Suns will look to push the tempo under new head coach Hornacek

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PHOENIX — Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek conducted his first official practice with the team on Tuesday, but only a handful of the players who will fill out the regular season roster were in attendance.

The session was for the Suns’ Summer League squad, which will play its opening game in Las Vegas on Saturday. But returning players Kendall Marshall, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, and P.J. Tucker will play, in order to try and gain some personal improvement, as well as some experience learning what the expectations will be from their new head coach.

The message from Hornacek during his first practice with the team was made crystal clear.

“He wants us to run,” Marshall said. “He definitely wants us to run. We covered some secondary things — drags, getting the ball to the other side of the floor, making sure we’re getting our bigs the ball. But we definitely want to get up and down the court.”

Phoenix ranked 29 out of 30 teams in points scored per 100 possessions last season, but the pace the team played at ranked them at ninth. Having an uptempo offense is one thing, but being efficient while doing so is something else entirely. The Suns were also near the bottom of the league in turnover ratio, and that’s an area Hornacek knows can come with the territory of pushing the pace if guys aren’t in shape.

“We want to push the ball, and that’s the hard thing,” Hornacek said. “When you’re pushing the ball you have a tendency maybe to have more turnovers. Guys, when they do get tired, that’s when they lose their focus. We’re going to expect that we’ll have some of that. We obviously don’t want the turnovers, but it’s going to happen.”

Hornacek is trying to install some basic offensive principles while also focusing on the conditioning aspect.

“Some of them are used to just walking the ball up the court, or not getting into the post quickly,” Hornacek said. “We’re making our first big down the court get to the post, and they’re so not used to doing it that even when the bigs go in there, the guards aren’t hitting them with the ball, so the guy probably feels like he’s running for nothing. But they’ll get that as the practices go on.”

The Suns have some players, especially at the guard spots, that should be able to get things initiated quickly. Goran Dragic likes to play at a fast pace, and newly-acquired Eric Bledsoe was described as a blur during the postseason by his then-Clippers teammate Chris Paul.

With the uptempo style being part of the message from day one, the Suns should have plenty of time to get the team acclimated to what Hornacek wants to do. The new head coach was pleased with how his players handled it, at least after just one day.

“It was an extremely difficult practice,” he said. “But nobody really dogged it at all. They basically ran for almost two hours, so it was good to see.”

Larry Nance Jr. throws alley-oop to himself, throws alley-oop to himself (video)

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LOS ANGELES — Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. immediately motioned for the replay to be shown of this dunk. It was necessary to properly appreciate it.

Best dunk of the night.

Donovan Mitchell won the dunk contest, though.

Larry Nance Jr. plays tribute to father — rock-the-cradle dunk in Suns uniform

Associated Press
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LOS ANGELES — Back in 1984, high-flying Larry Nance Sr. won the first NBA All-Star Dunk Contest with this set of dunks — most famously a rock-the-cradle move.

Larry Nance Jr. came into the 2018 Dunk Contest and went nostalgic — all the way back to the Suns’ throwback uniform and the same dunk.

That and a good second dunk got him into the Dunk Contest finals. In that round, Nance Sr. threw an alley-oop to his son for the windmill.

Donovan Mitchell throws alley-oop to himself – off second backboard (video)

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LOS ANGELES – Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell set a high standard with the first slam of the 2018 dunk contest.

Very creative. Very well-executed.

Looks like all that preparation paid off.

Devin Booker’s 3-point-contest victory bright spot for Suns (video)

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Los Angeles – Devin Booker‘s Suns have the NBA’s worst record (18-41).

“I think everyone is fed up with the losing, from the top to the bottom of the organization,” Booker said this afternoon. “So, for us, it’s what’s next?”

A 3-point contest victory.

Overcoming Phoenix’s poor record to draw an invite to All-Star Saturday Night, Booker won the 3-point contest with a whopping 29 points in the final round.

That score left little margin for 2016 champion Klay Thompson, who capped the event with a 25-point round that was otherwise the night’s high. Clippers forward Tobias Harris, in his new home arena, finished third.

Booker was all smiles after the rare victory.

“Season not going how we planned, but I know a lot of the city was ready for this All-Star Weekend, having somebody participate,” Booker said. “So, I’m glad I could win it.

Where he and the Suns go from here is still questionable, but he has a plan.

“I’m going to win the dunk contest next year,” Booker said. “No, I’m just kidding.”

Full results

First round

Klay Thompson 19

Devin Booker 19

Tobias Harris 18

Wayne Ellington 17

Bradley Beal 15

Eric Gordon 12

Kyle Lowry 11

Paul George 9

Second round

Devin Booker 29

Klay Thompson 25

Tobias Harris 17