High-altitude training wasn’t easy for Suns’ Dragic

PHOENIX — One week into official preparations for the Suns’ season, we’ve learned there wasn’t quite enough wind beneath The Dragon’s wings.

At least not way up in Flagstaff, which lacks sufficient oxygen to sustain any serious fire breathing.

"For me, it was really tough," Goran Dragic said Monday when asked for his assessment of last week’s training camp. "It was a weird camp for me. It was the toughest of the seven I’ve done so far.

"I don’t know why, but my legs were . . . I couldn’t move, I couldn’t shoot."

Dragic, who — per the Suns’ request — had his minutes rationed while playing for Team Slovenia in the FIBA World Cup, simply didn’t reach his typical conditioning level during the off-season.

Last year, Goran prefaced his break-out NBA campaign by giving Slovenia heavy minutes and productivity in the Eurobasket Tournament.

"Last year, he was tired," Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said of Dragic’s status at training camp. "This year, he feels he’s not in shape yet. We’ve got to find that fine line — push him, getting a lot of running in, but again we’re going to have to trust him. You know your own body. We’re going to go with his guidance on some of that."

The good news is that having descended from Flagstaff, the more favorable altitude on the practice floor at U.S. Airways Center was welcomed.

"Today’s practice, it was great," Dragic said. "Finally, I’m getting that penetration back. I started feeling like I could run all day. That’s a good thing."

The Suns guard also is looking forward to an eight-game preseason schedule that begins here with Wednesday night’s encounter with Flamengo from Rio de Janeiro, can which be seen live on FOX Sports Arizona.

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Hornacek also welcomes the opportunity to test his team against a group of players they haven’t seen.

"When the guys are playing somebody they don’t know, they’ve really got to focus on our defensive principles," he said when asked about Wednesday’s date with Flamengo. "They’ve gotta figure things out on their own. We’re not going to have a big scouting report on the game. It puts a little more pressure on them to figure it out. I like it."

Flamengo won the Brazilian National League and FIBA Americas championships last season. Its roster includes forward Walter Herrmann, who played three seasons in the NBA, and Derrick Caracter, a second-round draft pick of the Los Angeles in 2010.

Hornacek’s mandate to move from eighth among NBA teams in tempo (possessions per 48 minutes) last season to somewhere in the top three this season made the altitude in Flagstaff an even more prickly variable.

"He was saying every day, ‘Come on, guys, we need to push the ball,’ " Dragic said. "But the altitude, it’s so tough. We are pushing the ball the first two minutes. After that . . . But now with those eight preseason games, we’re going to see where we are. For sure we want to play as fast as possible."

According to Hornacek, the Suns — now working at a lower altitude — did well on Monday generating good shots while playing with a shorter shot clock.

"They were all right," he said of dealing with added discomfort zone. "I guess we can speed it up. Early offense stuff is what we’re focusing on now."

As for the team’s conditioning, Hornacek said the Suns are OK . . . for early October.

"We need to be in better shape," he said. "We want to go for 48 minutes, tire other teams out. We’ve got to use that."

"He’s crafty," Dragic said of the third spoke in Phoenix’s three-point-guard wheel. "He’s small but quick. He can get the ball into the paint; it’s really hard to stop him. He’s a good passer, he can find people."

What the Suns and their fans want to find out is just how well Thomas — who gave the Sacramento Kings 20 points and 6 dimes per game as a lead dog last season — fits in his new role.

"He’s a hard worker, a good teammate, and I think he connected with the team really well," Hornacek said. "I know when he comes into the game, the opponent’s gonna say, "oh . . . another guard who’s really good."

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