The Phoenix Suns are the league's second most inexperienced NBA team, so 1-4 road trips can be expected. But the Suns veteran leaders - Gerald Green, Channing Frye and Goran Dragic - are keeping the team on an even keel.
Last night's win over the struggling Los Angeles Lakers was a great way to relieve the stress of 1-4 road trip capped by losing the last three games by a combined total of 12 points.
"We needed this one," Channing Frye said after the win. "It was a tough trip but we're home now. It's a good time to get that grit back in our game."
It helps that the Lakers have decided against defending their opponents, allowing an average of more than 120 points per game to their last six opponents.
The Suns scored 121 - just two points shy of their season high (123) against Friday's opponent the Dallas Mavericks. The Suns made 49 field goals (only 4 were three pointers) in 100 attempts (only 19 were three-point attempts) - both the makes and attempts were season highs.
This after the Suns shot just 41% on a dismal 5-game road trip, with more than 30% of those attempts being clanked threes.
"We started attacking the rim," Frye said. "We need to be aggressive. And get out and run."
Of himself he said, "I can't just be out there being a stupid non-making jump shooter." Frye scored 20 points in the game, making 8 of 14 shots inside the arc, to go along with 2 steals, an assist, 8 rebounds, and a block.
Shooting guard Gerald Green recovered from a crazy bad shooting night in New York to score a season high 28 points on only 18 shots, with a 5 of those shots being three-point attempts.
"I wasn't settling for my jumper tonight," Green said. "Coach didn't tell me not to shoot the ball, but I just tried not to take as many threes."
Green still stews over the Monday night loss to New York, where the Suns forced overtime and eventually lost by two points. In that game, Green played 42 minutes, but missed 14 of 16 attempts.
"I feel like I let my teammates down in New York," he said. "Even if I would have been 4-16, we'd win the game. That's a horrible, horrible shooting day. I probably shouldn't have played that much (42 minutes), maybe we would have won. But I just tried to do everything I could to help my teammates."
But his coach didn't lose an ounce of confidence in Green. It's a testament to Hornacek's trust in Green that he still played so many minutes despite missing badly on nearly every shot he took. Pregame, Hornacek told reporters he's been in Green's ear to keep shooting. Green responded by making 12 of 18 shots, with 10 of those makes inside of 15 feet from the basket. It helped that he often got switched onto former Sun Kendall Marshall, making post ups an easy proposition.
"It feels great to have somebody with the confidence in me enough to continue to try to make plays," Green said of his caoch. "Especially after all I've been through."
Green has played for 7 different NBA teams in 8 NBA seasons, and wasn't even signed during two season (2008-2010) as he bounced around Europe and the NBA D-league.
"Me and Coach Hornacek have a great relationship," he continued. "We are always talking on and off the court. His wife and my girl are constantly talking. I think that started off the court, us building a relationship. I'm trying to do everything he asks me to do."
Hornacek said in the preseason that he loved Green's attitude, not caring about his minutes or his starts - just caring about being a good teammate and doing whatever the coach needs.
"If he asks me to run through a brick wall," Green said. "I'm going to run through it. He's given me an opportunity I've never gotten before, so I don't want to do anything to let him down."
It's players like Green that help the Suns stay grounded during good and bad times. A young, inexperienced team is going to have ups and downs all season long. It's what they do with those ups and downs that will shape the season, and the franchise as a whole.
The Suns leaders this year are Goran Dragic (28), P.J. Tucker (28), Channing Frye (30) and Gerald Green (28). They are the veterans, and their attitude is rubbing off on the younger players.
When rookie Alex Len committed a hard foul on Nick Young, the entire team came to Len's defense when Young came up swinging. By contrast, three of the Lakers stayed clear of the action, leaving Young to feel like he was being ganged up on with no one in his corner. Rookie Ryan Kelly was at least in the area. Under the basket, he had Suns fans behind him and a wall of Suns in front of him - Marcus Morris, Markief Morris and Goran Dragic along with Len.
"You mess with one of us, it's all of us," Green said. "Everybody (including him) wanted to get off the bench but we didn't want to get fined. Big shout out to the rookie Len, I don't think it was intentional. Hopefully the NBA doesn't do anything but if they do I'll take care of it."
By "take care of it", he means he intends to pay Len's fine. His agent will probably remind him today that Len makes more money than Green this season. But to Green, it's more about the principle than the cash.
Green backs his teammate. As do the rest of the guys. Young later said he regrets the whole thing, but felt cornered by the Suns wall with no one on his side defending him.
"I got caught up in the moment like anyone would," Young said. "It was a tough foul. What I’m mad about is it was one on five I felt like and if somebody would have gotten in the middle it wouldn’t have escalated that much. It is what it is; it’s basketball."
Newest Laker Kendall Marshall, seen standing at mid-court with hands on hips, later said he didn't step in because he didn't want to get T'd up, and that he didn't support Young's overreaction. Young and Len were ejected, while Marcus Morris got a T for pushing Young away from Len.
This collective Suns attitude is how the league's second most inexperienced team has only had two losing streaks of 3+ games all season and went six weeks between losing streaks of even two games.