Suns continue to silence doubters while putting improvements on display in 114-103 win over Nuggets.
By RANDY HILLFS Arizona
PHOENIX -- A year ago, they were All For Orange.
Fresh out of star players (even the vintage variety), the
Suns were marketed as a team attempting to turn spare parts into a playoff-worthy model. The schematic had been designed by the
Denver Nuggets, who -- thanks to the choreographed desertion of Carmelo Anthony -- gathered a collection of better-than-spare parts and did pretty well during the regular season.
Now seemingly headed in different directions, the Suns and health-compromised Nuggets intersected Friday night at US Airways Center, where the home team scored a 114-103 victory that included a 36-7 run by the losing team.
Tucked inside the Suns’ fourth win in six games (they’re 3-0 at home) was a 28-point, 10-rebound eruption from Markieff Morris that represented his second career high in the last two games.
"Our team is kind of like my golf game," Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said before comparing his inability to putt and chip well in the same round to his squad’s difficulty playing stellar offense and defense at the same time.
And while the Nuggets now are 1-4 -- keep in mind that they’ve been playing without forwards Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler -- since parting company with reigning Coach of the Year George Karl, traces of their recent history and the Suns’ future were on display.
The rewind tells us quite a bit.
In their previous nine engagements with the Suns, the Nuggets ran away with eight victories, averaging 118 points in those triumphs. The Suns’ biggest of many problems in those games was Ty Lawson, the smallest Nugget (a role now claimed by Nate Robinson). Including a two-point, 1-for-8 shooting performance in the only Phoenix win, Lawson made 52 of 85 field-goal attempts (60 percent) across those nine games. With Steve Nash waving chasing him down the lane for the majority of those games, Lawson averaged 17 points, seven assists and two turnovers through this extended blitzkrieg.
But in his first date with the Suns this season, the Phoenix welcoming committee had a chairman named Eric Bledsoe. With such a rugged customer in front of him for most of the game, Lawson scored only a deuce in the final quarter (won by the Suns to the tune of 30-16) and only six points the entire first half.
Lawson -- who, like Bledsoe, entered the game averaging 21 points, seven assists and five rebounds per game -- went cuckoo in the third, however, going 7 for 9 from the floor and scoring 21 points. Denver won that period 40-20.
"To our guys' credit," Hornacek said, "they didn’t get panicked, they didn’t get crazy. Typically, young guys get panicked and it gets even worse."
It helped that, despite Lawson’s outburst, the new point guard continued to look unflappable. Stepping back into his getting-familiar closer role in the fourth, Bledsoe scored nine of his 17 points while handing off the last two of his nine assists.
"Just playing with confidence," Bledsoe said.
Lawson squeezed off four shots in that time and made one; the Nuggets shot 39 percent overall in the final quarter.
"I think that’s mostly my fault," Lawson said, "and in the fourth quarter, we just laid an egg like we’ve done in most of the games we've lost."
For witnesses of recent Suns seasons, it was interesting to see them engage Lawson with someone physically capable of challenging the lightning-quick Nugget.
"They’re both great players," Hornacek said of Bledsoe and Lawson. "They both can really push the ball up the court. They both proved they’re in the top group of point guards in the league.
"They probably don’t get the attention that some of the other point guards get, so every night, they probably have a little chip on their shoulder trying to prove something."
Still working without co-starring point guard Goran Dragic (sprained ankle, although he said he’ll be ready for Sunday’s game with the Pelicans), the Suns are trying to prove they’ll be much better than national skeptics predicted.
In addition to more solid play from Miles Plumlee (18 points, 11 rebounds) and Gerald Green (12 points, two ridiculous lob dunks), the prediction busting included an impressive performance from the aforementioned Morris.
And this particular uprising happened against another Nugget whose presence usually reminds Suns fans -- and many media watchdogs -- of what had seemed like a bad decision. Remember that Markieff was chosen ahead of eventual Nuggets pick Kenneth Faried (and others), and while Faried has acquitted himself quite well over two NBA seasons, Morris’ beginning has been disturbingly uneven.
But in his last two games, Markieff -- still coming off the bench behind Channing Frye -- has made 21 of 26 shots from the field and seized 22 rebounds.
"I think he’s playing under control," Hornacek said. "He’s staying with what’s given to him."
That seems to be a philosophy of coaching being applied now, as well.