PHOENIX – Remember how the 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-season 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, who are 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.”
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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, perhaps 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 is a young, entertaining bunch that leads the league 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. 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 increase 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 of Chicago in 1991-92.
Bledsoe will be out until at least late this week with a bruised knee.
Phoenix had the second-worst season in franchise history last year at 25-57, leading to the firing of GM Lance Blanks and the hiring of McDonough, who had been Danny Ainge’s top aide in Boston.
Lindsey Hunter, who took over in midseason when coach Alvin Gentry and the team parted ways by mutual agreement, was replaced by ex-Suns player Hornacek, who seems to be an excellent fit.
Cavaliers acquire Deng
CHICAGO – The Cleveland Cavaliers traded center Andrew Bynum in time to save millions — and got an All-Star in return.
Cleveland acquired forward Luol Deng from the Chicago Bulls late Monday night for Bynum and three draft picks, beating the deadline to guarantee his full contract for the season. Only $6 million of the $12.5 million Bynum, 26, was to earn this season was guaranteed if he was not on the Cavaliers’ roster Tuesday.
According to the Chicago Tribune, the Bulls will waive Bynum and thus drop below the luxury-tax threshold.
The Cavaliers also sent the Bulls a first-round pick, two second-rounders and gave Chicago the right to swap first-round choices in 2015 if Cleveland is not in the draft lottery.
Deng, 28, will be a free agent after this season.
• Joe Johnson snapped out of a slump with 23 points against his former team, and the Brooklyn Nets matched a season high with their third straight victory by beating the visiting Atlanta Hawks 91-86.
Mirza Teletovic scored 16 points and Alan Anderson added 14 starting at guard in place of injured Deron Williams.
• Kevin Love scored 26 points as Minnesota posted a 126-95 victory over the host Philadelphia 76ers.
Thaddeus Young scored 20 points for the Sixers, who had won their previous four games.
• Darren Collison, making his second start at point guard since superstar Chris Paul’s injury, had 21 points and seven assists as the host Los Angeles Clippers routed Orlando 101-81.
The Clippers’ Jamal Crawford, a graduate of Rainier Beach High in Seattle, added 13 points and a game-high eight assists.