Phoenix Suns Are Getting Defensive

Mar 22, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris (11) celebrates a play with identical twin brother Marcus Morris (15) in the second quarter against the Dallas Mavericks at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 22, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris (11) celebrates a play with identical twin brother Marcus Morris (15) in the second quarter against the Dallas Mavericks at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Phoenix — Upon Steve Nash’s recent retirement, a tribute video for him was shown during the Phoenix Suns game Sunday night against the Mavericks. Tuned to the song “I’m Coming Home” by Skylar Grey, the video was a thing of beauty, detailing not only Nash’s heart stopping and jaw-dropping plays but the “Seven Seconds Or Less” style of basketball that he brought to the Valley.

It was a brand of basketball that produced offense of the highest order, regularly scoring in the 110-120 point range.

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It was also a brand of basketball that may start to become a distant memory for Phoenix Suns fans.

Winners of three straight games and seven of their last 10, the Suns have relied on their new defensive identity (no, that’s not a typo) to propel them back into the Western Conference playoff race.

“It’s been a lot of fun, we have been on a string defensively. We all can score but defensively we have been together,” Marcus Morris said. “We are all putting in [work]”.

Since the All-Star break Phoenix has posted the sixth best defense in the ENTIRE NBA (once again, not a typo). Over their last 15 games, they have the third best defensive efficiency rating in the league (okay, I really did think that was a typo but I TRIPLE checked it!).

The chemistry on the Suns has risen remarkably with the entire team now playing as a cohesive unit on the defensive side of the ball. Phoenix has found their recipe for success if they hope to make the playoffs.

“Right now we are just playing well, feeling good. Executing on offensive end and defensive end. Playing together. That’s the biggest thing, when you stay together things normally work out,” Brandan Wright said. “We have to keep playing the way we have been playing.”

Even more impressive, Phoenix has survived without Brandon Knight for the past six games, going 5-1 while keeping up their defensive prowess and finding a lineup that has given opposing offenses fits.

Enter a world where Eric Bledsoe, P.J. Tucker, the Morris twins and Alex Len form one big defensive stalwart. They may not produce the most electrifying offense, but they are going to fight you until the final buzzer sounds.

With all the starters 6’6″ or taller with the exception of Bledsoe, the size and versatility of this new lineup has proven to be the catalyst for the Suns success against the better offensive teams in the NBA.

“We are bigger, it’s more of a defensive team out there than the offensive squad before that,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said after practice on Tuesday. “The bigger lineup gives you an opportunity to switch more, Marcus could switch on PJ’s man because it’s not that much of a difference.”

Not only has the defense improved but the Suns are suddenly grabbing rebounds with a sense of tenacity not seen since Charles Barkley was donning the purple and orange.

In the past five games every player in this lineup has averaged at least six rebounds a game. Over their last 15 games the Suns have the fourth best rebounding percentage in the NBA.

“Any teams with smaller 2’s we are crashing [the boards], our starting unit (with Knight out) has been playing really well, our chemistry has been really good,” Morris said.

The Suns recent change in play has not gone unnoticed by fellow NBA coaches either, as Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle recently referred to the Suns as a “smash mouth” team.

This was of course, a day after Kevin McHale did the same, high praise coming from McHale, a man who knows a thing or two about playing with toughness.

“That’s a compliment, McHale was a hell of a physical player. Great compliments coming from them,” Morris said.

While there is little doubt Phoenix is undergoing an identity change towards this seasons end, it’s unclear what the trademark of the team will be in the future. A running and gunning style of basketball is fun but a defensive identity could be just what this team needs.

At least one player on the Suns agrees.

“That’s what’s going to get us to that next level,” Morris said.

For now though, the future can wait, thanks to their recent surge the Suns are right in the thick of things with three weeks to go in the regular season.

The goal is to bring playoff basketball back to Phoenix and the Suns, an organization constructed to outscore teams, are now planning to reach that goal through their defense.

In fairness, they don’t have much of a choice. Their last 11 games of the season represent the hardest remaining schedule in the NBA.

With seven of those games coming against teams with a top-10 scoring offense, the Phoenix Suns’ defense will go a long way in determining the team’s fate.

The most shocking part about all of this? They seem to prefer it that way.

“They are in a mindset when it comes to that last 5-6 minutes of the game, they are pretty confident they can stop guys,” Hornacek said.

“That’s a big deal.”

Next: Steve Nash: Top 10 Moments With The Phoenix Suns

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