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Playmaking better suits Phoenix Suns’ Tyler Ulis as a starter

Phoenix Suns guard Tyler Ulis, right, holds off New York Knicks guard Jarrett Jack (55) during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, at Madison Square Garden in New York. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

PHOENIX – Unless forced because of injury, Jay Triano had not made a change to his starting lineup due to either matchup or performance since taking over as interim head coach of the Phoenix Suns three weeks ago.

That ended Saturday.

Triano swapped point guards, starting Tyler Ulis over Mike James, in an effort to increase the bench scoring. The Suns also had lost a season-high five straight games and perhaps a lineup change would help get the team back on track.

The decision paid off as the Suns beat Minnesota, 118-110.

The decision also had a secondary result. It put Ulis in a more familiar role

“Starting off the game gives you a better rhythm, especially starting with guys like T.J. (Warren) and Book (Devin Booker) who can score at will,” he said, “so that helps me to play my game a little more; be able to just run the offense and let things come to me.”

With Booker and Warren on the wings, Ulis had five assists, his best effort in four games and his third-highest total of the season.

A year ago, Ulis thrived as a starter, averaging 8.5 assists in 15 starts compared to 2.2 assists in 46 games as a reserve.

“With the second unit, I felt like they needed me to score a little more. With this group,” he said, referring to the starters, “I can score when I need to.”

The Suns like the different skill-sets Ulis and James bring to the team. Ulis is a pass-first point guard, while James will look for his shot more. His 12.4 points per game average is third-best on the team, which might be better served coming off the bench. The Suns’ second unit ranks in the lower third in scoring in the NBA.

And by his own admission, when it comes to putting the ball in the basket, Ulis has not been as consistent or efficient as he needs to be.

“That’s why (the second unit) didn’t play as well when I started missing shots and my shot wasn’t falling,” he said. “I needed to do so much more with that unit scoring-wise and my shot was off which was, I felt like, holding us back for the most part.”

Ulis began the season shooting 44.2 percent (19-of-43) from the field, but over the last seven games, he’s made only 25.9 percent (14-of-54, including 1-of-10 3-pointers) of his attempts.

Overall, Ulis is shooting 34 percent.

“Same looks, just they’re not falling. It’s basketball. It happens sometimes,” he said. “I’m not really worried about it. I’ll work on my game, I’ll get extra shots, so I know it’ll come. I just got to wait.”

Ulis will make his second-straight start on Monday against the L.A. Lakers.

It’s a block party

With five block shots on Saturday, forward Marquese Chriss tied his career high. His 18 total blocks on the season not only leads the team but is tied for the 14th-most in the NBA.

The Suns want Chriss blocking shots and at 6-10, he can provide much-needed rim protection. The trick, however, is knowing when to block shots.

“He tries to block shots when he’s the primary defender. I think most of those blocks came the other night when he was the secondary defender. A lot of that has to do with him understanding where he’s supposed to be at the defensive end of the floor; in the lane, locked and ready to help,” Triano said.

“We don’t want him jumping when he’s the primary defender because that’s when he gets in foul trouble and sometimes leaves his feet too often.”

Injury update(s)

Forward Jared Dudley missed a second-straight game after hurting his right knee last Friday against Miami. The injury is now being described as a contusion after first labeled a sprain. And center Greg Monroe continues to rehab from a left calf strain.

Derrick Jones Jr. and Alec Peters were also unavailable for the Lakers game. They were both with the Northern Arizona Suns of the NBA G League

FREE THROWS

— The Suns are inviting fans to come meet Ulis at Fry’s Food Stores in Phoenix on Wednesday, Nov. 15 from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. For details, check out suns.com/promos.

— The NAZ Suns made a pair of roster moves on Monday. They acquired forward Malik Dime, a former teammate of Chriss’ at the University of Washington. They also welcomed the transfer of forward Mike Young from the Washington Wizards, pursuant to the league’s flexible two-way rule.

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