PHOENIX — Consider the Suns’ season-opener properly disposed of.
The foul-plagued, defense-lacking, open-shot missing performance in Phoenix’s 111-95 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday was followed up by the Suns shoring up their defense and, for the most part, playing smart basketball in a 110-92 victory against the Portland Trail Blazers.
“I think all of us didn’t get much sleep after that first thing,” center Tyson Chandler said. “There’s not much more to say. We came out a lot more aggressive.”
The loss to Dallas fell mostly on a bad game from Phoenix’s starting lineup, but every one of the first five rebounded Friday night inside Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Guards Eric Bledsoe (22 points) and Brandon Knight (18 points) totaled 40 points on 28 shots opposed to Blazers guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum combining for 40 points on 42 shots.
“Our guards did an excellent job of setting the tone tonight,” Chandler said, “pushing the ball up the floor, getting into them defensively, getting to the rim, making their bigs come over and also loosening us up on the glass.”
The Suns followed an extended halftime due to Steve Nash’s Ring of Honor induction to put Portland away for good in the third quarter. Coach Jeff Hornacek’s team pulled away with their defense, forcing 11 turnovers that led to 17 points while scoring eight second-chance points in the third quarter.
Chandler finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds for his first Suns double-double, while Markieff Morris overcame a rough shooting night Wednesday to record 13 points and eight rebounds.
Meanwhile, Hornacek got his first chance to cut down the rotation. Jon Leuer recorded eight rebounds of the bench, T.J. Warren scored 17 points and point guard Ronnie Price gave brief but effective minutes.
Mirza Teletovic, Archie Goodwin and Devin Booker didn’t earn playing time until the final two minutes of the blowout.
– Tyson Chandler and the guards improved both their pick-and-roll defense and their fluidity of pick-and-roll plays on offense. In the first quarter, Knight got to the rim for layups twice and then found Chandler rolling to the rim for a stuff. Soon, it became evident the Blazers’ big men — Meyers Leonard and Mason Plumlee — struggled to defend the roller. Chandler led the Suns with 10 first quarter points as they took a 27-23 lead heading into the second frame. “Maybe it was the Steve Nash effect of being out there,” Hornacek said. “(The guards) made some great passes and Tyson finished on a couple and they had to foul him on others and he had to dunk it.”
– The defensive breakdowns that occurred in the opener were absent. Lillard went 2-for-6 and McCollum hit a single jumper in the first quarter as Phoenix trapped them and made the Portland guards pass out of it. The Suns held the Blazers to 35 percent shooting in the first quarter with solid rim protection and enough attention on the backcourt.
– Ronnie Price has a unique role. He earned two minutes of playing time to end the first half and forced two turnovers while scoring six quick points.
– Damian Lillard is a bad man. He was held to 13 points at the half but went off in the third quarter for nine points. Behind a number of Blazer turnovers, the Suns extended their 55-49 halftime lead to 83-69, but the Blazers remained within striking distance behind Lillard’s aggressive yet efficient quarter.
– Turnovers hurt the Suns in the second half. Twenty total led to 20 Blazers points.
HE SAID IT
“I just want to apologize to the guys. I’m not Brad Pitt.” — Steve Nash, on the special Suns socks with his likeness on them.
– Former Suns owner Jerry Colangelo to Steve Nash during the Ring of Honor ceremony: “Steve, you know I’m chairman of the basketball Hall of Fame? So I say this with no reservation: You will be a first-ballot electee.”
– Alvin Gentry, Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion were among the players that congratulated Nash on the Talking Stick Resort Arena video board during timeouts.
– Sonny Weems scored his first basket as a Sun in the second quarter, taking a dribble-handoff from Knight to the hoop for an and-one .
– Phoenix has won eight of its last nine home games against Portland.
Both teams travel to Portland where they will square off Saturday night at the Moda Center. Tip is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. MST and the game can be heard on Arizona Sports 98.7.
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