The Norman Transcript

National Sports

January 7, 2014

Rising Suns: Phoenix a real surprise this season

PHOENIX — Remember how these Phoenix Suns were expected to tank the season in order to get a top draft pick? How they would be lucky to win 20 games?

Well, first-year coach Jeff Hornacek has the team at 20-12 and in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. The Suns have overachieved with a scrappy, high-energy style orchestrated by point guards Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, often on the court at the same time.

It is, as new general manager Ryan McDonough said, a classic case of a team where “the whole is better than the sum of its parts.”

Those parts include forward Channing Frye, back after missing a season for treatment of an enlarged heart; one-time NBA castoff P.J. Tucker providing intensity and toughness; Gerald Green free to shoot and soar at will; twins Markieff and Marcus Morris coming off the bench to play the best of their pro careers.

And most surprisingly of all, second-year pro Miles Plumlee — who barely played as a rookie for Indiana — giving Phoenix an athletic presence in the middle.

It’s a young, entertaining bunch that leads the NBA in fast-break points.

The success took the front office by surprise. The Suns were poised to make their big move after this season, with a potential of four first-round draft picks and the prospect of having loads of cash under the salary cap.

The heart of the team is the double-point guard attack. Teams can’t take the ball out of the point guard’s hands, because there are two of them. And when one sits down, the other remains in the game.

Dragic and Bledsoe, McDonough said, “can really push the ball as well as any guards in the NBA.”

Dragic averages 18.8 points and 5.9 assists, Bledsoe 18 points and 5.8 assists. If they keep up the pace, they have a chance to be the first teammates to average at least 18 points and six assists in a season since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in 1991-92.

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