Suns learn to slow it down in loss to Heat

P.J. Tucker and the Suns believe they have much room to grow.

P.J. Tucker and the Suns believe they have much room to grow.

PHOENIX – Beyond making the playoffs, the Phoenix Suns want to stake their names in the earth as legitimate postseason threats. They’re young but thirsty, and a Tuesday night loss to the reigning champion Miami Heat heading into the All-Star break was a perfect opportunity to look at the realistic chances of success for Phoenix through a microscope.

Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said it before the game. A win, and it’s a measuring stick. A loss, and it’s not. There aren’t moral victories in the Suns locker room, but the 103-97 loss to the Heat at U.S. Airways Center detailed just where this team stands at the All-Star break.

They’re growing, they’re talented and they have confidence, but the fourth-quarter magic exhibited by LeBron James shows the room for growth.

Well, magic is a strong word.

The King was coming off a long rest. He put himself in the headlines quite on purpose and certainly for a purpose. He led a calculated dunk contest in front of Phoenix media members on Monday. Then, he proclaimed that he wanted a spot on the Mount Rushmore of NBA greats. Even without Dwyane Wade, who was suffering from a migraine and missed the game, Miami was poised for a show.

And yet, Phoenix was in a game until the very end, when everything slowed down for the Heat and sped up for the Suns.

A dagger came in the final minute, when James worked a pick-and-roll to draw a trap on the left wing. He whipped a ball over two defenders to Chris Bosh on the opposite side of the court. Channing Frye, who had sunk in to defend the paint, had to recover to the three-point line and said he felt the wind from the ball’s path whipping past him as he attempted a close-out.

“That’s how the championship teams play,” Hornacek said. “All game long, you can be scrambling and it’s just kind of a slow thing for them. Just like LeBron on the last one, we were kind of scrambling a little bit. (He) saw it all happen and threw it out to Bosh on the wing to shoot the ball. Hopefully, we get there when games are on the line.”

Really, only Suns assistant Mike Longabardi and his generously-listed (by me) 5-foot-6 frame had a shot of bothering Bosh’s three that made it a 99-92 game with 40 seconds left.

But it was James that finished with 37 points, five steals and nine rebounds. He accounted for 17 of the Heat’s 19 final points.

Afterward, the Heat anticipated while the Suns started over-thinking. Miami pressured Suns point guard Goran Dragic with the ball on pick-and-rolls, forcing him to pass out of the plays completely. It wasn’t hedging, but full-out double-teams with a guard and a big man, which by the small-ball Heat standards usually meant someone capable of moving their feet.

“They did a good job of jumping out and they stayed with it a little longer,” Hornacek said. “A lot of times, teams will try to jump out and force the point guard to get out a little wider. They stayed with it and made him give up the ball sometimes.”

Dragic generally played it right. He did have 15 points and nine assists, but all three of his turnovers led to easy buckets. In general, the Suns’ offense stagnated down the stretch, though it kept pace with three-pointers and Gerald Green hitting a few timely baskets.

Hornacek said he saw too many screens that involved slight brushes and slips. In time, perhaps the still-unfamiliar Suns will learn how to better read one another in those situations. At present, the only result was poor screen-action and half-hearted attempts to slip them early.

Defensively, the Suns’ rotations looked fantastic at times and quite poor at others.

“I think in that first and second quarter you saw we made them make 9, 10 passes when we were helping each other, and they were getting 24-second violations,” Channing Frye said. “We have to be more consistent with that.”

Nevermind that James was at his very best. The Suns lost stretches and certainly the most important one, but they never lost control against the battering ram that is LeBron. Transition points off turnovers doomed them, but Hornacek’s implementation of the Euro-fouls to stop the Heat’s fastbreak opportunities — ones that often lead to massive runs — worked, even if Miami scored with free throws on each one.

Phoenix has the tools to play with champions, but it’s still learning how to use them.

