PHOENIX — For a team with 10 new faces and a roster that is the second-most inexperienced in the NBA, the Suns, who were not expected to win much, won more than they lost through the first month of the season.
Their 9-8 record is ninth-best in the Western Conference; though if they resided in the East, they would trail only Indiana (16-1) and Miami (14-3) for top honors.
“I guess we can’t complain,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said. “We’re above .500 right now.”
The Suns are one of the early season surprises, while also at times puzzling to observers.
For example, they handed Portland, whose 14 wins are tied for the most in the conference, two of its three losses and battled Oklahoma City and San Antonio down to the wire before losing close games on the road.
Then there are the two defeats to Sacramento, which has only two other wins on the year, and a bad home loss to Utah, which had not won on the road before Saturday’s 112-104 victory at US Airways Center.
“I’m a little disappointed,” Gerald Green said. “I feel like our record should be a lot better than what it is now. At the end of the month we let a lot of games slip.”
The slippage, according to Green, is coming on the defensive end.
“We’re not doing the little things that we were doing in the beginning of the season,” he said, pointing to Utah’s 51.3 percent shooting, which was a Suns’ opponent season-high. “We just got to get back to the principles.”
Defense was made the priority during practice Monday, one of the few days Hornacek has had his team together on a non-gameday.
“We’ve had some breakdowns. It’s also we’ve had a stretch of, what, eight games in 12 days where we haven’t been able to practice,” he said. “We’ve just had little slip-ups and against teams in this league if you have little slip-ups they take advantage of it. Our slip-ups aren’t caused because they’re falling asleep. Sometimes it’s that over-help. We have certain guys that are supposed to help and we’ve had the wrong guys going to help. That puts you in a bind.”
The schedule offers no breaks in December.
The Suns will play 10 of their 13 games against teams with records at or above .500. The stretch begins with back-to-back road games, Tuesday at Memphis (8-8) and Wednesday at Houston (13-5).
“Two great teams in the West. Two teams that are probably going to the playoffs. It’s good to see where we’re at,” Green said. “One coach told always me, ‘Great teams win on the road.’ We’ve got to just keep trying to win most road games and protect the home court.”
Again, for all of their roller coaster first month moments, the Suns have opened the season better than most predicted.
“I’ll probably say it all year, but the guys are playing hard. They’re playing together. They’re learning,” Hornacek said. “We’ve made strides offensively in these last five or six games. Defensively we’ve stepped backwards, but hopefully at some point this season we get it all going and that’s how they play the rest of the year.”