The Phoenix rode Markieff Morris and Miles Plumlee to a great win over the Nuggets that saw both teams take big leads, one after the other.
The Nuggets made a final run with a couple of threes to cut the lead to four, but Eric Bledsoe made a big layup in traffic and then a long straight-away three to seal the win.
Bledsoe finished with 15 points, 9 assists and 3 steals. Markieff Morris had a career high 28 points with 9 rebounds, and Miles Plumlee had 18 and 11. Marcus Morris had 11 points himself, only the third time the twins have both had double digit scoring games on the same team together.
The Suns started the game hot by scoring at the rim and from the three-point line with consistency, racing to a 24-13 lead before the Nuggets woke up. The players were really focused on getting their shots either going to the rim or rotating into an open three.
Nuggets briefly took the lead 36-35 early in the second quarter off 3 straight steals (turning into 7 points) by the hyper athletic Anthony Randolph. Randolph can't do much with a basketball, but he's got some serious length to disrupt passing lanes.
But then the Suns settled back down to two alley-oop dunks and a three, quickly retaking a 9-point lead and forcing a Nugget timeout. At this point, Gerald Green makes the All-Suns team. That guy is playing like a man possessed.
The Nuggets stayed in the game by shooting well - making 59% of their shots despite an 8-point deficit halfway through the second quarter.
By late in the second quarter, the Suns had forced the Nuggets to play pretty small by putting Channing Frye at the 5-spot and spreading the floor with the Morris brothers, Gerald Grean and Bledsoe out there. That's a tough team to defend with their length and shooting ability.
Still, the Nuggets kept themselves in the game with shooting and hustle, though they spent a lot more time trying and missing midrange shots once the Suns D settled down.
And then Dionte Christmas turned into "the Polar Express" on a fast break layup that signaled a second-quarter rout was on.
By halftime, the Suns lead was 17, the last two points on a "Mozgov". That poor guy. After getting nutmegged a couple years ago by Blake Griffin, Mozgov was twice crossed up by Miles Plumlee for reverse layups and then Markieff Morris rose to the "13th floor" over top of Mozgov for a putback slam on a Suns missed free throw. It was glorious.
In the first half, the Suns outscored the Nuggets 64-47, outrebounded them 27 to 18, out-assisted them 14 to 8, outblocked them 3 to 0 and outstole the ball 5-3.
Markieff Morris had 14 points and 5 rebounds by halftime, while Miles Plumlee had 9 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks. Suns leading scorer Eric Bledsoe had only 4 points as he was happy setting up for others, racking up 7 assists in the first half alone.
This was a clear and present pasting through halftime.
Next question: can the Suns handle success?
Well, the Suns came out flat to start the second half while the Nuggets started on a 12-5 run before Hornacek called a timeout to focus the guys. Curious to see if they can "turn it back on".
Denver tried to come back with Darrell Arthur and Anthony Randolph on their front line. And it worked. Denver went on a 27-3 run at one point, and took a whopping 10-point lead before the Suns could take a breath. Ty Lawson had 21 points in that run alone. Crazy stuff. The Suns just couldn't stop the bleeding.
Luckily, the Suns started with a 17-point lead and woke up a bit at the end to cut the Denver lead to 3.
At the end of the quarter, Ish Smith made a 3-point play the old fashioned way, and then made a steal for a fastbreak layup by Markieff Morris. Morris was so excited, he drew the crowd to its feet by waving his arms in a real, live "Make Some Noise" moment.
Still, Ty Lawson outscored the entire Suns team 21-20 in the third.
The Suns quickly tied the game on a Marcus Morris 3 and three stops (sandwiching two other Morris jumper misses). The Suns were fortunate that Denver couldn't keep their momentum.
The scoring bounced back and forth for much of the 4th quarter. Markieff Morris had a career high 25 points with eight minutes to go. He was hot. And then he showed how focused he was by dumping off a pass to Miles Plumlee for an easy layup rather than driving into a charge call.
The Suns finally grabbed a 5-point lead at 100-95 on a 3 by the other Morris. Really, these last three games are what the prior regime thought they might be getting when they acquired the Morrii. These guys are such a mismatch because they can move, dribble, shoot and make shots while rebounding and defending on the other end. When they are engaged. Somehow, Hornacek has them engaged more than any prior NBA coach could do. Maybe it's the Kendall Marshall trade/release. Maybe it's just them growing up. Or maybe it's the right coaching. Whatever it is, I like these Morrii.
In the end, the Suns regrouped and finished the game on a high after dropping to a 10-point deficit. The crowd was quite excited, spurred on by inspired Suns basketball.
As the Phoenix Suns (3-2) got up shots and ran through the gameplan for tonight's game against the Denver Nuggets (1-3), two special guests decided to fly by. Literally. Two birds broke into the arena and were flying around.
One time they even got bold enough to fly low near the court and by the watching media contingent.
That was the highlight of practice today, but for more on the Suns and what happened today in practice here is the full Practice Report:
Both Goran Dragic and Coach Hornacek seemed positive about the injury recovery. It has only been four days, but after getting some shots up and running a lot (with varied speeds, stops, and motions) he is getting back to being Goran.
"It is probably not 100%, but he is a tough kid," Coach Hornacek said after practice. "Most likely if he is going I will probably start him."
This injury happened once before in pre-season as well, with an ironic return against the Denver Nuggets, the same team that is in town tonight. This injury is unrelated and Goran does not feel he came back too soon, "I was feeling fine, no pain."
What caused the injury? "New shoes. I did it twice (injured his ankle) in black shoes. I don't know if I don't know how to walk, but it didn't happen in the past so that is why I changed my shoes." New, white shoes in toe hopefully this is the last of ankle injuries. Come on Adidas, time for the Crazy Dragons!
