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.

Period.

“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

NBA.com’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.

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