The Phoenix Suns gutted out their fourth straight win, and seventh consecutive home win last night against the short-handed, but still very dangerous Portland Trail Blazers last night.
Although the Suns broke out to an early lead in the second quarter, going up by as much as 25 points, the Blazers never relented, and continued to fight their way back into it, making it a very close fourth quarter that saw them take the lead by as much as five points.
Phoenix was able to adjust their play, along with their rotations, to come back from what would have certainly been a deflating loss, and pull out a come-from-behind victory in the last two minutes of the game.
Today, the Suns were at practice preparing for their next opponent, the Houston Rockets, who will almost certainly prove to be just as difficult an opponent for Phoenix, if not more so.
Random Practice Observations:
- Suns Coach Jeff Hornacek mentioned that both Tyler Ennis and T.J. Warren had been assigned to the Bakersfield Jam now for a couple of games. Now that Archie is back, it's there turn to go get some additional playing time.
- Goran Dragic was practicing today with a sleeve over his left arm after falling hard on his elbow last night. Otherwise, he seemed to be fine. Plus, as Hornacek said, "He's a tough kid". And, you know, a dragon.
- While many of the other players were shooting around in groups after practice, Alex Len was off to the side, hard at work with a couple of the coaching assistants working on his 15 foot jump-shot...and he was absolutely drilling them one after the other.
- After Alex was done shooting, he went onto working on his post moves...refining his footwork and his technique on a variety of moves near the basket. There's no wonder Len continues to surprise almost nightly, and has progressed by leaps and bounds.
- Reggie Bullock was shooting threes from everywhere beyond the arc after practice. I rarely saw him take a different shot, besides some free throws. I'm thinking he knows where his bread will be buttered when he gets his opportunities. Even better, he was making them at a very high rate.
- Archie Goodwin was working on his three point shooting as well, along with Isaiah Thomas and Gerald Green who were taking turns with him. Archie wasn't hitting quite as many as Isaiah or Gerald, but was still making quite a few and is obviously working hard at developing that aspect of his game.
- Sorry, no dunk contest today. However, some of the players did enter into a half-court shooting contest after everyone else left. Goran and Zoran Dragic, as well as Eric Bledsoe, Archie Goodwin, and Alex Len. I think Len was actually the first to make one, followed by Zoran. Alex almost nearly made a behind the back half-court shot, missing it by only a few inches.
Suns Coach Jeff Hornacek spoke about the team after practice, and also talked about preparing for Houston and the upcoming stretch of difficult games. Here's what he had to say.
"At the end of the games guys have been focusing and played great defense the past couple of games, but we have to stretch that out. There's certain times when teams are making a run that I'd like to see the end of the game effort that we have. There are some stretches when things aren't going well on offense that we need to use that type of defense."
On having the 2nd best record in the league over the past month
"Our three guards have all played great during this stretch, Earlier in the season only two of the three were having good games, one guy was always off it seems. That's a big thing for us, especially Isaiah coming off the bench and giving us a big lift. And we've had an overall team effort over these last few games, and that's why we're having some success."
On not having any lead that is safe
"No, not with the way teams shoot threes...You can shoot 10-12 threes in a quarter and if a team makes 7 or 8 of them, that's 24 points right there. Especially with our pace, there's a lot of possessions so, for us, no lead is big enough, and no deficit is too much that we can't overcome."
On not being able to find minutes for the young guys
"That's the tough thing. We'd love to have some of these games when we have a big lead to really get focused in. But for one reason or another we let up...and hopefully we can find a stretch, but a lot of these teams we're playing are top playoff teams, so it's going to be difficult."
On preparing for Houston and Harden
"We kind of know what they do. We have to shore some things up because they took it at us last time. They're a good team. They have inside weapons and outside weapons. It's going to be a tough game, but our guys know this is going to be a tough stretch for us and they're doing what they can to win us some games."
On Dragic guarding bigger guards
"Goran's a tough kid. So you don't worry about that. You just battle, and it kind of gets the blood flowing, and you feel like you're involved in the game. He's done a great job. Wesley Matthews made a couple last night but they were both tough shots. He's guarding bigger guys and doing great."
On P.J. Tucker guarding James Harden so effectively in the past
"PJ makes guys work for their shots and doesn't give them any easy ones. Most of the stars that he guards there's not a lot of easy buckets, guys have to work for it. And some of the nights guys make their shots and have good nights, and then their are nights it's tough for them. P.J. takes pride in his defense and tries to force guys into doing things they aren't comfortable doing and he's very smart about that."
On all three guards playing well together now
"Everybody feels more comfortable. If you're comfortable it's much easier to play. Everyone knows what they need to do, and what kind of situation...who's going to handle the ball and where to be in the right spot. If Isaiah has a great game, or Bledsoe, they're going to have the ball. But so far, everyone's been hot so that's a good thing.
On his shooting efficiency this year
"I'm playing more off the ball. When you play pick and roll the defense is more alert, so I'm running more fast breaks to score those easy baskets, so maybe that's why my percentages are better. But I still think I can shoot better from the three point line. I feel like some games I'm shooting well, and others it's too short, but you're not going to make every shot."
On guarding bigger guys on a regular basis
"For me, it was a big adjustment. Before, I was guarding the pick and roll and you get used to hitting the big guy when they set a screen. But now, it's a different kind of defensive plan. I need to guard post-ups and most of those guys are bigger, taller, and stronger than me. Sometimes it's hard, but you just need to battle them and try do it."
On how the adjusts to different players in the rotations
"For me it's easy because its usually the same players that get hot when I'm on the floor with them...Markieff, Bledsoe, or Isaiah. And most of the minutes I play with those guys. It's a little different when Gerald gets hot because I'm usually on the bench when he's on the floor. You never know who's going to be hot, but when three or four guys are hot at the same time you can choose who you want to go to...that's a good thing."
On Suns playing well but not moving up in the standings
"It's really weird. We've won 14 out of 18. I look at the standings every morning when I come in the locker room and nobody's moving. Every day it's the same thing. It's a little bit frustrating but at the same time it's motivating, because you see the other teams are winning and we need to keep winning too."
On giving up leads but fighting back
"It's really hard to have a 20 point lead against good teams, but the bad thing is we lose those leads really quickly. The last 10 games we were either up or coming from behind with a chance to win the game with a last second shot. I think that's good because we have the ability to win games without getting blown out. The next seven games against playoff teams it's going to be real important to stay close to those teams and try to win those games."
Those next seven games start tomorrow when the 29-14 Houston Rockets come to Phoenix as the next playoff hopeful the Suns will have to face. The Suns will certainly have their work cut out for them, but if there's one thing I think the fans can count on, it's resiliency. This team doesn't know how to quit, and will battle until the final whistle blows...Let's hope they end up with more points on the scoreboard when that finally happens.