The Phoenix Suns know they have a good basketball team - so much that the 6th-seeded team is even talking about the playoffs already. Yet talk of the playoffs is being used more as a warning than a fight song.

With more than a third of the season in the books and an 18-11 record to show for it, the talking points for the Suns have changed. All off season and early in the regular season, Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said he was looking for continued improvement and growth from the team, rather than wins vs. losses. Now? Hornacek has added one more argument to that mantra.

"We're at the point that if we have any hopes of making the playoffs, they gotta buckle it up," Hornacek said after the Suns played another lackluster defensive game against the talent-challenged 76ers. "They played soft in the first half."

Hornacek went on to say that after 29 games, the Suns have established who they are as a team and that the team is playing at playoff caliber levels. However, that carrot may be more of an orange-colored stick. He says they have a lot of work to do to compete when other teams start playing harder as the season goes along.

Goran Dragic said, after beating Philadelphia by 14 points, said that it's a good sign the team can win comfortably despite not playing well.

"The good teams, even if they don't play good they find a way to win the game," Dragic said. "We did that tonight."

All the players have noticed that teams have begun preparing for what the Suns can bring, devising game plans to defeat the two point guard lineup.

"They are preparing for us. Every night is tougher," he said. "They know what the strengths are, and they try to take that away. At the beginning of the season, they thought it was going to be easy. Not so much anymore."

After getting shocked by the Suns two weeks ago, Golden State's Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson came out focused and ready to avenge that loss on Friday. And then against Philadelphia, they faced Philly's own version of a two point guard lineup for much of the game. Rookie Michael Carter-Williams and second-year player Tony Wroten combined for 49 points in the loss (albeit on an inefficient 45 shots).

As the season wears on, the two point guard lineup that accounts for nearly 40% of the Suns scoring and most of their assists and steals will be schemed against better and better. Whether those schemes work is up to coach Hornacek, Dragic and Bledsoe, largely, but the Suns have to bring something else to the table when the schemes work.

It's on defense where the Suns will have to make their mark.

While Miles Plumlee continues to prove he's not a flash in the pan thanks to his boundless energy and athleticism to make a difference under the basket, the Suns are really going to struggle on the defensive end when games get tougher.

Currently, the Suns are 15th in defensive efficiency - smack dab in the middle of the pack - which only gets you so far. Even the vaunted mid-aughts Suns, armed with the league's greatest offense, eventually foundered in the playoffs when they couldn't get stops at key times.

Some of that will improve with the players on hand. Eric Bledsoe and Miles Plumlee, in particular, still tend to go for the big play more often than the coaches want, and too often get burned for it. Both are discovering their NBA ceiling this season right before our eyes with expanded, consistent minutes.

Last night, Plumlee injured himself going for a block that he "probably shouldn't have. The guy was too far away." In the effort, Plumlee sold out and lost his footing, crashing hard to the ground. As a result, not only did he miss the block, he wasn't available for the rebound if it bounced AND he took himself out of the game for a while as he got 7 stitches.

Eventually, they will settle down and realize an NBA game is won on 48 minutes of intelligence rather than the biggest plays.

"Settle down!" Spurs coach Gregg Popovich once yelled at Manu Ginobili, during a first half timeout in a pivotal playoff game against the Suns. Ginobili had just gone supernova for a few minutes, mostly in a good way for the Spurs, but had committed a couple of bad turnovers in the process. "The game isn't won in the first half!"

Bledsoe and Plumlee will learn this lesson as well, just as coach Hornacek was taught by legend Jerry Sloan, his Jazz coach, on the way to two Finals appearances in the 90s.

But some of the Suns deficiencies won't disappear with experience. The current Suns 8-man lineup is really small, and a little light on defensive chops.

"P.J. [Tucker] does a good job defensively but we can't have P.J. guard everybody," Hornacek said of halftime adjustments to slow down rookie MCW and forward Thaddeus Young. "If we could clone P.J. and have three or four of him to play in the fourth quarter it would help defensively. But these other guys have got to step up defensively like P.J. does."

Where the Suns struggle the most, though, is closing out possessions with rebounds. The Suns are one of the worst teams in the league at giving up second-chance points (more than 15 points per game). Unless Miles Plumlee and 6'11" Channing Frye are on the court together, the Suns have a major size deficiency.

