Suns protect the rim in win over Sixers

PHOENIX — Jeff Hornacek says he wants a resolution, of sorts, from a team that ended the last calendar year ranked 21st among NBA teams in defensive efficiency.

When reminded that Phoenix’s rise to the sixth position for offensive efficiency hasn’t exactly corresponded to improvement on the other end of the floor, the second-year Suns coach was whimsically philosophical.

"That’s better than both of them regressing, I guess," he said.

But when seriously assessing the means of a potential upgrade on defense, Hornacek shifted to a more technical explanation.

"That starts with the guards on the pick-and-rolls," he said. "If we can fight over and control those guys, it gives Alex and Miles maybe a better chance of blocking shots."

We’ll have more on the blocking-shots thing in a jiffy.

For now, please note the Suns’ first official work shift of 2015 resulted in Friday’s 112-96 triumph over the Philadelphia 76ers. It included a season-high 12 blocked shots — including a career-high six from Alex Len — and a second-half defensive effort that limited the Sixers to 31 percent shooting.

Unfortunately, the Suns (19-16) didn’t exactly lock down the league’s worst shooting team in the opening half, allowing Philly (4-27) to shoot 53.3 percent and knock in 59 points.

Suns 112, Sixers 96

The Sixers actually held a two-point lead at intermission.

"Our guys looked tired," Hornacek said when asked about the slow beginning. "We just came off another road trip, and that first game back is pretty tough. We’ve all played and seen it happen before, so we tried to be as patient as we could and not get too worried about it.

"They kind of got on themselves at halftime just like, ‘OK, let’s go. It’s the second half and get after it.’ And that’s what they did."

As a companion note to the second-half hike in defensive focus and intensity, we should point out the Suns also spent some time stalking the Sixers from a zone alignment.

"I typically don’t like to play the zone," Hornacek said. "I actually love it when teams play us a zone. But depending on the situation that’s going on, if we need to keep someone out of the lane or just change the pace a little bit …

"We haven’t had too many opportunities to really try it out. We did it out of necessity the other night in Oklahoma City and then tonight it was a case of, ‘OK, let’s give it a shot, they’re getting in the lane, had a lot of points in the paint,’ so, you know, we’re going to continue to go over it in case we need to use it again."

Since the Suns were allowing 107.7 points per 100 possessions, the need probably will be there.

But whatever tactic is being used, the caliber of rim protection Len and Miles Plumlee (four blocks off the bench) provided against Philly certainly could make life easier.

"Well, they were great," Hornacek said of his centers. "Alex early, then Miles in the second half. Guys were getting by us and challenging and they went straight up. Then they were getting them, good timing; they weren’t late.

"I think we got called for goal-tending maybe in the second half, but when Miles and Alex do that, that’s big for us. It triggers our fast break, gets us in the open court and we’re able to put up some points."

The Suns, who trail only the Golden State Warriors in fast-break points, put up 23 against the Sixers, who are 27th in frequency of allowing them. Phoenix, which also happens to be second in 3-point attempts, fired 32 deep rounds Friday and converted 14 (43.8 percent).

Markieff Morris, who tied Gerald Green for a team-high 21 points, made 3 of 4 attempts from beyond the arc. Eric Bledsoe (17 points, eight assists) was 3 of 5, Isaiah Thomas made 2 of 3 and Green was successful on 3 of 7.

Goran Dragic was the odd-shooting-man out, missing 10 of 13 shots overall (clanking 5 of 6 from 3) in finishing with 10 points. Dragic did collect 10 rebounds (he referred to it as "the ugliest double-double ever") and assisted on the first NBA basket by brother Zoran.

For the record, the Dragic brothers spent the last 2:41 on the floor together, and were joined — for 31 seconds of that time — by the Morris twins.

"I’m just happy that he got an opportunity to play well in those minutes," Goran said of his younger sibling. "I was looking for him in that fast break as soon as I got it."

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