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Phoenix Suns’ bench play gives starters some much-needed rest

PHOENIX — Most NBA teams, at least the good ones, do not have to rely on strong bench play to be successful. It’s not needed. The combined talent among the starters is more than enough to make up for a lack of production by the reserves.

The Suns are not one of those teams.

To be successful, the Suns must get positive contributions from all of their players.

“Well, they’re big,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said of the bench. “There’s going to be times when we need our starters to play big minutes. We’ve had a tough schedule recently. We’re going to hit March and March is going to be an even bigger emphasis on having that bench play well for us to give those guys minutes. You can’t play 82 games with five guys. It’s a whole team game.”

It was the bench that helped lead the Suns to a 117-103 win against Denver Sunday.

The collection of Leandro Barbosa, Alex Len, Marcus and Markieff Morris as well as Ish Smith outperformed their counterparts in points (55-35), rebounds (24-10) and assists (11-1). Plus that unit was on the floor the entire fourth quarter — aside from Channing Frye’s two-and-a-half minutes of court time — to outscore the Nuggets, 33-24.

“We finished good. We kept the tempo up,” Markieff Morris said.

It was the third time against Denver and fourth time this season that the Suns’ bench scored better than 50 points in a game.

“They deserved to be in there at the end. They carried it the rest of the way,” Hornacek said.

The Suns have the fifth-best bench in the NBA, scoring nearly 37 points per game (36.9). They are one of only three teams with winning records to have their bench play ranked in the top 10, joining San Antonio (No. 1, 45.4 points per game) and Memphis (No 10, 33.5 points per game).

“They have been there for us a lot of time this year,” Frye said of the Suns’ second unit. “That is great that they got those minutes to get there and guys like Goran (Dragic) who are constantly throwing their body around and falling all over the ground and stuff, get some rest.”

Dragic certainly needed the break.

Having logged the most minutes of any of his teammates this season—and more than 37 minutes per game since Eric Bledsoe has been out, he appreciated the front row seat to the win.

“It was good,” said Dragic, who played a season-low 24 minutes. “Guys played great. It means a lot if (the bench) can close the game. It was nice. Me and (P.J.) Tucker, we were sitting next to each other and we were talking, ‘Man, I don’t know when was the last time we sit out the fourth quarter and just watched.’ It was good.”