Spotty defense aside, Suns offense finding a groove

PHOENIX — It’s true.

The Suns’ defense has allowed 111.6 points over the last five games, three of which were losses. Pace has something to do with it, but then again, allowing four of those opponents to shoot better than 52 percent says there’s something broken defensively.

Jeff Hornacek will admit that, but in the last two games, he’ll take the other fact. Phoenix has pulled out victories against the New Orleans Pelicans and Atlanta Hawks.


“I think both of our teams are probably hard to guard in terms of how we both play, kicking it up, quick shots,” he said Sunday night after the Suns beat Atlanta 129-120. “Both teams have guards that can really penetrate. That breaks down defenses. And when teams are good at passing the ball and shooting the ball … It may look like there’s no defense out there, but guys were trying.

“It’s a win for us,” Hornacek added. “Some nights, the offense wins the game for you and maybe tonight it did.”

To be fair, there have been crucial spurts of solid defense for the Suns in the last two outings. Friday, the Pelicans shot 56 percent through the first three quarters but only hit 47.6 percent in the fourth quarter to Phoenix’s 57.9 percent. The Hawks were drilling 55.6 percent through the first three quarters on Sunday, but the Suns clamped down, holding coach Mike Budenholzer’s team to 42.9 percent shooting to their 57.1 percent accuracy in the final 12 minutes.

That sure proves the old theory: A good offense always beats a good defense.

Phoenix recorded a season-high 29 assists to beat Atlanta, set a league-high for a half this year by hitting the 79-point mark in a half, shot a season-best 55 percent and tied a season-high by making 15 threes on 62.5 percent accuracy from deep.

Gerald Green smoked the Hawks for 33 points and five made threes, Goran Dragic scored 19 points to go with eight assists to negate the 29 points and nine assists from Atlanta point guard Jeff Teague. The Morris twins provided too much punch off the bench for the Hawks to handle. Markieff Morris scored 21 points on eight field goal attempts and nine made foul shots — Markieff, by the way, has been dealing of late and has recorded two or more assists in six of his last eight games. Meanwhile Marcus Morris added 18 and nine rebounds (surprising but not-so-surprising fact: He’s never recorded a double-double).

P.J. Tucker added six assists, many of which were in transition, and backup guard Ish Smith again changed the complexion of the game with eight points and seven dimes.

“It’s like practice,” Hornacek said. “These guys can make seven out of 10 in three-pointers in practice, so why not be able to do it in a game if it comes through the offense and it’s a good kick-out pass? It’s like a coach throwing it at you at practice.”

So while Hornacek didn’t seem overly concerned about any over-arching themes on the defensive side of the ball other than slow rotations, Dragic and Tucker had more cautionary words regarding the defensive lapses.

“We have to improve our defense, especially now when we play against the Clippers, Thunder and those guys,” Dragic said. “If you’re not going to be solid, then they’re going to run over us.”

Randolph makes his debut

Shavlik Randolph got some decent run Sunday, as did Leandro Barbosa, who returned after missing the last five games due to a toe injury. Barbosa scored seven points in 13 minutes, and Randolph scored two points and grabbed two rebounds in 10 minutes of play.

The Suns will likely use Randolph as a true backup center, and his defense will be the thing to watch.

“We like defensively how he’s a little more mobile and active,” Hornacek said. “He’s not going to be the big shot-blocker, but a lot of times, if you’re just in the right position guys don’t even get to that shot anyway. He pulls in from the weakside, he’s got active hands, so if they do get the ball there, he can knock it when he’s down low. There’s a lot to be said for being in the right position at the right time.”

Suns lead NBA in pick-and-roll effectiveness’s John Schuhmann used SportVU tracking to break down pick-and-roll efficiency in the league, and to little surprise, the Suns are at the top of the charts. As of the end of February, Phoenix scored 1.093 points per possession, which bests Houston, Portland and Oklahoma City.

Of course, the master of the pick-and-roll is Goran Dragic. He and forward Channing Frye lead the NBA with 1.30 points per possession in pick-and-roll action, and Schuhmann notes, that’s a lot better than Dragic pairing with Miles Plumlee. Individually, Dragic is also first at 1.16 points per possession as a ball-handler in pick-and-roll action.

  • sunsn7

    Suns win but give up an avg. of 30 pts a quarter…to the Atlanta Hawks??


  • Foreveris2long

    Better defense or we lose all 4 of the upcoming games because all of our opponents are more talented offensively than the Suns without Bledsoe.

    Objectively speaking one of the most difficult things for the Suns to do IMO is not provide help defense when you are guarding a knock down perimeter shooter. Your whole life you are trained to provide help defense but when you are guarding a Korver you absolutely cannot provide help. This is just one example of many defensive principles Coach Horny is trying to instill in the team.

