On Arizona Sports: Hornacek on Playoff Push, Len's Progress
A four-game winning streak and defensive identity have put the Suns back in the playoff race. It’s late in the season, and Phoenix still has 2.5 games’ worth of ground to make up in the standings for the eighth and final playoff spot out West.
Jeff Hornacek said on the Doug & Wolf show on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM that the players are benfitting from their late surge regardless of the eventual outcome.
“I do feel that they feel that we’re in this playoff run,” Hornacek said. “We’ve got a chance. It’s going to be a tough road because of Oklahoma City. It feels like never lose, but we’re in it. That’s great for our young guys to go through this. These recent games are like playoff games.”
Hornacek credited Phoenix’s recent rise to a bigger starting lineup, made necessary by an injury to starting guard Brandon Knight. Since Marcus Morris joined P.J. Tucker, Eric Bledsoe, Markieff Morris and Alex Len, the Suns have made themselves into a defense-oriented squad.
Last week’s 74-72 slugfest win over New Orleans, one of the teams Phoenix is trying to beat out for that playoff spot, punctuated how differently the Suns are pulling out victories.
“They’re confident,” Hornacek said. “They know that if we can get into that fourth quarter, especially with this lineup that’s getting stops, that we can pull out some of these games with our defense.”
The return of Alex Len from his own ankle injury further bolsters the Suns’ defensive potential. The second-year big man is averaging 7.1 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in just 24 minutes a game as a starter. Hornacek repeatedly says that the 7-1 big man will be “a great player,” and his rapid progress is seen on a near-day-to-day basis.
“He’s getting smarter and smarter every day,” Hornacek said. “He’s backed off a little bit on the pick-and-rolls. He knows the speed of the guys better, it seems like. He made a couple plays where I thought guys were going to have lay-ups…yet he can block it late. Those are big plays.”