Injury-plagued Suns hit road trip thinking big with Tyson Chandler, Alex Len

Jan 25, 2016, 1:29 PM

PHOENIX — It’s not as if coach Jeff Hornacek had a choice about the changes, but the results have been promising.

A jumbo lineup and a simplified defensive scheme helped the Phoenix Suns come out of a three-game homestand with a single victory but much-improved defense.

Joining Devin Booker and P.J. Tucker on the wings, 6-foot-5 point guard Archie Goodwin has started alongside 7-footers Alex Len and Tyson Chandler the past two games.

“The court looks smaller,” Hornacek said Monday. “Length makes a difference in this league when you have a bunch of it.”

Phoenix, which has allowed a league-worst 49 percent shooting to opponents since Eric Bledsoe went down with an injury, seems to have found confidence with a defensive-minded identity.

Over the last three games, the Suns have held opponents to 44 percent shooting and allowed them to score 105 points per 100 possessions — the latter is a mark seven points per 100 possessions better than what the team conceded overall since Bledsoe’s knee injury that ended his season.

Barring bad matchups, the Suns won’t be shy continuing to play big against Philadelphia on Tuesday followed by games in Cleveland, New York and Dallas. Injuries may leave them without a choice.

Hornacek does not expect point guard Brandon Knight to return from a groin injury during the road trip as he seeks a second opinion. While Markieff Morris was shooting around after practice Monday, Hornacek noticed the forward attempting to work through discomfort from a shoulder strain. Fellow power forward Jon Leuer is likewise questionable and will go through shootaround in Philadelphia to determine if he will give it a go.

The good news for the Suns is that the Len-Chandler combo has helped limit opponent possessions by pulling down 26, 28 and 39 rebounds over the last three games. Defensively, they survived what Hornacek often deems a game of chicken as they remain big and opponents go small.

“I feel like they have to adjust to us, we don’t have to adjust to them,” Chandler said.

The duo has held up despite the Suns’ simplified defense requiring more switching.

Len and Chandler have defended everyone from centers to point guards. Against an Atlanta Hawks team that stretches the floor — granted they were without All-Star Paul Millsap — Phoenix’s centers played well in a 98-95 win Saturday.

“Something that is encouraging is, the fear is: What happens if they switch off, and they switch off on one of these quick point guards and they just fly by them and break them down and kick out for easy threes?” Hornacek said. “They proved in the last game they can play it, backpedal and get to the basket and protect the basket, and yet challenge outside shots. If they can do that, we can go with that lineup a lot more.”

Matchups will of course dictate how often the Suns roll out the dual-center look.

Meanwhile, Len said that the less-confusing defensive strategy that includes more switching has helped limit breakdowns. It’s also added more individual accountability.

“We just got to guard one-on-one,” Len said. “That’s all it comes down to.

“If you don’t guard one-on-one, you’re going to the bench.”

FINDING OFFENSE

As the defense has improved, the undermanned Suns continue searching for additions to their limited offensive arsenal.

While a slower pace plays to the defensive emphasis, Phoenix is still scoring a league-worst 97 points per 100 possessions since Bledsoe’s injury.

Hornacek said players were anticipating more second and third options while practicing halfcourt sets Monday. The turnover issues still will need to be addressed — Suns opponents score an NBA-leading 22 points per game off Phoenix turnovers.

“Typically, I don’t think we see it that well,” the Suns coach said. “We don’t even try to make the pass because they don’t see it. But today they were reading it great. They didn’t connect on all the passes but they were at least seeing it.”

Meanwhile, Chandler is preaching that building confidence on defense can perhaps help curb the high turnover trend.

“I think (when) we’ve been playing good defense, you also value the ball because you know how hard you’re working down there,” he said.

QUOTABLE

“I had Andrei Kirilenko in Utah. He was probably one of the worst defenders — on one-on-one when the guy first dribbled, he’d always go by (Kirilenko). Part of it was I think he’d let him go by ’cause then he’d get him from behind and block his shot.”

— Jeff Hornacek, while discussing Archie Goodwin’s ability to recover on defense and block players from behind

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Injury-plagued Suns hit road trip thinking big with Tyson Chandler, Alex Len