The fable of the Suns playing to the standards of the competition might be a little premature...

There is a level of complacency that occurs when any level of success is achieved. Even if the success was minor and unexpected, that is just human nature to dial it back out of sheer confidence on occasion with the thought of, "We (or I) have made it."

That is something that the Phoenix Suns (10-9) have experienced a little as of late, but the stories of their demise are being written.

"What have we won, seven (10) games? We haven't proved anything," Channing Frye on the early success. "What if we finish the season 7-73? Then we just one nine games early. We have a lot to prove every game. They don't pay us to play 17 games, they pay us to play 82 so right now we compete against good teams and teams with lower record than us, do we compete the same? The coaches just want consistency."

After a tough loss to the Utah Jazz where they surrendered 51.3% shooting and a season high 112 to the previously last place Jazz was a low point in the season. Lately the team has regressed on the defensive end giving up 100+ points in five of their last six games has been the real issue, but the focus is on the recent play against sub-.500 teams as of late as they have gone 1-3 against the Jazz and the Sacramento Kings has people around the team talking.

"I don' t think anything is unraveling," P.J. Tucker on the teams lackluster defense as of late. "It is energy and defense. With 82 games it is hard to do it night in and night out.

Early on this season they have been like a house on fire going 5-2 winning games with effort, defense, and flat out surprising some of their opponents. Effort has been the flag for the Suns through the first 19 games, when they play with it, they win -- when they don't they lose. For a team that lacks top level talent effort is what any overachieving team has to have, in spades.

WE DON'T HAVE THE TALENT TO JUST TURN IT ON REGARDLESS OF THE TEAM. -Channing Frye

It is easy to get up for the top teams in the league because they have a target on their backs. The Spurs, Thunder, Heat, Blazers, and Pacers have success that every team wants and individuals to key in on to make statements against.

Against the better teams in the league the Suns have consistently played with effort despite the up-and-down results. Their record is not great, 5-5 against teams at or above .500, but the effort is there.

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(S = Suns OPP = Opponent)

They play even with the teams that are considered Championship Contenders and the statistics back that up. Then again, most teams do. Use the Jazz, for example, the once worst team in the league is 2-11 verse the best teams in the NBA, but with only a -8.1 scoring margin. They get up for the big games or the higher seeds hit snooze until late enough in the game to still come out victorious.

Suns_v_opponents2_medium

When playing against teams at or above .500 for the season the Suns are more consistent in the effort categories. They are out-rebounding teams, out-hustling teams, and shooting better overall. The Suns have won the rebounding battle 7-3, the shooting battle 9-1, and the hustle battle (steals + blocks) 7-3 in 10 games against good teams.

They are getting up for these games, clearly.

On the other hand when there is not the incentive of Kevin Durant, LeBron James, the Spurs rivalry, or the up-start young Blazers the Suns have seen the pendulum swing to the other side, but not to an extreme.

Suns_v_opponents3_medium

Playing with a winning record against the lesser teams in the NBA is what any team aspiring for the playoffs has to do. Rack up the wins against the struggling teams and play even with the better teams can put you position to be a playoff team in return.

Suns_v_opponents4_medium

There is no formula or equation for effort in sports. It is an eye test and more of the human element that, no matter the success rate, is visible to those who are looking for it. For the most part it is a visual test of how a team is reacting to runs, how they take punches to the mouth, and their overall demeanor on the court.

One way to look at effort is in a measurable statistic is the amount of free-throws a team earns and the amount of three-pointers they settle for. Against the better teams in the NBA the Suns are shooting 24.4 threes a night and 21.2 free-throws a night. That is two less threes a night than they hoist against the sub-.500 teams (26.4) showing a more aggressive and assertive team.

Are the Suns playing a lesser quality of basketball against specific teams? Situationally, yes, but overall no. The big picture is that they are a .500 team against any competition. Period.

YOU CAN'T JUST SAY WE WILL GET THE NEXT ONE. WE GOT TO HAVE THIS ONE... -P.J. Tucker

For the rest of this month the Suns have only three games against teams that are currently under .500 for the season in the Toronto Raptors (6-10), the Sacramento Kings (4-12), and the Philadelphia 76ers (7-12). Normally these would be games to look forward to, but with the effort level the Suns have displayed in recent weeks (1-3 against the Kings and Jazz collectively) this may be a cluster of coal scattered, masked, as gifts.

To use the Suns own formula that means they have an opportunity to win 5.16 of those games, therefore remaining an above, or close to a .500 team this month.

The sample size is small of them playing well and even smaller of them playing poorly against lesser teams.

On social media sites, Thursdays have turned into Throwback Thursdays. People post old pictures on their Instagram, Twitter or Facebook accounts every Thursday to showcase a special moment from...

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The following statement can no longer be disputed: when the Phoenix Suns bring the effort, they can beat anyone in the Western Conference. A night after a second half blowout at the hands of the...

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After stumbling and bumbling to two bad losses, the Phoenix Suns bounced back against one of the league's best teams by beating the Houston Rockets 97-88 in Houston.

After giving up 51% and 54% shooting in their last two games to bad offensive teams, the Phoenix Suns found a way to hound the best offense in the league to just 35% shooting on the night.

The Suns beat the Houston Rockets 97-88 behind the best all around game from P.J. Tucker on the season - holding James Harden down while scoring 18 points of his own, along with 6 rebounds and 4 assists.

The Suns also got great contributions from Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, with a combined 39 points, 8 assists, 6 steals (against 8 turnovers) and 5 rebounds between them.

Houston was missing fringe All-Star Chandler Parsons and fan favorite Jeremy Lin in this game, hindering their offensive weaponry. But Harden and Howard alone are too of the most unguardable players in the league.

