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Empire of the Suns Round Table: Road trip expectations

Brooklyn Nets guard Bojan Bogdanovic defends Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe, left, in the second half of an NBA basketball game at the Barclays Center, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in New York. The Nets defeated the Suns 94-91. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

This week’s round table features Jon Bloom, Bryan Gibberman and Kevin Zimmerman.

1. After a 1-1 start to the road trip what do the Suns need to come home with for it to be considered a success?

Jon Bloom: If they can win four of six, they’ll have to be extremely pleased returning home at 11-11. But I think at this point splitting the last four in Detroit, Washington, Memphis and Chicago is more likely. It’s more than just the wins and losses that determine success right now though, as this team needs to return to playing consistent defense and the first two games are a good start. It would also be nice to get Tyson Chandler back to let Jeff Hornacek establish a more regular rotation up front.

Bryan Gibberman: Dropping Tuesday night’s game against the Nets really hurts. Yes, Brooklyn has been playing better of late, but getting off to a 2-0 start would have been huge. A win versus the Pistons Wednesday is essential. At worst, they need to go 3-3 and with the Grizzlies perking back up that’s going to be a tough one. Coming back home two games under .500 with three winnable matchups isn’t a terrible spot to be in. At some point they have to show more consistency.

Kevin Zimmerman: Either a winning record or, for fans of moral victories, anything to hang their hats on. From late game situations, to shooting, to defense, nothing about this team has become its identity. There are too many inconsistencies across the board, and it’s not fair to put the onus completely on Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight to have efficient, 25-point games every night. Phoenix needs to find a go-to that, if executed on a given night, provides a very good winning percentage. So far, Jeff Hornacek’s crew hasn’t found any aspect — statistical or otherwise — to lean on.

2. Why has the defense not lived up to the high expectations thus far?

JB:  It’s been clear that when Tyson Chandler isn’t out there, this team suffers from similar defensive communication problems as it did last season. Alex Len has had solid stretches, as has Markieff Morris, but overall the consistent play hasn’t been where they’d like it to be. Still, the defense is improved and can get a lot better, which is encouraging. As an aside, games against the human cheat code and the champs shouldn’t count towards season statistics anyway.

BG:  Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight are creating breakdowns and forcing others to clean up the mess. Knight doesn’t do a great job containing dribble penetration and Bledsoe’s off-ball defense needs a lot of work. When he’s out there watch what he’s doing instead of following the ball and you can see what I’m talking about. I’ll have an extended article on this in the near future.

KZ:  It’s a number of things. Even when healthy, Tyson Chandler has not looked as spry on defense as he has in the past, the team’s overall effort has been spotty at times and Hornacek has continued to give his younger players opportunities. Add it together and there are nights when other teams just get hot.

3. Who has been the Suns best bench player this season?

JB: It’s not just his numbers (nearly 13 ppg and 4 rpg), but it’s the efficiency T.J. Warren is playing with that makes him such a valuable piece to the puzzle for the Suns. I love what both Jon Leuer and Mirza Teletovic are bringing to the frontcourt, but T.J. is so difficult to stop due to his creativity and unorthodox scoring style. He has also improved dramatically on the defensive end and doesn’t turn the ball over very often either.

BG: Despite not doing it for an extended time, I’m going with Mirza Teletovic. His quick release from three is deadly, and even as his shooting regresses to the mean, that’s nothing to blink at. He also has a little bit of versatility I didn’t expect — shooting on the move, plus a simple but effective ability to leverage his three-point shot into other looks.

KZ: T.J. Warren and Jon Leuer easily top this list, but I’ll give Warren the lead because he’s more of a game-changer. While Leuer has been solid on defense and had surprising offensive production here and there, Warren is the one who is likely showing up on opposing scouting report and causing teams to pay attention, helping players like Leuer and Mirza Teletovic get open enough to get hot from three-point range.

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