, and finished with 19 points and nine assists.
Bledsoe and Dragic ended up playing the crunch-time minutes with one another, if any minutes in the fourth quarter could be considered such. Phoenix was in cruise control for much of the second half, no matter what the scoreboard read, and it might’ve been one of the more impressive Dragic-Bledsoe combinations despite some more obvious room to grow in terms of their chemistry.
Phoenix got in trouble late in the game and saw a lead that reach 20 points sniff single-digits at times as it settled for jumpers that led to easy points for the Jazz. Now, it’ll be a wonder if Bledsoe and Dragic can finally begin to find some chemistry and comfort between themselves.
Can Phoenix contain Utah’s frontline? Do they need to?
No, but it wasn’t in the way you’d expect. No longer going with a big-big starting lineup of Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, the Jazz went with a starting frontcourt of Favors, Marvin Williams and Richard Jefferson to seemingly outstretch the Suns’ stretching starting five. Channing Frye didn’t have a great deal of success chasing around Williams, as you’d expect. The former No. 2 pick led Utah with 18 points.
Favors ended the evening with 15 points and four boards, while Kanter struggled off the bench to score six. Phoenix center Miles Plumlee posted his fifth double-double of the season by notching 15 points and 10 rebounds.
The Jazz did beat the Suns up on the boards, 39-30, and that was especially surprising since Phoenix was for the most part shooting at a blistering pace. Utah hit the offensive glass to nab 13 boards and score 20 second-chance points for the game.
How much will Phoenix get from the Morris twins?
Markieff Morris scored 13 first-half points but did the most damage in the third quarter. He scored 10 more points in the period, including eight in a row as part of the Suns’ 10-0 run that build their lead to 88-69 with less than three minutes to play in the third.
As is par for the course, he was more than efficient as a player who looked to earn himself deep post position or, when floating, take 15-foot jumpers off ball movement rather than threes or longer twos.
Marcus Morris finished with four points.