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Suns’ Hornacek on recent performance: ‘It’s been a struggle’

Phoenix Suns' P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris and Eric Bledsoe, from left, sit on the bench late in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz on Monday, Dec. 21, 2015, in Salt Lake City. The Jazz won 110-89. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
LISTEN: Jeff Hornacek, Suns head coach

The cast of characters has looked a little different lately, but the results have been the same.

Phoenix Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek shuffled his lineup Monday night, inserting T.J. Warren and rookie guard Devin Booker into the starting five against the Utah Jazz. It didn’t quite work out the way he had hoped.

Utah jumped out to a 22-9 advantage before Hornacek’s first substitutions at the 5:34 mark of the opening quarter. The Jazz would lead wire-to-wire, by as many as 24 points, in their 110-89 victory at Vivint Smart Home Arena.

The loss was the Suns’ 13th in their last 19 games. They’ve fallen to 12-18 on the season and have Hornacek frustrated with what he’s seeing.

“It’s a struggle,” the third-year head coach told the Doug and Wolf Show Tuesday morning on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “This has been a tough stretch. We went out on the road and had a lot of games in a short period of time. For us, on our team, we need to be flying up and down the court, getting in that fast-break mode, and the guys just seem a little worn out right now.”

That’s partly what necessitated the change in the lineup.

“When you’re kind of doing the same thing game in, game out, and you’re not winning, we all felt that was a time for a little bit of change,” he said. “We thought with Devin and T.J. with that maybe that young enthusiasm and emotion might get us off to a decent start.

“We thought with Brandon (Knight) and P.J. (Tucker) coming in with the second group, maybe it would balance both of our teams — our bench team and our starters. It didn’t work out too well.”

Hornacek did like what he saw from Knight, who came off the bench for the first time all season and scored a team-high 26 points in 35 minutes. The coach noted that you can tell a lot about a player by how he responds to being asked to play a different role on a team.

“He did a great job,” Hornacek said. “He did the thing he always does. I thought the second group that was out there moved the ball well. They penetrated and kicked it out and got open shots. They got us back in the game.”

Another recent change in the Suns’ rotation has been the re-insertion of forward Markieff Morris. The forward logged seven minutes of playing time in a seven-game stretch earlier this month, but has averaged over 17 minutes off the bench in Phoenix’s last three games.

“We had talked to him and a good Markieff can help us win,” Hornacek said. “If he’s just going to go out there and not play well, it’s not going to help us out.”

Morris stood out in practice last week and got his chance to see playing time last Friday against New Orleans. He hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer at the end of the first quarter and scored 13 points in Phoenix’s 104-88 win over the Pelicans.

“He was OK (Monday), but we need him to step it up,” Hornacek said. “Jon (Leuer) and Mirza (Teletovic) and him are all kind of the same, so those three guys will continue to rotate the minutes.”

The Suns return home to Talking Stick Resort Arena to host the Denver Nuggets (11-16) Wednesday night. The game tips off at 7:00 p.m. and can be heard on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

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