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Suns Strokes: Phoenix responds to Jeff Hornacek’s comments, beats Pelicans

Phoenix Suns center Alex Len (21) dunks over New Orleans Pelicans center Omer Asik during the third quarter ofan NBA basketball game, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Phoenix. The Suns won 104-88. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

PHOENIX — Called “a little soft” by the head coach a day after a 25-point loss to the defending champions, the Phoenix Suns responded.

Eric Bledsoe led six players in double figures to beat New Orleans, 104-88, in front of 17,227 at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Friday night.

Bledsoe scored a game-high 29 points on 12-of-17 shooting. He added a game-best nine assists plus four rebounds and two steals to help erase the memory of a season-low six-point performance at Golden State on Wednesday.

The Suns, who had lost three of four, got double-doubles from both Alex Len (19 points and 13 rebounds) and Jon Leuer (12 and 10), while Markieff Morris (13 points), Brandon Knight (10) and T.J. Warren (10) reached double-digits.

Len capped his night with his first made 3-pointer of the season.

For the Suns (12-16), it was their first win in three tries against the Pelicans, who got a team-high 16 points from Anthony Davis, seven points below his season average. He and second-leading scorer Ryan Anderson shot a combined 5-of-15.

The Pelicans (7-19) made only 36.6 percent of their field goal attempts.

The Suns, meanwhile, shot 52.4 percent.

Forty turnovers were committed by the two teams.

THE GOOD

A second straight 28-point first quarter Suns effort was highlighted by Bledsoe’s team-high 11 points (5-of-8 FG, 1-of-2 3s) and four assists plus one rebound and one steal. He accounted for 13 points during a 17-4 run in which the Suns turned a five-point deficit into an eight-point lead. Bledsoe’s 17-foot jump shot made it 21-13 at 1:58.

After four straight DNP-Coach’s Decisions, Morris was the first Suns sub off the bench. He checked in at the 6:08 mark. Five minutes later he hit a 16-foot jump shot and then nailed a 3, his first since Nov. 27 to beat the first-quarter buzzer. Morris scored eight points on 3-of-5 shooting (2-of-2 3s) and a rebound in eight first-half minutes.

It was an efficient first half for Len. He made 6-of-8 shots and 1-of-2 free throws for a total of 13 points, joining Bledsoe (17) as the only Suns players in double figures at the break. Len also had a game-high nine rebounds, six in the first quarter, with four of those coming on the offensive glass. He added two steals and an assist in 14 minutes.

Twice in the third quarter, the Suns pushed their advantage to 17 points, their largest lead of the game. Bledsoe hit a 17-foot step-back jump shot at 7:24 (65-48), while P.J. Tucker made 1-of-2 free throws at 4:01 (70-53). The Suns were 10-of-20 from the field in the period, making them 50 percent or better in each of the first three quarters.

Len recorded his third double-double of the season, finishing one shy of his career-high in each category, and 13th of his career. He also had one block to set a new career-high with his 11th consecutive game recording at least one rejection. Meanwhile, Leuer had his fifth double-double of the season and seventh of his career.

THE BAD

Before the game even tipped off, the Pelicans suffered a loss. Backup center Alexis Ajinca strained his left calf during pregame warmups and was ruled out. Thus, he had a front row seat to watch his team record nearly as many made field goals (six) as turnovers (five) in the first quarter. New Orleans shot 6-of-21 in the opening period.

It was again one of those nights for Knight. He missed his first four shot attempts before making a 22-foot jump shot at 5:29 of the second quarter. Knight was 1-of-5, including 0-of-2 on 3s, through the first two quarters and he committed three turnovers. As a team, the Suns coughed the ball up 12 times in the first half.

Once pitched by the Suns to be their “cornerstone”, Eric Gordon struggled mightily. He missed nine of his first 10 shot attempts and was just 2-of-9 from beyond the arc. Gordon, though, made 9-of-11 foul shots to help account for his 15 points. As a team, the Pelicans made 32 free throws (on 38 attempts), 22 more than the Suns.

Refusing to go away quietly, the Pelicans pulled to within 10, 83-73, at the 8:41 mark of the fourth quarter. At that point, Jrue Holiday had scored all nine of New Orleans’ points and was actually outscoring the Suns, 9-8, through the first four-plus minutes of the period. Holiday finished the game with 14 points on 4-of-13 shooting (1-of-6 3s).

STAT OF THE GAME

26: The number of field goals the Suns allowed, establishing a new opponent season-low and the fewest they have allowed since Jan. 6, 2012, vs. Portland when the Trail Blazers made 25 field goals.

HE SAID IT

“We were more aggressive tonight,” said head coach Jeff Hornacek, who earned his 99th win with the Suns. “We had a good practice the other day, and again, that’s not an excuse, but we haven’t had a lot of chances to have a good, hard practice during this stretch. I thought that helped us, it carried over. We may have fouled quite a bit, but we were aggressive. They got a lot of free throws, but still they were at 88 points because we challenged all the other shots and got up to guys. For us to win we got to play that way. It takes a lot of energy, it takes a lot of effort, but if you want to win that’s what you got to do.”

NOTED

– The Suns improved to 12-7 this season when scoring at least 100 points and 5-3 when allowing under 100 points.

– The Suns improved to 43-4 when shooting at least 50 percent from the field since Hornacek arrived.

– Phoenix was outscored 14-3 at the foul line in the first half and had 14 fewer attempts than the Pelicans.

– Tucker got T’d up at 2:37 of the second quarter, his second technical foul of the season.

– Tyson Chandler moved past Leroy Ellis (8,709) for 54th place on the NBA’s all-time rebounds list.

– An 8:30 scheduled tip-off was officially an 8:45 start thanks to ESPN’s broadcast of a prolonged Spurs-Clippers matchup. Dave Pasch and Mark Jackson worked the Phoenix broadcast.

– Ahead of their Saturday night concert at the arena, Motley Crue dummer Tommy Lee was among those sitting courtside.

UP NEXT

The brief two-game homestand ends with a visit from Jabari Parker, Greg Monroe and the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday, Dec. 20. Tip-off is scheduled for 3 p.m.—yes, an afternoon start—with pregame coverage beginning 30 minutes earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

This is the Bucks’ one and only appearance in the Valley this season.

The teams split the season series a year ago with each winning on the other’s home floor.

Milwaukee won the first matchup in Phoenix on a buzzer-beater by Khris Middleton and the Suns returned the favor with a 102-95 victory at BMO Harris Bradley Center on Jan. 6. On that night, Morris posted a double-double with 26 points and 10 rebounds, while Bledsoe added his own double-double of 10 points and 10 assists, helping the Suns rally from a fourth-quarter deficit.

Overall, the Suns have won 14 of the last 18 meetings with the Bucks.

At one point, the Suns had claimed a 24-straight wins at home against Milwaukee, the longest home win streak against a single opponent in franchise history.

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