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Markieff Morris returns to Suns rotation against Pelicans

Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris, right, looks to pass around San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker, of France, during the second half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015, in San Antonio. Phoenix won 104-84. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)

Play the Pelicans and you may be cured of what ails you.

The Phoenix Suns excelled on offense (52 percent shooting) against the 30th-ranked defense in the NBA and held New Orleans to 36 percent shooting in a 104-88 victory Friday night, but the biggest event was the return of forward Markieff Morris to the rotation.

It was a strong one at that.

Morris scored 13 points in 17 minutes while knocking down two three-point attempts.

“I’ve been off for a minute,” Morris told the media when asked about his shooting.

“It feels good. I had a lot of fun tonight, being out there with my teammates,” he added. “It’s next guy up. Jon and Mirza were playing really well before I was sent to the bench.”

Overall, his 5-of-13 shooting night doesn’t budge a problematic 38 percent shooting on the season, yet the fifth-year forward looked more comfortable than he did before missing the last five games altogether and playing seven minutes in the last seven outings.

“We need to get him back playing for us to have a little strength and toughness in there down low,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said after the game. “Whether he makes the post-up moves or not, it still puts pressure on the other team. And we’re able to set our defense a little bit better.”

Morris came off the bench behind starter Jon Leuer once again, but the pair played more seamlessly in place of each other on the defensive end. The Suns had lost their two previous games against the Pelicans by allowing 122 and 120 points total and allowed an average of 54 points to the forward combination of Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson, who shot 59 percent.

This time around, the Davis-Anderson duo was held to 5-of-15 shooting as Davis scored 15 and Anderson was held to three points, all on free throws.

It also helped that a relatively healthy Tyson Chandler and an engaged Alex Len gave solid efforts, as well.

Meanwhile, the Morris-Leuer combination used up almost all of the minutes that had gone to forward Mirza Teletovic. The three-point shooter played just three minutes Friday after Hornacek entered the game having told Morris he would be the first power forward off the bench.

What does the sudden appearance of Morris mean?

It’s hard to tell. There are several other reasons that Morris has yet to be traded after he was benched.

However, the gradual role change — Morris was first moved to the bench before receiving several DNP-Coaches Decisions — suggested this was truly Hornacek trying to play the hot hands, something he has maintained all along. Morris’ appearance against the Pelicans added to that belief.

If anything, Morris’ performance Friday shows why his trade value has remained despite his struggles.


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