Suns grasping for defensive engagement

PHOENIX — It’s getting to that point in the season where labeling these intra-conference matchups aren’t just a ploy by making something more than it is.

The Phoenix Suns seem desperate to cling to a playoff spot, and while plenty of more talented teams aim to pull themselves off the mat following rough starts, Jeff Hornacek’s crew in hoping not to slip face-first.

One such team that’s had a tougher time than expected is the Golden State Warriors, who visit U.S. Airways Center on Saturday looking to break a tied season-series with the Suns. Losers of two straight, Phoenix has slipped against a ticked-off Chicago Bulls team and to an explosive Houston Rockets squad, and the defense has been the main reason why.

“We have to be more focused on defense,” said point guard Goran Dragic after Friday practice. “We’ve had a lot of defensive slippage and haven’t been playing well. Our rotations have been late and we need to challenge them and pressure the ball. The key is definitely going to be defense, be aggressive and pressure the ball.”

At home against Chicago, the Suns allowed a slow offensive start to affect their offense.

“We rushed a lot of things early on and it kind of got us off-rhythm,” Channing Frye said afterward. “I think sometimes when we don’t get off offensively, we give up a lot of things easily defensively.”

Hornacek has openly complimented his team for willing to battle, and still-steaming P.J. Tucker took the loss to the Bulls the hardest. It showed the next night against James Harden and the Rockets, where Tucker may have impressively outdone himself in the smack talk and the effort, but it wasn’t enough. After the Suns allowed a offensively anemic Bulls squad to hit 101 points, Phoenix allowed Houston to pour in 122 points on 55 percent shooting and 11-of-16 accuracy from deep.

Phoenix sits a half-game behind the Warriors heading into Saturday. It’s seventh place in the Western Conference, percentage points ahead of the 30-21 Dallas Mavericks and 2.5 games ahead of the ninth-place Memphis Grizzlies, who are streaking.

Point is, to call a home game against a Western Conference foe a playoff-dictating showdown is no longer fodder to get fans in the seats. It’s the reality.

“We don’t really talk about the playoffs,” said Jeff Hornacek at the end of a five-game winning streak and before a two-game losing streak. “The board in our locker room which lists all the teams for playoffs, we don’t even put it up. At this point, we’re just going from game-to-game.”

The Suns’ defense hasn’t been all that shabby until the last two games. It certainly doesn’t seem to be a schematic issue, either.

Against the Bulls, it seemed like night and day to watch Chicago contest every one of the Suns’ shots — jumpers or layups — while Hornacek’s squad repeatedly allowed the Bulls to hit open jumpers. The players admitted they were going under screens when they had been instructed not to, and two of those specific miscues led to threes.

“We didn’t play smart,” Dragic said. “We didn’t agree if we were going to go under (D.J.) Augustin. We just have to be more focused and do what we agree in the meeting.”

It was the same story against the Rockets. Dwight Howard fought for easy scoring position deep in the paint, which to stop is easier said than done. It was the perimeter players, including forward Terrence Jones, getting easy looks at the basket — and that was without Phoenix doing a whole lot of double-teaming on Howard.

Now playing a Warriors team tied for second in the NBA by hitting 38.2 percent from three-point range, the above cannot happen.

“That’s on us, that’s not coaching’s fault,” Dragic said of the defensive miscues following the Chicago loss. “It’s a lot of games. If we want to be a playoff contender, playoff team, we cannot let that happen.”

  • EBJM

    Hey Forever, did you watch the Pacers/Blazers last night? Robin just destroyed big Roy! 8-15 for 17 points and 14 boards! Roy even blocked two of his shots but he kept going right at him.

    He only committed one foul while holding Roy to 2-8 for 4 points and only 6 boards.

    Robin looked like his brother Brook with his shots.

  • Russell’s Suns

    EBJM, that’s perfect for the Suns. The Suns are 1 year away from being Championship contenders and if Len works out The suns can snag either Aldridge or Lopez away from the Blazers, both are free agents after 2014/2015 and the Blazers can’t resign them both plus sign Lillard to a long term deal. So this becomes a huge win for the Suns. blazers have to make a decision.

    If the Suns want Lopez or Aldridge, we can get one.

  • Scott

    ^^ I’m pleased to hear it. I always thought Robin was getting the shaft from Gentry and Phoenix fans.

    When Robin was still a Sun (and being widely booed) I predicted he’d eventually go to Portland and become a fan-favorite and help them be successful. Who knows … they might even get their 2nd championship with him on board.

  • EBJM

    Regardless Robin provides an excellent measuring stick for both Alex Len and Miles Plumlee. Robin and Miles are both 25. Robin actually has always had a decent offensive game but has always played defense to Brook’s offense.

    His Blazer teammates love him and want him to take his shots and it has paid off. That is why I would rather see Alex Len, only 20 years old, get substantial minutes regardless of whether the Suns make the playoffs. You can see the kid has skills, just needs to grow into his body and gain experience.

    Miles on the other hand is a career back-up center. A great energy guy to come off the bench with the 2nd unit ala Louis Amundson. Miles at 25 shows about as much touch with the ball as Amundson.