It would help if either 7'1" rookie Alex Len (ankle) or veteran defensive ace 6'11" Emeka Okafor (neck) could get healthy enough to slide into the backup center spot behind Plumlee for even 10-15 minutes a night.

Alex Len has been held out of all basketball activity for a month now, trying to rehab that surgically repaired ankle and return at 100% health. Per Paul Coro of azcentral.com, Len is working out without pain and is close to returning to Suns practices - maybe in the next week or so.

Emeka Okafor has been a ghost since being acquired in October for Marcin Gortat, but that was by design. Okafor is rehabbing a neck injury without surgery, with his own specialists back east. The injury was serious enough that Okafor is not even performing any basketball activities while trying to get healthy.

The last word on the street is that Okafor will get re-evaluated in January by the Suns staff to check his progress. There have been no indications from either Okafor's camp or the Suns that the veteran center will be healthy enough to play at this time.

Whether the Suns get one or both of those centers back for the stretch run is a mystery, but if the Suns hope to do any damage in the playoffs another defensive presence in the lineup would be really helpful.

PHOENIX — With their third-best three-point defense in the league, the Phoenix Suns had room for concern in the first six quarters following a four-day break. The Golden State Warriors hit...

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PHOENIX – Discounting a select few games, Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek has wondered why his team doesn’t run. The odd but likely answer is that they, outside of Goran Dragic, simply...

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The worst 12 year old general manager on NBA 2K couldn't make a worse roster than what the team from Philadelphia brought to town...

Riddle: What happens when an NBA team plays Elliot Williams, Brandon Davies, Daniel Orton, Tony Wroten, Hollis Thompson, and James Young in a game?

Answer....

They get beat 115-101 on the road to the Phoenix Suns. That is what happened to the Philadelphia 76ers, with a roster that might lose a seven game series to the Delaware 87ers, on the road tonight. It is hard to imagine a worse roster than what they fielded, but we can all go home and try on NBA 2K14 this weekend.

Here is a quarter-by-quarter review:

First Quarter Review

The first quarter was all Suns as Miles Plumlee had 12 points and 5 rebounds while the team got out running scoring 15 points in transition. Plumlee had the highlight of the quarter with a dunk on Lavoy Allen, but then Spencer Hawes gave it back to him a few plays later. The offense was clicking, but the defense was non-existent again. In their last four first quarters the Suns have given up 27, 28, 24, 25, and 28 points. That is not good.

There was a cool moment in that quarter where Gerald Green hit his second three in a row and the bench -- Ish Smith, Eric Bledsoe, and Dionte Christmas, all jumped up in celebration.

After one, 36-27 Suns

Second Quarter Review

At this point the "76ers" have played Elliot Williams (started), Hollis Thompson (started), Daniel Orton, and Brandon Davies NBA minutes, Just a reminder.

This half was a showcase for how good Michael Carter-Williams really is. He finished the half with 16 points 2 rebounds 3 assists and 2 steals including one where he just took the ball out of Plumlee's hands. Overall the defense went from bad to worse this quarter allowing 32 points getting the 76ers tight back in the game. The main difference between the first and second quarter for the 76ers was free-throws. In the second quarter they went 8-9 after not attempting one in the entire first quarter giving them easy points.

The Suns went 1-1 in the quarter from the charity strip on a Bledsoe make after a technical foul.

At the half, 60-59 Suns

Third Quarter Review

The Suns took back what they gave away and extended their lead in the third quarter to take control of the game. This is usually a trap quarter where teams can fall asleep after half-time, but the Suns to the occasion behind balanced scoring from their starters. Young and MCW tried to keep them in the game with 8/22 points, but it was not enough.

Plumlee notched his career-high this quarter in points scoring 21 surpassing the previous high of 18 which he had twice this year.

After three, 88-81 Suns

Fourth Quarter Review

There was just no real chance with this roster to last a 48 minute game at the pace the teams were playing at and win for the 76ers. They fought valiantly or something like that, but came up on the losing end. Plumlee left the game to get seven stitches, then came back for more. He is a warrior. There was a lot of "trying to just run out the clock" in the fourth quarter.

Final Score, 115-101 Suns

PHOENIX — This one was tabbed as an important game in the preseason. After all, playing for lottery positioning is all the rage. But nope, the Phoenix Suns host the Philadelphia 76ers on...

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