Without Goran the Suns went 1-1 averaging 100 points per game and giving up 98.5 on the defensive end. In replacing Goran over the past two games Gerald Green has stepped up with 16.5 points per game making NINE total three-point shots.
...and more. Goran Dragic is expecting his first child in eight days, in that span the Suns play four games and he would be home for the birth in a perfect world before heading on the road to face the Sacramento Kings.
The last one off the court at today's shoot-a-round... Archie Goodwin. These are generally lite walkthroughs with points of emphasis on the game. No matter the context it was nice to see the rookie remain on the court as the coaching staff, players, and media all left, with a shooting coach or two hanging around to catch rebounds of course.
His shot is still a work in progress, but with the assistance of shooting coaches and assistants he is beginning to remove the hitch from his jumper.
It is also getting clearer and clearer when he is going to make a shot and when he reverts back to the inconsistent release with an aggressive hitch. The staff is getting the ball back over his head and not off to the side which is a positive as well.
For those that that Archie GODwin was going to come out this season and make an immediate impact as a Rookie of the Year candidate, that was a little premature, but he has progressed since Training Camp.
Strength and physicality is still a major concern for him as he transitions to the NBA. It is easy to describe Archie, he is an 18 year old. Physically, mentally, and all around, he is an 18 year old. That is not a bad thing, in fact it is a positive, and because that means all of his best moments are still to come.
The teams' performance without one of their captain's, Goran Dragic:
"When Goran went down I thought we were in big trouble, but I have always told our guys to be ready. You never know what is going to happen and guys stepped up. We feel we have guys across the board that if somebody does go down we can pick it up for them."
More Coach Hornacek on the team running enough:
"For me, unless we are scoring 140 we are not pushing it. I think sometimes we are settling. Some groups are running groups and with Channing (Frye), we still should be a running group, with him trailing the play. When Goran went out that seemed to slow it at least for the starting group."
On Markieff Morris playing more like a power forward lately:
"We always want our opposite big to roll to the basket. If you are setting a screen, roll to the basket, if you are the other guy work yourself down there so you can get offensive rebounds, put-backs, and that is when you get fouled. We need to get more free-throws. It is good to get three-pointers, but when we don't get those threes we have to get to the basket"
There is nothing locked in right now, but after each team has played ten or more games you can take this more seriously. The Suns own four potential first round picks through various sources and they are being looked after by three other teams at the moment. How are the surrogates doing?
Washington Wizards (1-3): T-No. 3 Overall With that the pick would remain in the Nation's Capital.
Minnesota Timberwolves (3-2): T-No. 19 Overall
Phoenix Suns (3-2): T-No. 19 Overall
Indiana Pacers (5-0): No. 30th Overall
This scenario gives the team three first round picks, none in the lottery, and most important -- none in the Top 2 of the 2014 NBA Draft. Check out NBA Draft Insider for more on the upcoming draft, profiles, rankings, and notes as the season progresses. Once the NBA has hit the collective 10 game mark then look for more individual prospect info on this section.
The Phoenix Suns return home from a 3-game roadie to host the discombobulated Denver Nuggets, who are struggling to find themselves as a team with a new GM, new coach and new emphasis on playing style.
I had a great email exchange with Nate Timmons, editor of SB Nations's DenverStiffs.com on the current state of the Nuggets.
Now that the Nuggets are 1-3, people are asking a lot of questions. The roster doesn't totally seem to fit the style yet, but Brian Shaw also isn't liking what he has seen. People think he doesn't want to run, but I spoke with him, at length, about how he does want to run and use the altitude to his team's advantage, but how he also wants a good half-court and defensive team. The word around Denver is "patience", but I'm not sure people are wanting to see the franchise continue on with the parallels to the Suns (who have spent years re-tooling and re-building).
For more on the Nuggets, including where they go from here, check out the whole interview.
Sure seems like the Suns and Nuggets have switched places this off season. While the Nuggets have fallen into disarray, the skies seem to have cleared for the Suns. Coming off a close loss to the Spurs in which they left the Spurs impressed, the Suns now have a chance to go 4-2 on the backs of their defense and opportunistic offense.
Somehow, the Suns defense is still 7th in the NBA despite allowing 15 4th-quarter points to Tony Parker, while their offense is good with fast breaks it's not a fast offense overall (still just 14th in pace, or number of possessions per game).
Goran Dragic and Alex Len are both still day-to-day with ankle issues, and would only be a boon if they play. Still, the Suns have played well without them this week, and should still be able to carry the torch if they miss another game.
What really stands out is that the Suns are much better at creating turnovers and playing defense, in general, while the Nuggets have been tremendous on three-point shooting. What's been a bear in the past has been 3-pt defense, but the Suns are now 9th in the league at defending 3-pt shots (32.6%), so that will be interesting to see.
Only Ty Lawson plays big minutes for them. The Nuggets rotate a lot of guys through, and Andre Miller and Nate Robinson are just as likely to get burn on the wing as anyone else. In the front court, it's just as likely that Faried will start ahead of Hickson, or that Anthony Randolph will get more burn than Hamilton.
Clearly the key matchup is the point guard battle between young Eric Bledsoe and the guy he's trying to outplay to get a richer contract, Ty Lawson. Bledsoe is bigger, but otherwise Lawson is just as quick and strong with a bit better shooting stroke and three years of starting games in the playoffs under his belt.
Both guys stat lines are remarkably similar:
With Denver coming off an emotional, hard-fought win last night while the Suns came home yesterday to rest from an exhilarating roadie, it looks like the Suns will have the advantage in energy tonight.
Guessing the Suns win 103-95.