Jeff Hornacek gets a taste of the past — last year’s past

Posted by on February 26th, 8:00 am

PHOENIX — Sitting through the Suns’ press conference after a game against the Timberwolves on Tuesday felt mighty familiar. Not for coach Jeff Hornacek, whose eyes looked tired for the first time this year, but for media members.

It was like a time machine taking us all the way back to, goodness, last year. Hornacek sounded a little bit like Lindsey Hunter, which by the way, isn’t a complete indictment on either coach. Hunter had Michael Beasley on his team, after all. And it also wasn’t Hornacek’s fault Tuesday that he had a few “I don’t know” answers following a 110-101 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“I can’t believe our guys are tired,” Hornacek said, “if you look at the minutes for anybody, P.J. (Tucker) played 38 minutes but the rest of them are in the 20s and very low 30s. Maybe they’re getting tired from the long season, I don’t know.”

Maybe the loss wasn’t that bad.

But this was the first time Hornacek had really seemed stressed over his team’s effort.

Like Hunter, he didn’t need to question Tucker, who crashed the boards for 16 rebounds but missed a good deal of putbacks. Hornacek didn’t need to question Goran Dragic, who scored 16 points but sprained his ankle before fouling out with less than four minutes to play in the game.

From there, Phoenix broke down defensively in the final three minutes, when the T-Wolves ran back-cuts, scored off offensive boards and generally beat the teeth through the lips of the Suns.

“It’s not just the team scheme or help, it was these guys have got to battle their guy 1-on-1,” Hornacek said afterward. “Then if there’s help, there’s help. There’s too many easy things. Muhammad got in there and just shoved our guys around, got rebounds, did anything he wanted in there.”

Muhammad is Shabazz Muhammad, the rookie who played a career-high in minutes and scored a career-high 20 points.

For the much-maligned swingman, the Suns’ lackadaisical approach turned into a validating night for a player who entered college at UCLA with all the hype. Since, he’s only faced questions of selfishness and has been re-evaluated in the mainstream from a top-5 pick to a bust. Muhammad was always a relentless offensive rebounder in college, sure, but it was still a big deal he only played 10 or more minutes per game in four prior games.

At the end of the Timberwolves win Tuesday, Muhammad’s performance arguably became a more important topic in Minnesota than another ho-hum effort from forward Kevin Love, who scored 33, grabbed 13 rebounds and added nine assists.

It mattered Muhammad scored 10 points in the fourth quarter alone, four of which came off offensive boards. He also grabbed five of his six rebounds in the final quarter, and three offensive grabs led to Timberwolves scores.

“My favorite part was the two big rebounds at the end to really try to secure the game for us,” Muhammad said.

Along with the withering defense, the Suns suffered from offensive breakdowns in the final three minutes. Dragic scored twice in a row to give Phoenix a 95-92 lead with four minutes left but then fouled out. Ish Smith, as well as he played, couldn’t get the offense into gear, though it wasn’t necessarily his fault.

Hornacek again wondered about his teams’ legs.

“I just think we didn’t get into our offense,” the Suns coach said. “Maybe being tired, but you can’t run your offense when all of a sudden there’s six seconds on the shot-clock and we’re finally getting to the option. I don’t know, I guess they just got tired.”

Phoenix missed its last eight shots. A few were decent-enough tip shots from a still-battling Tucker, but overall, nothing was doing.

After the game, the locker room was somber and barren. Gerald Green was short and disappointed, only going as far as saying his Suns had to get back to how they were playing prior to this two-game skid.

“It kind of ended how it started,” he said. “They was able to kind of get things going in the beginning and they got things going in the end.”

The good news is that while Hornacek’s postgame message might ring similarly to last year’s pleas from Alvin Gentry and Lindsey Hunter, all the “I don’t know” statements and all the questioning of effort will hit this locker room a little harder than they would have with last year’s roster.

These Suns are likely not taking it personally, because taking it personally means overlooking that they’ve gotten this far — and found so much success — for reasons beyond their personal performances.

There’s no rally cry statement from the coaching staff to get the Suns’ attention.

Said Hornacek: “The only message to them is if they don’t turn around and play better defense against Utah tomorrow night, we’ll get killed out there.”

Kevin Zimmerman is the lead blogger and editor for Valley of the Suns. He is also editor of AZDesertSwarm.com, an Arizona Wildcats\’ blog, and a contributor at SB Nation and Pac-12.com.

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Tags: Jeff Hornacek · Phoenix Suns Analysis · Phoenix Suns News

15 responses so far ↓

  • 1 sunsn7 // Feb 26, 2014 at 8:44 am

    PLAY ARCHIE GOODWIN AND ALEX LEN

    I bet those 2 will hustle!

  • 2 Scott // Feb 26, 2014 at 8:50 am

    A lot of guys on this year’s Suns squad have never played this many minutes or in this many games or with this high of an expectation of winning.

    As for Archie, it’s too bad he doesn’t already have his shooting nailed down. He’d be getting plenty of minutes if that was the case.

  • 3 johnfromtaiwan // Feb 26, 2014 at 9:32 am

    Hi, Scott, I think you are right. I think most of this Suns team never experienced this kind of high pressure of expectation and I think they must feel tons of stress right now…When they lose, I feel painful too and I will want to point finger at someone in the team, but then suddenly I will realize that “a lot of guys on this year’s Suns squad have never played this many minutes or in this many games or with this high of an expectation of winning.” We fans really have to feel for them and do our best not to throw our frustration or anger or any “bad stuff” at them. They are really just a very YOUNG team!!