“We’ve had a great start,” P.J. Tucker said after putting in 14 points, five assists and eight rebounds while taking blows defending James. “For us, I think it’s still, we think we’re so much better. We think we gave up 10, 11 games we think we should have won.

“We have such receptive guys, we’ll keep getting better.”

And 1

  • Backing what general manager Ryan McDonough has already gone on the record to say, president of basketball operations Lon Babby told Doug and Wolf of Arizona Sports 98.7 FM that the team would match any offer for Eric Bledsoe when he hits restricted free agency this summer.
  • Hornacek on the rapport between Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe: “Eric and Goran have a great relationship. Right now, Eric is talking about, ‘Hey, Goran should be on that All-Star team.’ He’s actually mad about it.”

  • Foreveris2long

    Good insight Kev.

  • EBJM

    “He whipped a ball over two defenders to Chris Bosh on the opposite side of the court. Channing Frye, who had sunk in to defend the paint, had to recover to the three-point line and said he felt the wind from the ball’s path whipping past him as he attempted a close-out.”

    My favorite part of the post! Frye’s lack of quickness on defensive has always been his Achilles heel. Hornacek was playing chess with Spoelstra all night.

    Late in the game he went small to match the Heat’s three guard line-up with Markieff playing center and Tucker playing PF but so was James at that time.

    Frye goes back in and gets beat by a player who plays like him but only better, Bosh for a three-pointer.

    How poetic!

  • Smovich

    I Echo Forever’s sentiments.

    The Suns need to upgrade 3 of their 5 starting positions (one is already in the waiting with Len) but even with that, they are fun to watch, even with their imperfections. Suns will not win a championship without at least one HOF player, still in their prime.

    I agree that the Suns should trust their doctor’s about Bledsoe and his partial meniscus removal, and take a chance on this kid. The Suns just seem to play better defense with him on the court and Dragich doesn’t wear out by games end.

    When was the last time you saw a player get doubled team on a Suns team?

    Dragich and Bledsoe will be our all star caliber players…who will the Suns get for a super star?

  • EBJM


  • Smovich

    I was talking about Dragich when I made the comment about double team. Dragich getting respect from the Heat.

  • CART Jeff

    Out coached
    Plumlee has to finish game. Watching Lebron it was evident that Green plays slow, way too slow for his talent. Green should have been in Lebron’s grill and Plumlee defending the rim. Would have given Green a chance to try to match his speed and grow as a player. Still love Hornaceck but that was a swing a and miss.

  • Anonymous

    And today we are down to 8th seed with memphis creeping in.

  • Smovich

    Isn’t Dalice in 8th?

  • Anonymous

    Dallas beat Indiana making them 7th

  • Smovich

    Thanks, anonymous.

  • Anonymous

    I was gonna say at least the silver lining for today would have been Houston losing, but even they ended up getting a last second win. Oh well, at least we can hope GSW loses tonight.

  • EBJM


  • EBJM

    Who were the Heat going to double team? Tucker? Frye? Green? Markieff? Plumlee?

    Of course the Heat are going to double-team the Suns MVP and HOF candidate.

    You cut off the head of the snake and the Suns are nothing.

  • Anonymous

    Wow Lebron hits a buzzer beater 3 to send the suns to 7th seed lol.

  • hawki


    Jimmer Fredette came off the Witness Protection Program to score 24 pts on 6-8 3pt shooting to defeat the Knicks in Madison Square Garden 106-101 in OT.

    Unconfirmed reports say Spike Lee was carried from his courtside seat with “heart palpations” according to an “unnamed source”.

  • CDR

    Phoenix Suns definitely the story in the Pacific. The team will go as far as Goran Dragic takes them.

  • Suns Fan in Portland

    Suns + Kevin Love = Championship.

  • Smovich

    EBJM, in all seriousness, do you think that Dragich gets HOF consideration when it’s all said and done? You seem like a person that would have foresight for these types of things.

  • john

    Dragic to the HOF is a massive stretch, even if he kept playing at his current level for another six years. If Kevin Johnson can’t even get in, there’s no way Dragic can.