Former ASU Sun Devil James Harden made only 3 of 17 shots, including 0 for 10 on threes, to contribute to Houston's terrible shooting on the night. Dwight Howard had 15 points and 18 rebounds, but could not carry the cold-shooting Houston offense.

Former Sun Aaron Brooks - terrible for the Suns and Kings in between his Houston stints - felt really good and scored 17 points with 6 assists and 4 rebounds. Where was that Brooks in Phoenix? That was the one the Suns traded for, for chrissakes.

Former Rocket Marcus Morris had 8 points, including 2 perfectly timed threes to solidify the win, and also pulled down 5 rebounds.

The Suns played a great first half, aided partially by a discombobulated Rockets team that really seemed to be missing their glue guy - Chandler Parsons. Harden was not aggressive and Dwight Howard was fairly unengaged as well.

And somehow Houston only shot 28% for the entire first half, making only 2 of 13 threes. Meanwhile the Suns made 50% of their shots and 4 of 10 threes. The Rockets kept the game respectable, staying within 13 (better than 20+ right?) till late in the second, behind 13 offensive rebounds.

Yet, the Suns only had an 11 point lead thanks to a total BS call on Tucker fouling James Harden at the halftime buzzer on a three-point attempt. Harden kicked out a leg as he came down from the errant three, then threw himself to the ground like he was shot. Replays clearly showed the kick-out and flop, and lack of contact from Tucker on his way by.

The referees called a foul on P.J. Tucker. Par for the course right? Except that this season the refs specifically chose to target this phantom move as an OFFENSIVE foul this season, not a defensive one. They even demonstrated the play type by using a Jared Dudley clip from last season where Dudley kicked out for the foul call. Suns fans remember James Jones for being a master at this in the mid-2000s.

But apparently the refs forgot that "point of emphasis" and gave the Rockets 3 more points to close the Suns lead to 11.

Would that make a second-half difference?

Of course. What could have been a 16 point lead (without Harden, and with the Suns opening score of the third) was only a 13-point lead that the Suns proceeded to completely squander within the subsequent couple of minutes.

Houston decided to play ball, while the Suns forgot how to stop the ball. The Suns scored a bit in between turnovers, but gave up 15 points in the first seven minutes of the third quarter to let the game get down to a three-point lead. Against Houston, that's a bad sign.

P.J. Tucker tried his best to keep the Suns alive, hustling all over the court. But it didn't help that no one could make a shot consistently. The Suns put up a lot of open shots that just couldn't find the bottom of the net.

Houston stayed in it by playing aggressive, slowly chipping away at the Suns lead with their patented three-or-rim offense. They are like a volcano waiting to erupt. All you can do is hope the clock strikes 0 before it does.

Gerald Green, he of the career-high performance for a few weeks, has come back to earth. After starting 1-for-7 on threes the other night, he started 1-6 in this game (0-3 on threes). He's seriously a hot-or-cold player like no one else on the roster.

When Garcia and Casspi made back to back threes to cut the Suns lead to 63-61, the game could have turned against the Suns.

Somehow, the Suns righted their ship at the end of the third on threes by Frye and Tucker, pushing the lead back to 12 and quelling the charge of the Rockets thanks to continued lackadaisical nights by both Howard and Harden. The Rockets really missed Chandler Parsons' stretch abilities to make those threes to keep the defense honest.

Bledsoe (18), Tucker (16), Dragic (11) and Frye (10) were the Suns leading scorers after three.

Just one quarter left to get out of Houston with a surprising win.

The Rockets came out firing again in the fourth, quickly cutting the 12 point lead to 2 on a 10-0 run before the Suns realized the quarter buzzer had gone off.

Gerald Green was still killing the Suns (1-8, 0-4) almost as much as Aaron Brooks (11 points, 4 rebs, 2 asst), who might have had something to show the Suns who acquired and then dumped him.

Maybe it's time to sit Gerald Green down? Hmm?

Hornacek agreed, and the Suns found their footing again. They somehow pushed the lead back to 7 quickly on a breakaway and couple of nice shots by Tucker and Frye.

Only five minutes left to get a big win on the road...

And then the lead grew to 10 on a big shot by Dragic, then 12 on a shot by Bledsoe, then 13 on a free throw by Dragic.

Three minutes left, and a 13-point lead...

Then Morris for three!!!!  Now a 16-point lead for the Suns, before the Rockets finally break the drought with a three of their own, but still a 13-point lead with 2:22 left.

Rockets making just 34% of their shots, by the way. A night after giving up 54% to Memphis and three nights after giving up 51% to Utah. Much needed, Suns. Much needed.

But then the Suns lost two points (a shot was ruled after the clock expired) while Houston made 2 free throws and suddenly the lead was only 9. Then Aaron Brooks, the Houston version, made a three and it was only 6.

Uh oh. 88-82 suddenly, with 1:49 still on the clock. Tick tock, tick tock. Weather the storm, kids! Weather the storm!

Tick tock...

Then Marcus Morris weathered it. BAM - with a three-pointer from the corner again, and the lead was back to 9. Dragic pushed it to 11 on a pair of free throws, and the game appeared to be over.

But Houston made a steal and another three after a free throw for Howard to cut it to 7. The Suns needed to answer yet again.

A minute left. Tick-tock.

The Rockets fouled quickly, figuring to trade free throws for three pointers to the buzzer. Bledsoe made two.

DING! Suns Win!

Time: 6 p.m. MST TV: FSA On their way to a  9-9 record, the Phoenix Suns have just about run the gamut: wins over good teams, routs of bad teams, come-from-behind victories, heartbreaking last-second...

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