It wasn't a blowout by any means, but the Phoenix Suns comfortably won a home game against a team they should beat, and it didn't even come down to the wire. The Suns beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 110-99, not allowing the Wolves to pull the deficit closer than eight points after the 2:55 mark of the third quarter. That's a nice change of pace from earlier in the season.
"It was very important," point guard Eric Bledsoe said of the comfortable win. "We got a long home stretch right now so we're going to try to win them all...these games like this we need, and to win them big to get everybody rested for the next game is huge."
The Suns played 11 of their 13 active players, with Tyler Ennis and Zoran Dragic being the only guys who couldn't get off the bench. Rookie T.J. Warren played five first-half minutes and scored one basket, but was teamed up with quite possibly the worst defensive unit the Suns can play (Thomas, Green, Mook and Wright), allowing the Wolves to take their only lead of the game after the opening few minutes.
"That team plays hard," Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said in the postgame interview. "They just kept playing, but we finally got some stops and Gerald (Green) hit a couple of threes there and kicked it back up there. We would've liked to maybe have done it earlier, but we got a lot of guys in tonight, which is good."
Goran Dragic got it going early, which is an emphasis for him in the new Suns offense. He intentionally comes out hot, looking for his shot in the first quarter, and then lets the offense come to him the rest of the game. Dragic scored 13 first quarter points on the way to 21, along with 8 assists.
I spoke to him after the recorders were off, and Goran said he is getting a lot more comfortable in his role as the shooting guard this year. He said the first month was tough, but now he knows exactly where to go and how to contribute.
He knows that the team is winning this way, and he's found his comfort level. Since the beginning of December, Dragic is putting up numbers quite similar to last year, with 50+% shooting, 40% on threes and 20 points per game. His assists are down from 6 per game to 4 per game, but his rebounding is at a career high.
I asked him whether he sees this as a long-term thing with the three point guards, and him playing off the ball a lot. He shrugged, smiled and said "as long as we're winning it's okay". I honestly get the feeling that, while he'd love to be the starting point guard and handling the ball 100% of the time, he's quite okay with his current role as long as it's good for the team.
Alex Len had his fourth consecutive double-digit rebounding game and proved he knows he still has a lot to learn when asked about the impact of Brandan Wright (11 points, 3 rebounds, 1 block and several shot-alterations).
"It's great to have somebody to learn from," Len said of Wright. "How he sets screens and rolls hard and gets easy buckets. For me, as a young player, I can learn from him."
Dragic said having a good rotation of bigs who can defend the rim and grab rebounds makes it a lot easier on the guards. Since mid-December, when Len's role expanded, the Suns grabbing just over 50% of available rebounds, a big step up from 47% before that.
"It's easier for us," Dragic said. "Because we can be more aggressive especially defensively and we can pressure the ball. Even if we got beat, we know Alex is going to be there and he is changing so many shots...every game he's better and better."
Markieff Morris, along with 3-4 other players not interviewed, made themselves available to the media by getting dressed and standing around their lockers for a few minutes. But the timing was off so it didn't work out with any Len, Dragic and Bledsoe. Getting interviews in the locker room is a fluid situation, and sometimes a matter of "who's fully dressed and ready to talk first, then next."