Phoenix- It has been quite the roller coaster ride through the first 41 games of Jeff Hornacek’s second season as the Phoenix Suns head coach.
They have been through the high’s of wins against the San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks (twice) and Cleveland LeBrons. We have seen two Eric Bledsoe triple-doubles, Alex Len’s rapid development and Markieff Morris clutch scoring ability.
Unfortunately the lows are as low as the highs have been high.
The Suns have dropped home games to the Charlotte Hornets, Orlando Magic, Detroit Pistons, Miami Heat and Sacramento Kings, all teams with losing records. They have lost two games at the buzzer on three point shots that defied the rules of geometry. Yelling at officials (and coaches) is the cool thing to do, and chemistry issues were a problem early on with the 3-headed monster.
Take the highs, and the lows, add them up and you get a Suns team that sports a 23-18 record, which is only a game less than last year-s 24-17 mark at the midway point.
“I would say like a C-plus,” Suns forward Markieff Morris said. “We had some games early get away from us that we would be sitting in a lot better place than we are now if we got those games. We’re still in a great place and still have a chance to make a run this year.”
The Suns are currently in 8th place in the Western Conference, sitting two games behind the Spurs in the loss column for 7th, and one game up on the New Orleans Pelicans in the loss column.
Despite that fun “what if” game that fans and media like to play, Suns players are able to put things into perspective when evaluating the first half. The common theme is simple, we are still in a position to do damage.
“At the end of the day we are above .500,” Bledsoe said after practice on Monday. “You can nitpick all day about it, but at the end of the day we are in a great position.”
A trend that has changed for the better since the beginning of the season has been the Suns ability to win games at US Airways Center. The Suns are on a season-best four game winning streak on home court, which comes right at the beginning of a franchise-record 8-game home stand that started on Tuesday night with a 107-100 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Suns still have the most losses on home court among any of the current Western Conference playoff teams, but have a chance to keep the home winning streak going tonight against the 6-win Minnesota Timberwolves.
Minnesota recently ended a 15-game losing streak to the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday night thanks to 52 points from Mo Williams. The Wolves came within a missed Andrew Wiggins three at the buzzer last week of beating the Suns in Minnesota, and they are the type of team the Suns have struggled against at home this year.
Fortunately the players are well aware of that fact and are motivated to prove they can take care of the teams they need to beat.
“It’s a tough game for us, Bledsoe said. “Obviously they don’t have a good record and we have a tendency to struggle against teams like that and we have to be prepared and ready.”
Let’s take a look at some keys for the Suns tonight.
It would be nice to see the “other guys”
The end of the Suns bench has not gotten much run of late. TJ Warren, Tyler Ennis and Archie Goodwin have not seen the floor much this season, which has led the Suns brass to come up with a schedule to start rotating those guys up and down from Bakersfield.
Tonight against Minnesota would be a perfect time to get these guys some quality minutes, if the regulars can take care of business the way that they should. Suns coach Jeff Hornacek wants to start giving more minutes to his bench, not only so he can start developing the young guys, but to rest up his starters here and there.
“We would like to get some blowouts so we can rest those guys and maybe use a practice to go over some things,” Hornacek said. “As coaches, we are saying ‘wow, our guys played heavy minutes so we can’t do much in practice without fear of wearing them out.’
“If we can do all of that and keep the guys rested, have our bench contributing, then we will be fine.”
Money is Green
Gerald Green has struggled of late, shooting over 50% from the field just once in his last six games, which could be a reason he only played in eight minutes Tuesday night, the first time he didn’t crack double digit minutes since 11/14 against Charlotte. Fortunately for Green, his one good shooting night of late was against the Wolves, tonight’s opponent. The Suns need Green to get his confidence back so they can get scoring off the bench, and that should be a focus tonight against a team that Green always does well against.
LENning is winning
The Suns are 11-5 since inserting Len into the starting line-up, a spot that the second year center out of Maryland has thrived in. Since being inserted into the starting line-up, Len has ranked 4th in the NBA in blocked shots, giving the Suns a paint presence that they have not had in awhile. If Len keeps on doing “Len” things, then tonight should go the way Suns fans hope that it goes.
“Alex is a great player, he is going to be unbelievable,” Bledsoe said on his starting center. “He comes in every day and works and it shows on the court. Game by game he gets better and he is constantly putting work in.”