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Early-season, late-game lessons for Phoenix Suns

PHOENIX — The losses were expected to come in bunches -— and they still might. But for now, almost three weeks into the season, the Phoenix Suns have just as many losses, three, as the defending NBA Champion Miami Heat.

The defeats have all come away from US Airways Center, where the Suns are 4-0; and have come against the top teams in the Western Conference. Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Portland are a combined 19-5 (.792) heading into play Thursday.

What to make of it all?

For starters, the Suns (5-3) have certainly been one of the early-season surprises, but more importantly, they have been competitive in every game. In fact, they along with undefeated Indiana are the only teams in the league to hold a fourth quarter lead in each of their games.

“We’re doing the right job. We just have to get better in some little things. I think that’s going to put us in the winning situations,” point guard Goran Dragic said.

In other words, finishing.

The three losses have been by a combined 11 points.

“The lesson we learned again last night (at Portland) is when you’re on the road -— we were up eight and we let Thomas Robinson get the tip dunk. Then all of a sudden the crowd is into it and now they’ve got a little momentum. We don’t run back the next time and they get a three. Tides can turn quickly in the NBA,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said of the 90-89 loss to the Trail Blazers.

“That was probably more likely they stole that game from us. But again, we just reiterated: You can’t look backwards. You can learn from it. We went through the tape and then after we watched the tape you get ready for the next game.”

The Suns’ next game comes Friday against a struggling Brooklyn Nets team that despite superstars Kevin Garnett, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Deron Williams is 2-5, losing all four of its games on the road.

Dragic is expected to play even though he continues to deal with some swelling above his left eye where 13 stitches closed a gash sustained when he and Mo Williams collided early in the fourth quarter.

Dragic’s absence has hurt the Suns this season, specifically maintaining a rhythm on offense.

“We’re not pushing the ball,” Hornacek said.

According to Dragic, who has played only two full games, they are taking much too long to get into their offense, often waiting until 14 seconds remained on the shot clock.

“That’s a big problem for us now,” he said. “If we fix that then it’s going to be much easier. Coach wants us to push the ball, try to run faster and try to find the open guy as soon as possible. I think that was the problem last game. We played too slow.”

Added Hornacek, “A lot of times what happens offensively is we’re playing so hard defensively, that maybe they don’t have enough energy to go back on the offensive end. It’s given us chances in games, so we’ll keep it that way until we can try to get both ways.”

One thing the Suns haven’t lacked is effort.

“All of the games have been pretty close,” Hornacek said. “When that happens you always feel good about your chances.”