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Phoenix Suns’ keys to success: Rebound, don’t turn over the ball

PHOENIX — It sounds simple enough. And perhaps it is.

If the Phoenix Suns are to be successful this season, and maybe even make the playoffs for the first time in five years, then they must excel in several areas, but none more important than 1) rebounding, especially on the defensive end, and 2) limiting turnovers.

Should the Suns succeed in those two facets, then they’ll succeed in placing more marks to the left of the won-loss column.

Of course the Suns will never be mistaken for an elite rebounding team, not with a roster that is more finesse than physical and likely to produce smaller lineups to take advantage of the team’s strength: its guard play.

“(Rebounding is) going to be the big key for us this season,” guard Goran Dragic said after practice Monday, two days ahead of the team’s season opener against the Los Angeles Lakers. “Especially if we’re going to play some games with three guards, then it’s going to be crucial to get those defensive rebounds. And when we get those, then we can run. Then it’s much easier for us.”

That means all five players on the floor rebounding.

When an opponent shoots the ball, it can’t just be the bigs who go after the miss.

“Our guards (have) got to be alert,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said. “If our guards are just out there watching the play, then we’re going to be in trouble. It’s as simple as that. They got to be engaged when the shot goes up. Heck, if I’m a running team and I wanted to run, I’d go get the rebound so I could just take off with it.”

The Suns want to push the pace, but that’s impossible without the ball in hand.

Last season, Phoenix ranked 13th in rebounding, but it allowed the ninth-most offensive rebounds of any team.

Offensive rebounds lead to extra possessions, which lead to fewer opportunities for the Suns to run.

“We’ll see the first couple of games of the season how big of a concern (rebounding) is for us,” forward Markieff Morris said. “We emphasize it all day at practice, and I think we’re getting better at it. Our guards have got to use their athleticism and sometimes come in (the paint to) snatch balls and get out running.”

Morris pointed to boxing out and being smarter contesting shots — “leaving your position when you know you can’t get the block,” he described — as ways for the team to improve its defensive rebounding.

Turnovers, meanwhile, are inevitable, especially given the Suns’ style of play. The key is avoiding a high number of them.

Phoenix turned the ball over more than 15 times a game last season, which ranked 26th in the league. That number ballooned to nearly 19 (18.9) a game in the just completed preseason.

“If we just hit the first guy — especially when you’re running — if you just hit the first guy and the next guy hits the open guy, and if you pass the ball to the open guy instead of waiting, you’re going to have (fewer) turnovers,” Hornacek said. “If we want to be a playoff team, you got to be at the 14-turnover mark. And you can’t get out-rebounded: We’re going to be small (and) we’re probably going to get out-rebounded, but as long as we keep (the margin) close, we feel that’s pretty good.”