The Phoenix Suns are feeling pretty good about themselves these days. They’re riding an impressive three-game winning streak heading into a home tilt against the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday, March 6. They haven’t been winning because of a scorching offense, but it’s their stingy defense that is leading the way.
With coach Lindsey Hunter at the helm, the Suns have turned into a very solid defensive club that is finally clicking. They’re just 21-39 on the season (8-11 under Hunter) and won’t make the playoffs, but they’re giving themselves a chance to win every night because of their intensity on the defensive end.
For the 2012-13 season, the Suns rank No. 20 in points allowed (99.7) and No. 21 in defensive rating (106.8). However, in the 19 games since Hunter has taken over, the Suns have jumped to No. 17 in points allowed (99.7) and No. 15 in defensive rating (103.4). Over the Suns current winning streak, they’re allowing just 90.3 points (No. 4 in NBA) and their defensive rating is No. 1 in basketball, at just 88.8.
At Suns practice on Tuesday, Hunter talked about that defense and what has been the biggest reason for the improvement:
“Our attention to detail. Our focus and intensity on defense. Our ability to control the lane has been really big for us.”
Even with the impressive defensive statistics, Hunter tempered expectations when asked about continuing the momentum.
“We haven’t earned anything as coaches or as players…You make your momentum. You work hard and you will your way to it. If that means being in here for four hours, then we’ll do that.”
A big reason for the turnaround has been the defense as a team. There’s no one elite defender on the squad, even though Wesley Johnson and Jermaine O’Neal have done an excellent job as of late manning the perimeter and the paint, respectively.
Even though Johnson and O’Neal aren’t the big-name guys and aren’t in a starting role, Hunter has no problem depending on them during the clutch moments:
“I don’t have a problem finishing the game with five non-starters. If they’re the ones getting it done, I have no problem with that. Wes (Johnson) has been great for us. He’s defended the 1, 2, 3 and even some 4′s.”
It’s not just the system that’s making the Suns a success. As with any team, the players have to buy-in to the system and perform in order to make it a success. Starting point guard Goran Dragic addressed the team’s focus and emphasis:
“We’re no longer making the silly mistakes. Turning over the ball under the basket, giving up a possession. Lindsey emphasizes defense…our rotations have been much better. It takes a lot of pressure off of our offense and even if we miss, we can lean on our defense to win.”
These aren’t your seven-seconds-or-less Phoenix Suns. They’re not going to burn up the scoreboard and average 105 points per game. While those teams were fun to watch, they ultimately burned out in the playoffs where defense is more important.
Hunter and the Suns know that. It won’t be this year, but they’re playing the brand of defense that can carry them a long way through the playoffs in 2013-14.