PHOENIX — The first night of an 82-game audition for roles on the next great Suns team was pretty enlightening.
There is, of course, a qualifying variable to be lobbed into the mix.
“It’s only one game.”
That line was delivered by Miles Plumlee a few minutes after he and his new Suns teammates knocked off the Portland Trail Blazers 104-91 on Wednesday night at U.S. Airways Center.
Outsider suspicion of tanking was (for at least one night) suspended by a performance that was impressive in most phases.
“I think that’s bad karma, anyway, if you do that,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said when the T-word was mentioned in an interview prior to his first game in the big chair.
With plenty of time for the young Suns to slouch back toward widespread expectation, the national hoops media will be able to resurrect any such accusations. And — with 81 more opportunities to deliver those audition lines — we shouldn’t expect Hornacek to successfully coax his team to hold each foe to 40.7-percent shooting while converting 51.8 percent of their own opportunities.
The two-point-guard backcourt of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe probably won’t combine to score 48 points, make 19 of 31 shots, collect 13 rebounds and hand out 15 assists every night, either.
It is also pretty certain that Plumlee — a presumed throw-in to help facilitate the trade of Luis Scola this summer to the Indiana Pacers — won’t average 18 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks per game.
But it seems like the Suns’ rebuilding tour will provide quite a few entertaining rides.
For one night, it already offered some short-term answers to a few compelling questions.
THAT TWO-POINT BACKCOURT
Instead of assuming the arrival of Bledsoe — provided he plays well — guarantees the trading of Dragic, the concept of blurring the lines between positions may be part of the next great Suns team.
“We always thought that was an advantage … having those two guys,” Hornacek said of having counter-point guards on the floor at the same time.
On Wednesday, having two players capable of running the pick-and-roll enabled the Suns to wreck Portland’s defensive adjustments.
With Bledsoe and Plumlee (10 points) teaming up on the roll portion of this maneuver, the Suns finished the first quarter at 30 points and 60-percent shooting.
When the Blazers altered their defensive tactics — taking away Plumlee on the roll, allowing Bledsoe to turn the corner and fire from mid-range –- Hornacek put the ball in Dragic’s hands on the screen-roll.
Dragic, you may have noticed, is a bit more dangerous when allowed free access to a mid-range jumper.
“It makes it easier,” Dragic, who scored 26 points (making 12 of 21 from the field), handed out nine assists and grabbed six rebounds, said of working with Bledsoe. “It’s kind of like a scale … when I go inside, he goes outside and when I go outside, he goes inside.
“It’s tough to defend.”
And when Portland opened the second half with the lanky and quick Nicolas Batum guarding Dragic (as he did with much success in the Eurobasket tournament), Hornacek put the ball back in the hands of Bledsoe.
Instead of unloading from mid-range, Bledsoe — who finished with 22 points (making 7 of 12 shots), 6 assists and 7 rebounds — successfully attacked the rim.
When the Blazers had the ball, 6-foot-5 two-guard Wesley Matthews (nine points on 3-of-9 shooting) didn’t spend much time posting up against Dragic.
THE AMERICAN HAMMER
With Marcin Gortat now working for the Washington Wizards, Plumlee went from energetic sub expected to provide rebounds and energy to starting center granted a few post-up isolation plays.
Although Gortat was very effective in the pick-and-roll, Plumlee’s ability to bounce far above the rim off of two legs (something the Polish Hammer can’t do) enables him catch and finish lobs with more success or maintain greater balance to finish after taking in passes with less altitude.
He’s also stronger than his predecessor, playing to and through contact.
But Plumlee, whose footwork and shooting touch around the basket has improved considerably since arriving in Phoenix, also was able to score on hooks with either hand following post isolations against our old pal Robin Lopez.
“We probably wouldn’t have imagined we’d be calling post-up plays for him this early in the season,” Hornacek said, “but he’s worked hard.”
Here’s Plumlee’s explanation: “It’s just the same stuff we’ve been doing in practice since I got here.”
OK, so his post-game remarks aren’t nearly as colorful as Marcin, right?
Well, he did have this:
“They say we’re rebuilding, but it’s great to get a win right off the band, give ’em something to be excited about.”
Although Blazer stars Damian Lillard (32 points) and LaMarcus Aldridge (28) made 22 of 42 shots from the field, the rest of Portland’s squad managed just 11 makes in 39 attempts.
Without Markieff Morris (one-game suspension) to help Channing Frye, Marcus Morris was required to attempt containment of the mid-range attack from the lanky Aldridge.
Using Aldridge as a pop threat after ball screens with Lillard, the Suns allowed last season’s Rookie of the Year to make three consecutive 3-pointers near the end of the opening half to make it 50-46 at intermission.
“Stars are going to get theirs,” Hornacek said. “You just have to eliminate the other guys.”