Over a nine-game losing streak, the Phoenix Suns allowed an NBA-worst 50.4 percent shooting. No opponent shot below 45 percent from the field.
After nixing practice in place of a team bowling excursion this week, the Suns’ defensive effort Wednesday was the most promising thing to see beyond Devin Booker’s first career double-double — he joined Wizards guard Bradley Beal as the only teenage guard to ever produce such a thing — and coach Jeff Hornacek’s 100th victory.
The Suns held the Hornets to 43.7 percent shooting in the 111-102 victory, playing their best defense in Charlotte’s 30-percent shooting second quarter and again in its 17-point fourth quarter.
Phoenix’s decision to move guard Ronnie Price into the starting lineup hinted as positive things to come.
Price owned the only positive plus-minus on the Suns over the course of their nine-game losing streak, and he again had the best plus-minus (plus-6) of the Phoenix starters against Charlotte.
He and forward P.J. Tucker were often pushing Hornets perimeter players far behind the three-point line, even if they were curling off high off-ball screens.
Tucker’s diving save after re-establishing himself from initially saving a ball from going out of bounds in the second half led to an easy Suns score and highlighted their extra effort on the night. So did the forward’s return from a thigh bruise to hit a corner three that helped Phoenix put the game away in the closing minutes.
While Hornacek’s observation that his team hit a wall of fatigue of late could be viewed as a problem for every NBA team, the Suns’ legs never tired as Charlotte cut a double-digit Phoenix lead to take a five-point advantage late in the third quarter.
Oh, and that three-point shooting, which hit a season-high 19 shots on 33 attempts, might be more proof the legs were back under the Suns.
“You feel confident once you defend,” forward Mirza Teletovic told the media after the game. “Everybody was sharing the ball and then the confidence just goes up and then you make those shots, easy.”
SHOT DISTRIBUTION STARTS WITH KNIGHT
Brandon Knight has taken flak this season but his performance Wednesday was as controlled as he’s been in some time.
He went 7-of-15 from the floor and added seven assists. Between an early first-quarter turnover and a late turnover and late ugly jumper, he didn’t force the issue beyond his abilities.
In all, the Suns closed with 25 assists on 41 makes with the right players getting the right amount of shot attempts. Many times, it was aggression and passing out of trouble that led to threes.
The only troubling part of it is that Phoenix surely can’t survive most games hitting 40 percent at the rim — it totaled just 24 points in the paint — and relying on perimeter play.
“We try to tell them when they drive, they should know where everybody is, so when two guys come, they can make the right pass,” Hornacek said afterward. “I thought our guys did that, and that’s why we were getting those threes.
“It gets to a point at times when you’re kind of telling them, ‘that was the wrong time to shoot that one.’ But again, they played to win, they didn’t play not to lose and that was great.”
This wasn’t Sunday, when a team that lost its No. 1 offensive threat, Eric Bledsoe, only gave bucket-getter T.J. Warren three attempts against the Lakers.
Warren went 7-of-14 from the field for 17 points, while Booker went 7-of-13 for the same amount. Giving those two players looks isn’t about letting the young players play. It very well could be the best option for the Suns to win now.
And to be clear, Teletovic only hitting six of his team-high 17 attempts wasn’t much of an issue. A Teletovic miss adds spacing for the Suns and worry for the opponents — in other words, it’s much, much more valuable than most other players’ missed shots.
IT’S OK NOT TO FORCE CENTER PRODUCTION
Some nights, it’s smart not to force things.
Alex Len’s hand injury hasn’t helped matters, but the Suns’ lack of post production continued to stick out with he and starting center Tyson Chandler each playing 14 minutes on Wednesday.
Len picked up three fouls in a matter of two minutes in the third quarter to finish with no points and two rebounds. Chandler scored seven points, catching a pretty lob from Knight once and getting to the foul stripe twice.
To be sure, Phoenix’s big lineups struggled to match up with the Hornets’ small-ball lineup of P.J. Hairston, Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller as the frontcourt starters — for goodness sake, Jon Leuer was eating the young center Zeller alive on offense.
“Some nights the bigs are going to have an effect, some nights they’re not. They had some smaller guys in there with Marvin at the four,” Hornacek told the media after the win.
Long rebounds hurt Phoenix even more with Charlotte living early on the offensive glass, but the positive news is that the Suns’ small lineups managed to play enough defense with switching and solid recovering to hold Charlotte to 6-for-19 (32 percent) three-point accuracy after a hot-shooting (5-for-9) first quarter from deep.