    The ONLY thing Dragic has going for him over the other 5 or 6 PGs in the league near his level is that he’s the best player to ever come out of his home country. The international aspect plays to his favor, but not enough to get him in. And it’s not even close, in my opinion.

  • Animan

    Suns in 7th, GSW in 8th and Dallas in 6th, with Memphis 1.25 games back. This should be a fun finish.

  • Suns Fan in Portland

    True so far, but six (?) seasons in would anyone have considered S. Nash to be HOF material? It may still be too early to tell, IMO Goran is just into his prime and may still have some playoff heroics to come. However, as his career stands now it’s true that he’s not quite HOF material. Now Kevin Love oth, once he’s in a Suns jersey and has a chance to shine… And Archie Goodwin. With an awesome ABA name like that I don’t see how he doesn’t end up in the HOF.

  • john

    Steve Nash has two MVPs in his resume that Goran will almost undoubtedly never have a chance to earn. KD is going to be winning quite a few in the coming years, and LeBron still has another 3-4 MVP-type years ahead of him, I’m guessing.

    Goran’s current status is borderline top 5 NBA PG, and he’s in his peak year for the average NBA player. Even six more seasons as a borderline top 5 NBA PG won’t get him to the Hall. The PG’s in the Hall are guys who either were borderline top 5 over a 10+ year period, hold significant records or are top 5 in significant categories (like assists or FT% or 3PFG, for instance), have MVPs (like Nash) or had a number of years as the unquestioned #1 at their position (like Oscar, Magic, and Paul, for instance).

    I’m a huge Goran fan. His improvement thus far in his career has been incredible to watch, and he is a bona fide star. He’s one of my favorite Suns of all time already, and I will undoubtedly be sporting his jersey for the rest of my life proudly. But that doesn’t mean I have to think he’s going to end up being an HOFer.

  • hawki

    Smov….Dragic probably has less than 1% chance to get in HOF…I mean Paul Westphal isn’t in the HOF…which is practically criminal.

    btw….there are 5 players in the HOF who have played for the Suns.
    1…Gail Goodrich
    2…Connie Hawkins
    3…Charles Barkley
    4…Dennis Johnson
    5…Gus Johnson

    Westphal was as good as Dennis Johnson & better than Gail Goodrich.

  • Foreveris2long

    This is for whoever was recently inquiring about Bledsoe’s recovery from surgery, According to Hoopshype today, he is doing very well and is now running on a treadmill. It has been approximately 5 weeks since the surgery and they are hoping for his return soon after the all-star break.

    We need good news on Planet Orange after dropping I believe 3 out of the last 4 games. However overall we should all be pleased considering no Bledsoe for a number of games and Plumlee has it a wall or something strange because he now only has minimal impact on the floor these days.

  • DZ

    I honestly think that Dragic still has upside and we haven’t seen his peak yet so the HOF isn’t out of the question. But I do think that Dragic needs to be part of a championship winning team to really be in the HOF conversation.

    But knowing what I already know about Dragic, I think he would be almost as happy if the Suns retired his # someday after he eventually retires.

  • john

    Assuming Dragic stays with the team for another 3 years or so, his number should be retired, imo. His playoff demolition of the Spurs alone is enough of a reason to put him in the Ring of Honor.

  • Suns Fan in Portland

    I don’t disagree with any of that. But a lot of people would have said something similar about Nash in his sixth season. I have wondered if Nash would be remembered the same way had he not won the MVPs… probably not, and it’s true that Dragon probably won’t win any regular season MVP awards. However, if he won a couple finals MVPs it could be a different story… I know it’s a stretch but it is within the realms of possibility… even if it is only a 1% chance. KJ definitely belongs in there. J Kidd will be there. I think Alvin Adams and Tom Chambers belong there too, though I know that’s asking a lot and risks exposing myself as a Suns homer…

  • DZ

    I agree, john. The Suns may have had better players than Dragic before but they’ve had no one who has player harder for this team than him. There are some who definitely equal his efforts but he has given everything he has to give on the court for the Suns and you can’t ask any more than that from anyone.

