PHOENIX – Before the Phoenix Suns faced the Charlotte Bobcats, Jeff Hornacek wondered how his team would respond following a four-game road swing in five nights. In all four of those games, hectic starts led to wins, and against a slow-paced and defensive-minded Bobcats squad, the Phoenix head coach worried there could be a slow start.
In the end, Hornacek decided not to mention anything about the return from a road trip. He just let it play out.
“We figure maybe it’s better not to talk about it,” he said. “Maybe if everyone’s talking about it, it’s going into guys’ heads.”
Phoenix pulled away in the middle of the second quarter and never looked back in a 105-95 victory Saturday at U.S. Airways Center. Their biggest lead of 27 allowed them to lose the fourth quarter 32-15 and still come away with a double-digit win.
The Suns were coming off a win against an Indiana Pacers team that started flat against Phoenix after returning home from a five-game trip. When Hornacek was told that Pacers coach Frank Vogel mentioned the return home as an excuse, he quipped back, “If we lose, I’ll use it as an excuse, too.”
Turns out, it was a solid move. Phoenix seemingly learned from past lessons. They started fast, and while the defense wasn’t quite there at the beginning, the firepower eventually became too overwhelming for Charlotte to keep up – Goran Dragic’s firepower was too much, at least.
The Dragon scored 25 points on 10-of-14 shooting in just 27 minutes of play.
He propelled Phoenix to a 32-27 lead after one quarter, but after the bench unit held it down and added four points to the lead, Dragic’s return led to a 9-0 run in the last five minutes of the second quarter, giving the Suns a 59-41 lead that wouldn’t be threatened. In total, Phoenix held Charlotte without a field goal for 7:19 for a period spanning the second and third quarters.
The Morris twins were the only others to join Dragic in double-figures scoring for the Suns. Markieff Morris added 13 points and nine rebounds, and brother Marcus scored 15 points.
Now to take a look at Ryan Weisert’s three items to watch from his game preview.
Who’s got Big Al?
Before the game, Hornacek had complimented Jefferson’s ability to pass out of the post, something he learned under the current Suns coach when the two were with the Utah Jazz.
“I was always telling Al, you know, Al, if you pass it out of there … I’m a guard and my man makes a jumper, I’m a little tentative in going (to double) the next time,” Hornacek said. “He sees things develop ahead of time.”
Overall, Jefferson wasn’t all that effective against the Suns and went 4-for-15 from the floor. He especially struggled to score with contests at the rim, and Phoenix did a nice job of bringing the double team late in the post-up, when it appeared Jefferson was going up for his shot.
That kept Jefferson from making the Suns scramble if the ball was passed out of the post. He didn’t pass it much at all.
Miles Plumlee did a decent enough job early on and especially attacked the Charlotte center in the post — he scored the Suns’ first six — but Hornacek was quick to switch Channing Frye onto Jefferson after a few buckets. That didn’t bode well for Plumlee, who was stuck recovering on screen-and-roll action to defend Josh McRoberts. The Bobcats’ power forward drilled two threes before the Suns’ center got a mitt on the third three-point attempt.
Jefferson finished with 10 points and six rebounds, while Plumlee had a solid 11-rebound, 2-block outing.
Will the Suns push the pace?
Like they did on their four-game road trip, the Suns had their way in pushing the pace, and it simply came down to the Bobcats being unable to get a body in front of Dragic and even backup point guard Ish Smith.
With a 90-73 lead after three quarters, Phoenix wasn’t exactly getting a lot of fastbreak points, but they were getting shots early in the shotclock nonetheless. The final score didn’t tell of how fast Phoenix was scoring as the bench unit played out the entire fourth quarter.
Can the Suns find easy baskets?
All baskets are easy for Dragic, apparently, so that was that. Phoenix made a strong effort to attack Al Jefferson off the bat and got its first six points in the post from Miles Plumlee, but then Dragic poured in 15 points in the first quarter, first sitting Ramon Sessions with two personal fouls and then turning backup Jannero Pargo into stone on an in-out dribble move in transition.
In the end, Phoenix finished with 48 points in the paint to Charlotte’s 26.