WASHINGTON — The Phoenix Suns surprised with 48 wins last season. The belief that campaign could prove special began with a tight November loss to the eventual NBA champions.
After a spotty start this season, Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek hopes Sunday’s complete pre-Christmas victory over the Washington Wizards signals another strong year.
Forward Markieff Morris and guard Eric Bledsoe each scored 17 points, guard Goran Dragic tallied 12 of his 16 points in the decisive third quarter as the Suns beat the Washington Wizards 104-92 Sunday night.
Phoenix (15-14) finished its road trip 3-0 after losing six straight overall.
“We needed it.” Hornacek said of the recent wins, including triumphs over the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday and the New York Knicks Saturday.
Fueled by the three point-guard attack of Bledsoe, Dragic and Isaiah Thomas, the Suns controlled the second half. The Suns heated up quickly in the third quarter, turning a 50-50 halftime score into a 77-64 lead following back-to-back 3-pointers by Dragic.
“After the Charlotte game I said, ‘You never know what game catapults you in a season,” Hornacek said. “It could be Game 30, it could be Game four. Last year it for us it was actually a close loss in San Antonio. …Tonight, maybe this is the game that helps us to get going because it was a full all-player, all-team effort.”
Reserve swingman Rasual Butler led the Wizards (19-7) with 17 points and center Kevin Seraphin scored 16. Washington had won six consecutive games and eight in a row at home.
“They took the game to us every step of the way, whether it was the defensive end or the offensive end,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said.
The Wizards missed a chance to record the best start in franchise history. With a win over the Heat in Miami on Friday, Washington matched the 1974-75 Washington Bullets’ 19-6 record for the best opening to a season.
The young and starry backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal headline the hardwood turnaround in the nation’s capital. Each scored 14 points against the Suns, but shot a combined 9 of 26 from the field.
“For our guys to fight them all night long and not give them easy stuff was huge,” Hornacek said.
Phoenix’s guard play plus the overall drive and dish mentality led to the second half push.
Both teams held eight-point leads during the first half before entering the halftime locker room tied. Phoenix committed 12 first-half turnovers, which led to Washington’s 14-0 advantage with fastbreak points.
While the Wizards lost their way offensively in the third quarter, shooting nine of 25 from the field, the Suns attacked in the open court and inside. Phoenix outscored Washington 16-7 in fast break points during the second half.
The Wizards pulled within 95-89 on forward Paul Pierce’s driving layup with 2:40 remaining, but the Suns scored the next eight points. Bledsoe’s three-point play that included a reverse layup gave Phoenix a 103-89 lead with 1:01 remaining.
“For the last four games we’ve had success with three point guards on the floor,” said Dragic, who made five of six shots in the third quarter. “If we get the rebound, it’s really tough to guard us because we’re going to push the ball, we’re going to spread the floor and try to penetrate and kick the ball out. Tonight’s game it was really good for us.”
Suns forward Gerald Green scored 13 points. Forward Marcus Morris added 11, and Thomas had 10.
Wall and Bledsoe both entered the league as first round picks in 2012 after spending one season as teammates at the University of Kentucky.
Late in the second quarter, Bledsoe accidently kicked Wall in the head while defending the speedster at rim during a fast break.
On-court payback never took place. Wall had eight assists, failing to reach double digits for only the second time in 11 games this month. Washington had 11 assists overall, eight less than their previous season-low.
“We were not moving the ball,” Beal said. “We just have to do a better job. This game is over so it’s on to the next one.”
NOTES: The Suns-Wizards season series concludes Jan. 28 in Phoenix. … The Wizards entered Sunday 13 games over .500 for the first time since concluding the 1978-79 season 54-28. Washington reached the NBA Finals that campaign. … Phoenix C Alex Len started his fourth straight game. The University of Maryland product had eight points, eight rebounds and four blocks. …The Suns return home for Tuesday’s matchup with the Dallas Mavericks before embarking on a four-game road trip leading into the New Year. … Washington hosts the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday. The Wizards defeated the Bulls in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs last season.
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