Strong preseason buoys Suns

PHOENIX — Coach Jeff Hornacek called an early end to the Suns’ final preseason practice Tuesday, sensing his team already was in regular-season mode. Players agreed.

"You could tell in practice everybody’s vibe … everybody is ready and focused," point guard Eric Bledsoe said. 

The Suns open Hornacek’s second season against the Los Angeles Lakers at US Airways Center on Wednesday after a 5-2 preseason in which the players’ buy-in remained strong, Hornacek said.

"Hopefully the transition continues all year," Hornacek said.

"I thought we did some good things on both sides of the ball. We executed some of our plays better. Guys’ willingness to get out there and play. For the most part, our guys have played hard the whole time, and for us to win we have to do that.

"We have to play hard. We have to scrap. We have to run. We have to play defense. We’re not good enough to say, ‘We’ll win it in the fourth quarter.’"

Rebounding and turnovers are typical concerns for a smaller team that likes to push it up the floor, but Hornacek said those can be countered.

"When you are running, if you just hit the first guy (with the outlet pass) and the next guy hits the open guy … if you pass the ball to the open guy instead of waiting, you are going to have less turnovers," Hornacek said.

More Suns

"If we want to be a playoff team, we have to be at the 14-turnover mark. We’re going to be small. We are probably going to get out-rebounded, but as long as we keep it close, that is pretty good. We can’t give up offensive rebounds. Our guards have to be alert. If they are just out there watching the play, we are going to be in trouble. Simple as that. They have to be engaged when a shot goes up.

"Heck, If I’m a running team and wanted to run, I’d go get the rebound so I could just take off with it."

With small forward P.J. Tucker absent while serving the first game of a three-game suspension in the season opener against the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday, the Suns are likely to use 6-foot-9 Marcus Morris and Gerald Green to defend Kobe Bryant, Hornacek said.

With that in mind, Morris said he planned a quiet night in front of the TV on Tuesday, when the Lakers open their season against Houston.

"I’m going to focus on the game they play tonight and just try my best tomorrow and keep him contained," said Morris, who, if he starts, would equal the number of games he started last season.

The Suns want to force Bryant a step or two further from the basket, turning his 16-foot jump shots into 20-footers. 

Bryant had 27 points on 10-of-20 shooting in the Suns’ 114-108 preseason victory Oct. 21, but that means little, Morris said. 

"Preseason is preseason. Everybody don’t show you everything. Him being who he is, I know he didn’t show us everything," Morris said.

Morris said his plan is "just being basic." He added: "It’s Kobe Bryant. He’s going to make tough shots. As long as it’s not an easy shot. Staying down on all his pump fakes and making it hard for him."

Roster breakdown

After starting 116 games in the past two seasons, new Suns point guard Isaiah Thomas admits it has been an adjustment learning to come off the bench in the preseason. At the same time, he said he is ready for anything.

"I’m all for whatever it takes to win," said Thomas, the Suns’ biggest offseason acquisition after being acquired from Sacramento.

"I’m going to give my heart each and every day. I think that’s how people fall in love with me. I just give it my all."

The presence of Thomas, who averaged a career-high 20.3 points a game and made 127 3-pointers last season, will allow the Suns to put two legitimate scoring/playmaking threats on the floor at all times in combination with Goran Dragic and Bledsoe.

"He’s been competing in practice. You can tell he’s ready and he wants to be here," Bledsoe said.

Thomas said he already feels like part of the family.

"With preseason being so long, I feel like I’ve been here a couple of years now.  I’m excited for the first game, to get my first season going with the Suns," Thomas said.

The Suns picked up the 2015-16 contract options on centers Alex Len and Miles Plumlee and guard Archie Goodwin, the team announced. Len, the fifth player taken in the 2013 draft, is to earn $3.8 million. Plumlee, the starting center, will make $2.1 million. Goodwin, a backup guard, is to make $1.2 million. Len and Plumlee also have options for the 2016-17 season. … Forward T.J. Warren continues to wear a protective cast on his left hand and will open the season on the injured reserve list. No timetable has been set for his return.

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