  • 4 SOUTHPHILLY // Feb 26, 2014 at 9:43 am

    Bottom line Hornacek’s inexperience has hurt the past several games. Plumlee is not playing in the fourth quarter leaving no one to protect the rim or rebound. Both Frye and Markief are not very good rebounders or defensive players.When Frye is off he serves no purpose. Also his substitution schemes at times really take our streak players out of the game.He substitutes for Green, Frye, and Dragic when they are hot.Also Tucker has way to much of an offensive role for a player of his offensive skills.

  • 5 sunsn7 // Feb 26, 2014 at 9:50 am

    ESPN reports Clippers and Spurs interested in Danny Granger if 76ers buyout his contract and he becimes free agent. So Doc Rivers and Greg Popovich, the two best coaches in the NBA want him?

    Hmm.

  • 6 SOUTHPHILLY // Feb 26, 2014 at 10:00 am

    Great point on Granger,but why would the Suns want a proven all-star with a great touch?I guess for the same reason they would not go after Gosal although we had two other draft picks that we will never sign.

  • 7 Rengaw // Feb 26, 2014 at 10:08 am

    “Right On” to Southphilly

    “When Frye is off he serves no purpose.”
    Ditto
    Ditto
    Ditto
    Ditto

    As much as I am critical of Frye’s play, which is a lot, he has one of the sweetest jumpers in the game.

  • 8 mom grunkle // Feb 26, 2014 at 10:52 am

    I agree with Southphilly about Horney’s inexperience encouraging some of our losses. Alex Len or Plumlee need to be in there period. Plum has been flailing around the past dozen games and needs to play fewer minutes to give #5 pick Alex Len who has barely played a chance and some competition.

    Horney mentions how you have to get your man and this shows he’s missing the value of Len and Plumlee. The reason Dwight Howard is a good defender is not because he only shuts down his man as Horney is mentioning, but he is a big body in the lane who rebounds and blocks and alters shots. When he’s in the game, the opposition has to alter their game to adjust and don’t get as many easy buckets like the easy buckets we’ve been giving up.

  • 9 DZ // Feb 26, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    I tend to agree with Scott. Only Dragic, Frye, Tucker and Markieff Morris have ever played this many minutes in this many games before and many of the players may be wearing down. One of the reasons the Suns are where they are right now is because they’ve played their asses off every single night. They haven’t held anything back and after 56 games perhaps we have more than one player hitting “the wall”.

  • 10 SOUTHPHILLY // Feb 26, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    Sorry guys but I totally disagree. Having played some pro I can assure you this has nothing to do with the amount of minutes that these players have played. They are elite athletes in tremendous shape and are well prepared to at least play strong in the 82 games.This is not playoff time, what will happen then when the defense and intensity goes up tremendously?

  • 11 sunsn7 // Feb 26, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    Hornacek basically said the same thing about not believing that his players can actually be tired at this point of the season. He even pointed out that other than Tucker, he kept minutes to the high 20′s, low 30′s.

    Maybe the fatigue is mental. They never expected to be in this position and now maybe expectations are weighing on them a bit. Actually im sure that’s it.

    They need to get back to having fun and trusting each other..on both ends of the floor.

  • 12 DZ // Feb 26, 2014 at 4:13 pm

    Southphilly, you almost make my point for me. I think that the Suns have been playing most of the season at “playoff” intensity level. They have given almost everything they have to give to get where they are. Even “athletes in tremendous shape” can wear themselves out eventually. This team is made up of a lot of young guys who were going for broke and trying to prove themselves all season long. The regular season has been their “playoffs” since the season started.

    When Bledsoe returns it should give them a good shot of new energy. He will be a little rusty but well rested compared to the rest of the team.

    I also agree that some of the fatigue may be mental. I’m sure some of the pre-trade deadline speculation also took a toll on some of the players mentally. Remember reading how happy PJ was to hear that he was “only” being fined $5000 for flopping instead of being traded?

  • 13 Ellensburgbballfan // Feb 26, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    The Suns need to look at the big picture here, and get Len and Goodwin playing time

    getting better isnt some magical thing. When you give players minutes consistently, and when they know they wont get pulled if they make 1 mistake, players confidence goes way up

    if Dragic cant go tonight, thats fine

    sit him out, you dont want him to injure his ankle worse

    just put Ish Smith out there and bring Goodwin in off the bench

    or whatever you gotta do

    there is about 6 weeks left in the regular season, its not gonna kill us to play some of our younger guys

    the only thing that making the playoffs guarantees is several well attended home games

    if they make it, fine

    if they dont, well hey we beat every expectation this year, we did really well, we have a exciting 2014-2015 season to look forward to

  • 14 DZ // Feb 26, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    No matter how this season ends, I’m proud of this team and everything they have accomplished. They’ve already done more than almost anyone expected them to do this season.

    Win or lose, I love the effort these guys have put out this season and they will always be one of my favorite Suns teams because of that.

  • 15 Dave:f32 // Feb 26, 2014 at 6:18 pm

    Moral victories are the greatest gift of all!

    Right on, Ellensburghfan and DZ!

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