    Great guy, but he is never going to develop even a modicum of an offensive game necessary to be starting on a title team. When you air-ball your only shot, a hook, in an NBA game at age 25, well the guy is lacking in the most basic offensive skills.

    He has absolutely no touch or feel for his shots.

    As far as prying Aldridge or Robin away, I doubt that will happen. Aldridge, Lillard and Batum came out recently saying they love playing together and they want to stay together. Robin has played a big part of their success and I doubt he walks away because of money.

    Blazer’s owner Paul Allen is worth about $15 billion, I’m fairly sure he wants to follow up the Seahawk’s Super-Bowl victory with the Blazers winning their 2nd title soon.

  • Foreveris2long

    EBJM I didn’t see the Trailblazers game but I was following the game on my touch. I am glad you gave me your perspective because the stats were definitely in Robin’s favor. it seems he beasted Hibbert in Hibbert’s family room with the wife and kids watching. My boy has grown into a man.

    Russell in two years you might like Len, barring injury even more than you like Lopez. I think Lopez is better defensively than most people think because they are not attentive to how many shots he alters. and how well he plays the pick and roll for a center. However Len should have that same ability but may be a better rebounder and offensive player. Both will be very good centers in their prime.

  • Suns Fan in Portland

    I always thought Fropez was WAY under-rated in the past and can tell you first hand he’s really flourishing and playing great up here. He’s definitely playing better, but I think it’s more just a ‘fit’ thing. He fits in and fills his role perfectly on teh Blazers.

    I was really miffed when the Suns kept the Polish Mallet instead of the human fro, but in the long run, I guess we’ll see what we end up getting for Okiefor’s contract and that draft pick… It could end up working out better fro everyone in the end.

    As great as Fromotron is and as much as I really like him as a player, and will always reminisce about how great he looked in the pick and roll with Captain Canada, I really think Len has a MUCH higher ceiling. I’ve never understood Suns fans pearl clutching and time spent on the fainting couch about the Len pick. This kid has a ton of potential. I think it was a great pick. Only time will tell I guess, but it’s not like we passed on Durant or anything….

  • Al

    McD should trade for Brook…Okafor plus 2 first rounders and 2 second rounders…Make it so!!! If it’s not Love than get Bropez. Nets are actually considering moving him and can use the picks…

  • Russell’s Suns

    Yes, the blazers owner is worth a ton, but the team can’t afford to give Aldridge 20 million a year, Lilard a max contract and Lopez a large contract plus Batum has a big contract.

    Not only will they be paying a huge luxury tax bill, they wont be able to add another decent player. Realistically, there is no way both Aldridge and Lopez remain in Portland past next year once both their contracts are up.

  • EBJM

    Aldridge and Robin will be a free agents in ’15-’16

    Lillard will be in the third year of his rookie contract for $4.2 million in ’15-’16

    Batun will in his final year in ’15-’16.

    Those three (not Robin) said they want to play together. So that means they won’t price themselves out of doing it.

    Robin will be interesting though because Bogut and McGee just signed for about $11 to $12 million per and his brother extended for $61 million over 4 years.

    But those are the only guys under contract. In ’15-’16 when they have to extend Aldridge and Robin they only have $13 million in contracts.

    Things don’t get sticky for Paul Allen until ’16-’17 when they need to extend Lillard and Batum.

  • BCrayZ

    Jeff got through to his guys.

    Only 32% shooting allowed in the game to the Dubs from deep.

    More importantly, Suns were getting stops in Q4 to pull away, holding the opposition to just 19 points in the last quarter of the game. Extra special kudos to Gogi for tonight’s home game vs. the Dubs Star of the game was Gogi for sure with 34 (a new career high). Gogi shot 77% for the game & even 86% from deep. Plus he had his first double double in a good long time. Even more importantly, he was a dominant plus 19 (+/-) for the game, next best to the plus 20 for Frye. Jeff did it. Gogi & Frye finished the game with “The Blur”, just like the good old days. They sure do bring out each others’ best game. Barbosa was the most productive from the 2nd unit with a plus 7 for the game. Only took 4 shots. Made half of them. This brings his shooting % down to only 67% over the last four. This game makes 8 wins for our Suns in the 11 games since LB came back from his separated shoulder to play. Also, this makes 20 wins in a row when we score 110 or more. Frye took 10 of his 13 shots from inside the arc (making half of them) & also contributed 5 assists, a new high for him for the year. While he was quiet on the boards, that is where PJ helped the most. His 15 rebounds gave him a double-double (16 points with half of his 10 shots going down), leading our team to more than doubling the Dubs in a 54-26 rebounding rout. Tucker even led the team in steals with four. Even Miles joined Marc & LB in being perfect from the foul line. No sign of Alex. Perhaps his ankle is sore. Last but not least was Jeff. Made all the right moves this game, limiting Mark’s time & especially finishing with Gogi, Frye & LB playing at the same time to put the game away. Make it so Jeff.

    MUST start & ALSO finish with LB. Let’s go SUNS!!!!

  • Suns Fan in Portland