After missing the postseason despite winning 48 games, the Phoenix Suns know building on last season’s drastic improvement may be necessary to push into the top eight in the Western Conference.
Beating more playoff teams would seem to be a good next step.
After showing promising signs in their opener against a lesser opponent, they’ll face a tougher test Friday night as they take on their first playoff participant of 2014, the visiting San Antonio Spurs.
Phoenix went 11-18 against West playoff teams a season ago and missed out on the eighth seed by a game to Dallas. The Suns’ 23-win improvement from 2012-13 was a league best, but it wasn’t enough to put them in the postseason for the first time since 2009-10.
Phoenix routed the Los Angeles Lakers 119-99 at home Wednesday, shooting 54.9 percent and showing no signs of falling off their scoring pace of 2013-14, during which they averaged 108.1 points – third best in the league. They made 16 of 32 from 3-point range and topped their highest number of made 3s last season (15).
"That’s what coach (Jeff Hornacek) wants us to do," point guard Isaiah Thomas said. "Play to our strengths, attack, be aggressive, score as early as possible and shoot a lot of 3s."
Thomas debuted for the Suns with a team-high 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting in just over 20 minutes off the bench. He went 5 of 7 from 3-point range.
Thomas adds depth to an up-tempo backcourt featuring Goran Dragic and a healthy Eric Bledsoe. Dragic had 18 points while the recently re-signed Bledsoe scored 16.
The Suns are 17-0 when Dragic and Bledsoe each score at least 16 points, which has never been the case against San Antonio. The four games in the series since Bledsoe was acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers before last season have seen the two players healthy together once.
Bledsoe, however, scored 30 points in the last meeting – a 112-104 Phoenix loss April 11. The Suns went 1-3 against San Antonio in 2013-14 and have dropped 16 of the past 21 matchups.
The Spurs are seeking a fourth straight 2-0 start after opening with a 101-100 home win over the Mavericks on Tuesday.
Any concerns about Manu Ginobili’s uninspiring preseason were put to rest with a 20-point, six-assist performance.
"He was like zero for 50 in the preseason, and had like 19 turnovers per game, but tonight he was Manu Ginobili. He was unbelievable," coach Gregg Popovich said.
Tim Duncan had 14 points and 13 rebounds while Tony Parker scored a team-high 23, going 4 for 4 from beyond the arc. The veteran point guard has averaged 22.8 points and 57.1 percent shooting in his last four games against the Suns.
San Antonio went 14 of 28 from 3-point range against Dallas.
Tiago Splitter (calf), Kawhi Leonard (eye infection) and Patty Mills (shoulder) missed the opener, but Leonard is expected to play in this game.