Big nights from Frye, Barbosa, Dragic harken back to 2010 as Suns dominate Nuggets in 117-103 victory.
Leandro Barbosa goes up for a layup for two of his 13 points in the Suns' win over the Nuggets in his return to Phoenix.
Jennifer Stewart / USA TODAY Sports
By Randy Hill
PHOENIX -- We interrupt this season's busy Suns marketing pitch for a temporary-but-relevant battle chant.
Welcome to "Rewind the Past."
It certainly fit Sunday's 117-103 triumph over the Nuggets, who had been bullying Phoenix for the previous three seasons. But even though the "Ignite the Future" Suns won the first two showdowns in this rebooted campaign, date No. 3 seemed like a tribute to specific members of the crew from four years ago. 2010, of course, was the last time Phoenix barged into the NBA postseason.
So it was fairly intoxicating to watch three key participants in the Suns' run to the Western Conference finals combine for 58 points against the Nuggets.
"It was like the old days," point guard Goran Dragic said after scoring 15 points, handing out six dimes and pulling down five rebounds.
And those old days were dragged back into memory by teammate Channing Frye (a season-high 30 points) and recently returned guard Leandro Barbosa.
It should be noted that Frye played only 2:34 of Sunday's fourth quarter and Dragic didn't leave the bench at all.
Credit the relative newcomers -- who serve as firepower off the Phoenix bench -- for closing the game with enough quantifiable swagger to give Frye, Dragic and the other starters an extended break.
"To get those guys a little bit of rest was big," Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said.
Taking the closing-out bow were the Morris twins, rookie center Alex Len, backup point guard Ish Smith and Barbosa.
"It was huge," Frye said of the performance by the Suns' subs. "Any time we can get the bench that many minutes, especially Alex Len, who missed the beginning of the season, is awesome. I thought he did well. He's learning. He's bigger than I think people think. For them to get that chemistry is huge. They've been there for us a lot this year. You have to think about the bigger picture."
OK, so we're picturing the bench as stellar in finishing this game. Len scored six of his career-high nine points in the fourth while Marcus Morris had 10 and brother Markieff had seven of his bench-high 16.
But had the bench struggled, we only can imagine how many points the throwback Suns of 2010 would have provided.
Frye, who was only three points shy of his career high, made 12 of 16 shots from the field, including 5 of 7 from 3-point range. Working on the "pop" section of the Suns' pick-and-pop scheme, the veteran four-man knocked in a pair of 3s in the game's first three minutes.
"I just try to get Goran open," Frye said, drawing a "Thanks" from Dragic, who was listening in at the adjacent locker room cubicle. "It just makes my job easier. Tonight, they (shots) were going in.
"I think over the last few games, some teams have been taking away certain things. So, for me, I was just constantly looking at film and what I could do. I think the games that I was not doing as well, I was shortcutting myself, not being as aggressive as I should, not moving with a lot of standing. Tonight, I was just trying to be as active as I could."
Speaking of active, Smith (seven points, seven rebounds, five assists) certainly has provided some spark on offense and defense in the absence of Eric Bledsoe. But having Barbosa as another slashing option won't hurt.
"It's really great to have Leandro back," Dragic said. "He's just another player who puts pressure on the defense."
Barbosa, who missed Friday's game with a right shoulder sprain, scored 13 points while going 6 of 13 from the field. Demonstrating his signature change-of-pace dribble moves, "The Brazilian Blur" produced all six of his field goals on basket attacks.
"He got to the hole several times," Hornacek said. "He doesn't look like he's going that hard, but he knows when to do it. He takes one or two dribbles and then he explodes, and that explosive first step is what gets him by people."
The victory improved the Suns' record to 23-17 and moved them past the Mavericks in the loss column and into seventh place in the Western Conference standings. With Phoenix still committed to a rebuilding plan and sustaining this playoff bid, every victory is important.
That's especially true with the Pacers rolling into town for a game Wednesday night.