NBA Beat: Nothing gimmicky about Suns’ sudden rise

Markieff Morris and the Suns have surprised the NBA under first-year coach Jeff Hornacek by playing a simple and well-rounded brand of basketball.

David Richard/David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

What’s the secret to the Phoenix Suns’ surprisingly sustained success?

First-year coach Jeff Hornacek says it’s fairly simple. The Suns pass the ball. Those who don’t pass, Hornacek said, don’t play.

Hornacek is in his first season as a head coach — and just his third year as a coach in any form. He doesn’t overthink things. He’s not trying to reinvent the game.

He’s a down-to-earth guy and the Suns play down-to-earth basketball. They were supposed to be in tank mode. Losing was supposed to be OK this year. Everyone just assumed they were rebuilding and playing for a good draft pick in 2014.

Instead, the Suns got off to a hot start. Their roster isn’t exactly littered with huge names — unless you consider Goran Dragic, Channing Frye and Markieff Morris to be among the NBA’s brightest stars.

Most people don’t.

Actually, the Suns lost Eric Bledsoe to a knee injury. He may be their most gifted player, but he’s out until at least after the All-Star break. Yet the Suns keep playing hard, exciting their fans and finding ways to win.

Hornacek has even helped turn former slam-dunk champion Gerald Green into a versatile threat. Green used to be just a dunker. Now he’s a basketball player.

We are a really hard-nosed team. It doesn’t matter if we are up or down 20 points. We are still going to battle to the end.

-- Goran Dragic

"We are a really hard-nosed team," Dragic said. "It doesn’t matter if we are up or down 20 points. We are still going to battle to the end."

Dragic speaks the truth, because the Suns overcame a 20-point deficit to win at Cleveland on Jan. 26. They did it by keeping the ball moving and taking advantage of the Cavaliers’€™ habit of self-destructing.

The Suns don’t self-destruct. There are many nights when they’re overmatched (on paper, anyway), but their unity and smarts have enabled them to overcome a lot.

It’s not the result of some gimmick, either. They don’t fire up a shot every seven seconds like the golden days of Mike D’Antoni and Steve Nash. They don’t try to keep scores in the 70s or 80s with a grind-it-out approach.

It’s just a normal brand of basketball, the way the game is meant to be played. And what do you know? In Phoenix, it’s doing the trick.


Playoff Thoughts

As of Tuesday morning, the Suns held the No. 7 playoff seed in the Western Conference.

Ahead of them: Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Portland, the Los Angeles Clippers, Houston and Golden State. Those teams are all likely postseason locks.

The Suns’ task will be to hold off the likes of Dallas (eighth as of Tuesday), Memphis, Denver and Minnesota.

Things are also becoming clearer in the miserable East. Indiana and Miami are in. Toronto and Atlanta can also feel good about their chances. The same goes for Washington and Chicago (even without Derrick Rose). Brooklyn has also played better lately. The Nets should at least make it.

That’s seven teams. The final spot appears as if it will be a four-team fight between Charlotte, New York, Detroit and Cleveland. Boston, with Rajon Rondo back from injury, is in the conversation as well.


Double Dribbles

* The Bulls are 10-4 in January. That comes after losing Derrick Rose (knee) for the season and Luol Deng to trade (Jan. 7, to Cleveland). Tom Thibodeau again has to be considered for Coach of the Year honors, no?

* Nor can enough be said about the underrated jobs being done by Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer and Raptors coach Dwane Casey. The Hawks lost Al Horford (torn pectoral) and the Raptors traded Rudy Gay (to Sacramento). Yet both teams have given their fans a regular season-full of fun.

* The Pacers may be among the teams who will make a play for Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry at the Feb. 20 trade deadline, according to several reports. But the more the Raptors win, the more it looks as if they will hang on to Lowry. It’s an interesting situation, because Lowry is a free agent at season’€™s end.

* Pacers forward Danny Granger, another impending free agent, is drawing lots of interest as the trade deadline approaches, league sources said. The same goes for Cavaliers guard C.J. Miles, although to a significantly lesser extent.

* The Los Angeles Lakers possesses the most unrestricted free agents of 2014 with nine. The list includes Pau Gasol, Jodie Meeks, Steve Blake, Jordan Hill and Xavier Henry. Nick Young could also become a free agent if he doesn’t pick up the option on his contract.