The Phoenix Suns aren’t going to sneak up on teams after making the biggest improvement in the NBA last season. It might not matter against the Los Angeles Lakers, who could be in even more trouble after their already short-handed roster took another hit with a devastating injury.
Phoenix opens its season Wednesday night seeking its seventh straight home victory over the Lakers.
The Suns won 48 games in their first year under Jeff Hornacek – a league-best 23-win improvement from 2012-13. However, they still missed out on what would have been their first playoff bid since 2010, finishing a game behind eighth-place Dallas.
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A full season with Eric Bledsoe – who was signed to a five-year, $70 million deal – figures to help. Injuries limited him to 43 games last year, though the Suns were 28-15 in those contests.
When healthy, Bledsoe combined with Goran Dragic for one of the league’s most exciting young backcourts. Dragic was named the league’s Most Improved Player, averaging a career-best 20.3 points after previously scoring 9.5 per game for his career.
The Suns puzzled some when they added another offensive-minded point guard to the mix with Isaiah Thomas, who scored a career-high 20.3 points per game for Sacramento.
Phoenix may even use the entire trio simultaneously at times.
"Sometimes for a three- or four-minute stretch it might change the direction of a game if we were a little slow and need something picked up," Hornacek said.
The Suns led the league with 18.7 fast-break points per game and their 98.2 possessions per 48 minutes was the league’s eighth-highest rate, yet they want to play at an even faster pace this season. Thomas’ explosiveness should help them do that.
"We want to pick that up, we want to be one, two or three and really try to get the ball out of bounds and go with it, put pressure on the other teams," Hornacek told the team’s official website.
The Lakers took a 108-90 loss against Houston on Tuesday, their worst season-opening setback since a 114-96 defeat at Philadelphia in 1968-69. Los Angeles also lost Julius Randle – the seventh overall pick in June – to a fractured tibia after a collision under the basket in the fourth quarter.
"We’ll help him through this, and he’ll come back a better basketball player," said Kobe Bryant, who scored 19 points. "That’s the goal, is to try to find a silver lining in this. He’ll use the time to come back and be stronger."
Bryant was playing in his first regular-season game since December after a knee injury limited him to six contests in 2013-14.
The loss of Randle makes things even more difficult for a team already without Steve Nash, Nick Young, Ryan Kelly and new addition Wayne Ellington due to injuries. That group averaged a combined 35.9 points per game last season.
Carlos Boozer scored 17 in his Lakers debut, joining Bryant as the team’s only players to score more than 11.
Gerald Green averaged 24.0 points on 54.0 percent shooting in his final three games versus Los Angeles last season. Phoenix is hoping Green can be more consistent after he averaged 19.8 points during a 30-game stretch from Feb. 8-April 11. He averaged 13.5 points in his other 52 games.
The Suns haven’t won seven straight at home against the Lakers since Nov. 8, 1991-April 13, 1994.