Suns need more fit for Hornacek’s system

This is what Jeff Hornacek wants to see more of: guards such as Eric Bledsoe quickly pushing the ball up court.

Troy Taormina/Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

PHOENIX — Conditions are favorable for blistering heat to be experienced around here this NBA season.

The local franchise recommitted to its all-blur starting backcourt, while adding a third playmaker who’s probably quicker than the other two. They already were stocked with perimeter-oriented players capable of running with them, but added a couple more.

And they reacted to losing the guy who kept the floor spaced for the little guys by hiring another dead-eye power forward, while encouraging the next four-man in line to sharpen his skills behind the 3-point arc.

But with all of these speed-related, red-hot essentials on the roster, the Suns aren’t shaping up at a level that satisfies coach Jeff Hornacek.

"I don’t think we have enough guys who are in that kind of shape," Hornacek said after Wednesday’s lengthy practice at U.S. Airways Center, "where we can push it and get the ball up the court."

Right, a big note for this preseason’s theme has been Hornacek’s desire to have the Suns play at a faster tempo than the one that generated the league’s eighth-fastest pace last season.

"We didn’t make the playoffs last year," he said. "Yeah we won 48 games, but we were outside looking in. And for us to take that next step, it’s going to take a lot of hard work."

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Hornacek said he’s getting a feeling that some of the Suns’ young veterans may be taking a more methodical approach to reaching peak condition.

"It doesn’t always work that way, that you think you can turn it on and be good," he said.

So, despite Thursday’s preseason home date with the San Antonio Spurs at hand, Suns players looked thoroughly worked while leaving the floor Wednesday.

"If it takes longer practices to get there," Hornacek said, "then that’s what we’ll do."

Although Hornacek isn’t exactly thrilled by a lack of game-shape urgency in some of his players, the rest of us are advised against reading too much into certain October slouching, such as Monday’s loss to the Rockets in Houston.

Yeah, the Suns did lose to a team that was working without James Harden and Dwight Howard. But they did post a 17-4 run over the opening half of the third quarter before more rotation experimentation was in order.

With a watered-down Spurs contingent that even excludes Gregg Popovich visiting USAC, Thursday’s practice game won’t seem as compelling as it could be. But San Antonio usually provides a challenge regardless of who’s suiting up.

And any opportunity to upgrade offensive and defensive rhythm against players in different uniforms is worthwhile.

But don’t go gunning for analytical enlightenment from the results.

OK, the Suns were 5-2 (including a win over Maccabi Haifa) during last season’s preseason schedule, which certainly didn’t hurt regular-season preparations, but simply competing at something closer to game speed seems more important than numbers on the scoreboard.

For example, Goran Dragic prefaced his breakout regular season by going scoreless in a cameo against the Spurs last October, and he missed 8 of 11 shots in a practice showdown with the Denver Nuggets.

Not long before achieving Western Conference Player of the Week honors, Markieff Morris failed to score in 13:11 of preseason action against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Phoenix won that tilt, by the way, but Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook weren’t playing.

The Suns were 0-2 in the first two games Dragic and Eric Bledsoe started together.

Marcin Gortat, you may recall, started all seven of those preseason games.

So much for that rhythm angle, huh?

Actually, there are 16 players on the Suns’ roster.

But the cutting of Casey Prather, Jamil Wilson and Joe Jackson leaves Earl Barron as the only one without a guaranteed contract.

The 33-year-old center — attempting to be hired for a second tour in Phoenix — certainly has done quite a bit to earn a spot. In Monday’s game at Houston, the 7-footer who played collegiately at Memphis scored 10 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in 24 minutes. That followed his 6-and-6 performance in 19 minutes against the Denver Nuggets.

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