PHOENIX, Ariz. — For a first impression, the Phoenix Suns failed to impress.
Sure, there were some bright spots in the preseason opener against Brazilian club team Flamengo. Isaiah Thomas’ 18 second half points off the bench comes to mind, even Eric Bledsoe’s 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting or Marcus Morris’ 10-point, seven rebound, four steal performance.
But for the most part, the team left a lot to be desired in the 100-82 win on Wednesday.
“You step out on the court, you should think it’s a big game, and that’s probably what drove me nuts,” said head coach Jeff Hornacek afterwards, pointing to the slow starts in both the first and third quarters as well as the 21 turnovers.
The effort was lacking, according to the second-year head coach.
And yes, it may have been only the first preseason game, and a preseason game against a non-NBA opponent at that, but more was certainly expected from a Suns team that returns 10 players off a 48-win season, missing the playoffs by one game.
“How do you not play this game with effort every night,” Hornacek asked, rhetorically. “The great players do it. Great players go out there and play hard every night. You should want to go out there and give it your all. It’s a fun game to play when you’re laying it all out there. That’s what we expect from these guys.
A little more than 15 hours later at practice, Hornacek, while still frustrated, was more even-keeled.
“It wasn’t as bad as I thought,” he said, upon reviewing the film. “When I see the same things happening over and over by the same guys that’s when you tend to get a little more frustrated. But overall, I think it was better than maybe I thought while it was going on.”
The Suns play preseason game No. 2 on Friday, this time against a more familiar opponent, the Denver Nuggets. Facing their equal should not only help ramp up their play, but give the Suns a better idea of where they stand less than three weeks until games are played for real.
The focus, according to Hornacek, is lower turnovers and less fouling. Against Flamengo, the Suns committed 27 personal fouls, four short of their season-high last year.
“We’ve got to be able to contest shots, guard guys without fouling,” he said.
And play with a sense of urgency each and every game, even in the preseason.
“We’ve got to bring it every game,” Bledsoe said.
Added Thomas, who was not a member of the team a year ago, “we just can’t come into a game and think we’re going to win. We’ve just got to bring it at all times because we’re not going to sneak up on anybody this year. Everybody is going to be ready to play us and we’ve got to be ready to go out there and get a win.”
Falling one win short of the playoffs a year ago should be reason enough, according to P.J. Tucker, to muster energy and motivation for all 82 regular season games this year.
“We need to let guys know that’s the reason why we didn’t make the playoffs last year because a couple of games that we didn’t come out to play that really cost us the season, as good as we played,” he said. “For a team like (Flamengo) to come out and give us a fight like that makes guys wake up and say, ‘hey, we definitely got to play every single night in this league.’ ”
Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, the Morris twins — Marcus and Markieff — and Miles Plumlee started against Flamengo. Hornacek, though, even before the preseason opener, hinted at changing his first five, at least in the first couple of games. That now takes on even greater significance given that unit’s showing on Wednesday.
“We’re going to go with the best group out there,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s five point guards. If those guys are going to play hard and help each other out and rebound and go and move the ball, then those guys will be out there. If it’s five bigs, then we’ll put five bigs out there. It doesn’t matter. Whatever team is going to play the best.
“We’re trying to push these guys. In the West this year if you’re not bringing it every night, you can forget about the playoffs. We got to continue to get on them and try to push them to that next level.”