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New Phoenix Suns’ coaching staff holding players accountable on defense

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — At first glance, the numbers do not look good. Actually, on second, third and fourth glances, the numbers do not look good. In fact, they look downright awful.

(Not so) breaking news: The 2012-13 Phoenix Suns were not a good defensive team!

“I didn’t think they played very good defense at all,” first-year head coach Jeff Hornacek said after he reviewed last year’s film. “It almost looked like it was a matchup zone that they never got out to the guys. They weren’t physical with players. It almost looked like they were afraid to get beat off the dribble.”

The reason, according to P.J. Tucker, was both a lack of execution and awareness.

“We were always a half-step late,” he said.

The numbers back Tucker’s claim.

The Suns ranked 25th in opponent’s field goal percentage (47.0), and 27th in opponent’s scoring (101.6).

Defense, or the lack thereof, was not the sole reason why the team’s brass made wholesale coaching and front office changes in the offseason. But, defense was a theme in who was hired, starting with Hornacek, whose philosophy was influenced by his seven seasons in Utah playing for Jerry Sloan.

“A little more physical, getting after the guy, putting pressure on guys and not just giving them a free reign when they want to go somewhere,” Hornacek said of how he wants his team to play defense.

His staff is also a reflection of that mantra, specifically the addition of Mike Longabardi, who coordinated one of the better defenses in the league when he was on the Boston Celtics’ staff.

“He holds everybody accountable — every play, every time, from top to bottom, no matter who it is,” Tucker said of Longabardi. “He’ll stop (practice) 10 times in a row if he’s got to. I think the main thing about our defense is holding everybody accountable.”

Defensively, the Suns want to do three things: Protect the paint, defend without fouling and defend the three. There was no team worse at defending the three-point line than the Suns, who allowed teams to shoot 38.8 percent from behind the arc last season.

“Not giving up any corner threes. We don’t come out of the corner to help for anything,” Tucker said of the team’s new strategy.

A roster that, at least on paper, is better defensively should also help improve upon last season’s inadequacies.

The Suns appear to be stronger inside with the additions of Alex Len and Miles Plumlee; plus, the acquisition of Eric Bledsoe means more ball pressure up front.

“On defense, it starts from the point guard,” said Bledsoe, who led all guards in block shots per game. “Defense wins games. We have to get stops in order to get out in transition and run.”

The Suns’ prized offseason addition has been impressive already in training camp, according to Tucker.

“He takes it to another level,” Tucker said. “I’m excited about playing, being in a game with him — picking people up and turning people over.

“I think we’ve got a chance to be good defensively.”

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