    One of the things I like about Ish is his ability to anticipate on defense. He often has an idea where the ball is going on the next pass allowing him to quickly double team or disrupt a pass.

  • Ughz

    Spotty defense is right!

  • Al

    @ Forever…I agree. The only thing that I don’t get is how many great steals have resulted in a turnover pass almost immediately in the other end. I’ve seen it happen almost a dozen times. I also don’t think Plumlee should be trying to score when he gets the ball. That’s something he should work in the off season/summer league, not now. I cringe when he tries to put the ball down and ends up committing a turnover. He’s just like Frolo from his time with the Suns. Plumlee’s to do list for the summer should be Post moves and jump shot. I just want to see Len fully healthy and see what he brings to the team. Only seen some flashes so far. Len will most likely take the starter spot from Plumlee next season.

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  • Foreveris2long

    Al, I have never noticed the turnovers after the Suns get a turnover so I have to defer commenting on that issue. However I commented last week how difficult it has become to watch Plumlee play at times. It seems for every good play he turns it over the next play with bad hands or an ill-advised pass. While I know he has to shoot to keep defenses honest it is the turnovers that IMO are the most troublesome. I definitely agree Len has the brighter future. However he has made some really bonehead plays himself recently causing his playing time to dimish down the playoff stretch.

    Plumlee, Frye and Len will likely see a lot of bench time together in 4th quarters of upcoming games while Coach Horny goes with small ball.

  • Foreveris2long

    We are Wizard fans tonight as we need them to defeat Memphis.

  • Rengaw

    Anybody know what is happening to Plumlee’s game?

    The demise of the Sun’s defense seems to be in direct correlation with Plumlee’s funk. At first I thought he was just tired but he just seems at times to be in a daze out there….missing passes, not rotating on defense, not be efficient with the ball on offense like he was earlier in the season. Playing along side Frye on defense can tire anybody out. Boy, this team could really use a defensive force in the middle. If only Tucker was about 6′ 11″, then we could smile.

    With the money and draft picks the Suns have, they have the opportunity to score a really good player in the next year or so. I imagine they will be quite active at draft time. It will be exciting to see what they do.

  • EBJM

    I’m sorry but one last word on Earl Clark/Shavlik.

    Ryan brought Shavlik to Boston because of injuries. He was waived the day before his contract became guaranteed because the Celtics had 15 players under contract.

    Clark lost his job in L.A. to Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill when they came back from injury despite D’Antoni not liking either player much.

    The fact that Clark was signed by the Knicks instead of the Spurs, Clippers, or Thunder speaks volumes about what other NBA teams thought about Clark.

    Here is what Sports Illustrated’s Rob Mahoney of “Point Forward” had to say about Clark:

    “Though not at a point where he could provide reliable minutes for a high-functioning team, Clark does have some value. The key is managing expectation; so long as he’s allowed to play a carefully controlled role as a come-what-may variable, Clark can sporadically make a difference with rebounding and positionally pliable defense.”

    What that translates to me is that Shavlik will be the more reliable player in the role the Suns needed filled.

    Like I mentioned before, Shavlik broke a bone in his right foot his rookie season and then dislocated his left ankle in his 2nd season. Clark was simply an enigma his first two seasons, well actually he still is five seasons later.

    Yeah, Shavlik is 30 and Clark 26 but the Suns weren’t looking to salvage their own former lottery pick. They wanted the hungrier player who would could be counted on, and that player is Shavlik.

  • foreveris2long

    EBJM you are totally wrong about Clark losing his job when Gasol returned from injuries. Gasol pouted because Antoni refused to allow him to return to his starting position. Clark continued starting even after Gasol return from his injury which became an issue in Lakerland.

  • foreveris2long

    Ben Gooliver wrote about the Earl Clark Gasol issue in January 2013 the following,
    “Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni has decided to replace Pau Gasol with Earl Clark in his starting lineup for the foreseeable future, according to the Orange County Register.

    D’Antoni wants to play his way: small. “We’re better when we’re small.”
    “That’s life. He understands.” D’Antoni also said: “It also puts Pau in his natural position. He’s one of the best centers in the league.” Gasol will get some post touches off the bench, and the Lakers hope Clark changes them with athleticism. D’Antoni said it gives them “a little more bounce to our step.”

  • bill_thomas

    D’Antoni would like to “bounce” Kobe out of there .

    Good luck to him !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • bill_thomas

    Nash plans on fulfilling the final year of his contract. No medical retirement.

    I love it, more financial pressure on the FAKERS !!!!!!!!!!!

  • bill_thomas

    “Bounce Kobe”.

    I am going to start manufacturing the T-Shirt !!!!!!!!!

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  • Andrew Messick

    Today in the M.O. (Messick’s Observations), we examine the NBA’s Western Conference with an eye on those teams that could wreak some unexpected havoc come playoff time! Hope you enjoy!