Suns’ lightly used bench rising to the occasion

The Phoenix Suns’ weekend road resurrection was inspired by several factors. Perhaps the most compelling was the 89-point productivity from the bench in victories over the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers.

With the San Antonio Spurs checking into town for a Tuesday night date and a schedule still heavy on travel, the Suns will need a continued boost from their reserves.

Judging by their history of professionalism, that’s exactly what coach Alvin Gentry is counting on.

“They’re easy to coach,” Gentry said of his subs, “because they could have made things difficult. You can make it miserable on the coaching staff and on your teammates.”

How’s that? Well, part of the aforementioned professionalism can be defined by how several Suns have been prepared to make big contributions after falling out of the rotation. It should be noted that minutes become even trickier to divvy up when the starters happen to lead the NBA’s plus-minus category.

“That has nothing to do with how some of these guys have played,” Gentry said. “It’s just difficult to play everyone.”

With that in mind, let’s look at some of these role players and their corresponding numbers.

Sebastian Telfair’s number is five. Michael Redd checks in at six, followed by Shannon Brown at seven. The double-digit reserve Suns are Ronnie Price (17), Hakim Warrick (20) and Josh Childress (27).

By the way, those numbers represent how many games each player has spent without leaving the bench for a single second of action.

“It’s not easy to sit there and not play,” Gentry said.

But when called upon, these flurries of inactivity have not prevented the players on this list from rising to the challenge.

The 54-point bench explosion Sunday in Cleveland included a 16-point effort from Brown, who had a five-game streak of DNPs (did not play) in early February. After scoring eight points in his next game, Brown returned to the bench for all 48 minutes in the Suns’ subsequent outing but rallied to put 15 points on the Los Angeles Lakers in the next one.

His co-star in Cleveland was rookie power forward Markieff Morris, who is learning that the NBA’s ballyhooed rookie wall can be broken into several sections and scattered along the seasonal landscape. After foul issues led to a scoreless night in Indianapolis — and several minutes of burn for Warrick — Morris scored a career-high 22 points against the Cavaliers.
Six days after registering a DNP against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Redd poured in 25 points in a huge win over the Houston Rockets.

Price had merely watched for the entirety of a 12-game stretch before scoring six points in 14 minutes of a recent come-from-behind triumph over the Clippers in Los Angeles.

Before giving Gentry nine points over 14 minutes in relief of Morris against the Pacers, Warrick had not played in four consecutive games. He didn’t play Sunday against the Cavaliers. Neither did Childress, who has played just once in the past 18 games.

On another team sitting in 10th in its conference standings, a similar lack of playing time would have the insubordination train rolling. But the professionalism of the players in Phoenix certainly helps explain why a team that had been pronounced dead has gotten within striking distance of a playoff spot.

Perhaps the most surprising of these key reserves is Telfair. Although many observers believe the search for Steve Nash’s backup point guard continues, Telfair has provided aggressive defense — with a little offensive stability mixed in — for the second unit. His work Sunday included a four-assist run while the Suns fought off a Cavs rally in the second quarter.

“Defensively, he feels like he can guard anybody,” Gentry said of Telfair.

Although he has had only one coach-related DNP, center Robin Lopez is not exempt from taking a bow. With starter Marcin Gortat stringing together double-double performances, the former lottery pick from Stanford had found himself spending excessive time on the bench. In nine games from Feb. 9-22, Lopez only once cracked double-digit minutes. But since March 10, Robin has not played less than 13 minutes in any of the corresponding 10 games, and he has provided double-digit scoring in four of those contests.

With 17 games remaining, Lopez and the Suns still have enough time to rise.