  • Suns Fan in Portland

    My favorite stories in the NBA are always the guys picked late that end up becoming great. Like (love or hate him) Manu Ginobli, HOFer Dennis Johnson, and not to mention 46th pick Jeff Hornacek. Steve Kerr, also a 46th pick, got a fair amount of grief for his belief in Dragic… I think that belief has been 100% vindicated now. Dragon will be up there pretty high on the list of best 2nd rounders, already is in my eyes.

  • EBJM

    Smovich, I only threw out the HOF comment for you. I admit, it was a cry for attention BUT since you guys took it and ran with it…….

    I think the ceiling for Goran Dragic’s recognition will be the best European player who had a successful NBA career.

    Now for arguments sake, most believe Drazen Petrovic holds that distinction and since they almost play the same position, we will compare the two.

    In Petrovic’s best and final season:
    22 points/3.5 dimes/3 boards with 53% two-point
    45% three-point and 87% FTs

    Dragic’s current season:
    20/6/3.5 with 54% two-point/41% three-point and
    78% FTs.

    Petrovic was 28 while Dragic is 27. I don’t believe Petrovic ever made an All-Star game but he was named to the All-NBA third team once and that was in his final and best season.

  • GoSuns

    Don’t forget Nowitski

  • EBJM

    Before some of you go there, I know Tony Parker is from France and I do not exactly know why Petrovic is still considered one of the best from Europe BUT it MIGHT be because Tony Parker’s father is an African-American who played college ball at Loyola.

    Imagine if Joe and Pam Bryant had Kobe in Italy while Joe was playing ball there. Technically that would have made Kobe Italian but…….

  • EBJM

    Yeah of course there are Nowiztki and Vlade Divac so I tried to stay with a similar player and most sites still rank Petrovic as one of the All-Time best.

    It might because he was successful twenty tears ago, when Europeans really struggled to become stars in the NBA.

    I don’t know but Dragic will be lucky to be as remembered as Petrovic is twenty years after he retires.

  • Smovich

    The only problem I have with Drazen is that he didn’t know how to spell his last name.

  • EBJM

    Wow, Smovich, a friend of mine told me that Petrovic was posthumously enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.

    I guess that throws my comparison right out the window.

  • EBJM

    Just an observation but for a guy who is slow and nonathletic, Marshall sure can handle the ball. I was watching the Lakers give the Thunder a great game and he dropped 17 dimes on them.

    Chris Paul hasn’t played in enough games to qualify anymore for assists leader but if Kendall Marshall did, he would be the league leader. It is kind of funny that Marshall possess what Goodwin is lacking for a PG while if Marshall had Goodwin’s body and athleticism he would be an All-Star.

  • Smovich

    EBJM – is Drazen Petrovich the only 3rd round pick in the HOF? Only 3rd round pick to have his number retired by an NBA team?

  • EBJM

    That is an interesting question Smovich. Do you mean in the 3rd only or are you asking the lowest drafted player?

    My guess is that if you go back 40 years when they had long drafts and not as many teams you would find a lot of old Celtic players in the Hall of Fame that were drafted real low. Celtic HOF player Clyde Lovellelle was drafted in the 9th rd.

    If you are trying to create a trivia question such as who is the lowest drafted player to be inducted to the Hall of Fame, well he isn’t eligible yet.

    But if you ask that question in another 4-5 years the answer IMO will be Ben Wallace who wasn’t drafted at all.

    He currently holds the record for most games played by an undrafted player with 1088. He has also been named DPOY four times in addition to several other achievements.

    In regards to having his number retired, undrafted Avery Johnson had his #6 retired by the Spurs.

  • Smovich

    Encyclopedia < EBJM


  • Scott

    Can Dragic get into the HoF?

    Depends on how many championships / MVPs he wins. :)