With point guard duo, tempo, improved defense on display, Suns rout Israeli team 130-89 in exhibition.
By RANDY HILLFS Arizona
PHOENIX -- The dress rehearsal came and went with a reasonable number of minor glitches and quite a few expertly delivered lines.
But suiting up against Israeli team Maccabi Haifa on Monday night at US Airways Center didn’t exactly make it tricky for the
Suns and first-year coach Jeff Hornacek to hit most of their marks.
They also hit 62.5 percent of their shots, forced 23 turnovers, limited their guests to 39.2 percent shooting, finished plus-16 in rebounding and recorded 49 fast-break points.
“I think we executed pretty well,” Hornacek said after a 130-89 rout in a cigarette-blindfold-caliber mismatch that’s difficult to translate into tangible evidence of things being upgraded and sustainable.
There is evidence, however, that previous issues have been addressed through obvious work in training camp. For example, Hornacek’s commitment to restoring Suns-level tempo was obvious through quick transitions from offense to defense. That included converting Haifa baskets into opportunities for early offense at the other end.
Those situations were presided over by the double-point-guard union of Goran Dragic and trade acquisition Eric Bledsoe, who combined for nine of Phoenix’s 30 assists.
“It’s funny when you have two guys who can push the ball how everyone starts running,” Hornacek said.
Bledsoe (22) and Dragic (16) also combined to score 38 points, making 16 of 22 shots from the field. As the most interesting of the Suns’ newcomers, Bledsoe also contributed five of the team’s 16 steals as well as three rebounds and a block.
“For me, I just try to energize everybody,” said Bledsoe, now attempting to rise from Chris Paul’s understudy to the elite player many of his peers believe he can be. “And then everyone can feed off of what I do.”
The Suns -- at least early -- also looked much more aware of their responsibilities on defense.
“Once we got up,” Hornacek said, “there was that natural tendency to have that fall-asleep-on-defense attitude. They scored six or eight straight points on us, so that was a focus in the second half to not let that happen again.
“Whether you’re up by five or you’re up by 25, you still have to continue to play defense and not give up anything easy.”
With extended minutes during the second-half rout, Alex Len and Archie Goodwin combined for 20 points in their Phoenix debut.
Len, the Suns’ selection with the fifth overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, had seven points, six rebounds and a block. The 7-foot-1 former Maryland star -- who just began working out last month after recovering from surgery on both ankles -- demonstrated a fluid stroke as a face-up shooter but hasn’t fully regained the fluid movement that made him such a prized commodity.
Goodwin, the 19-year-old shooting guard from Kentucky who arrived here via the 29th pick last June, missed both of his 3-point attempts but was 5 for 8 overall for 13 points. And after struggling in last weekend’s intrasquad scrimmage, Goodwin excelled going strong to the rim in transition.
ENDORSEMENT OF HORNACEK
Dragic and center Marcin Gortat weren’t always on the same page last season, but they seem to have very similar opinions regarding their new coach.
“He just lets you play to see how you read situations,” Dragic said of Hornacek. “He doesn’t call a lot of plays. He just wants us to read the defense in our secondary offense and attack. That’s my game.”
Dragic also appreciates that Hornacek is sweating the small stuff.
“He’s emphasizing those small details,” Dragic said. “At camp, we worked a lot on defense, especially from the weak side and on rotations.
“What I like is that he’ll tell you what he thinks, good and bad, so you know where you stand. As a player, that’s what you want.”
Gorat, whose contract status -- combined with the drafting of Len -- makes him the league leader in generating national trade expectation, also offered high praise for Hornacek.
“I think he’s great,” Gortat said. “He’s patient with us, coaching for the long run. He’s trying to get us ready for the season, not just the next game.
“He’s a bright guy and has a lot of experience from his days as a player. It’s definitely fun to play for him. He makes you feel confident in what you’re doing.”