Bench Playing Big Role on Suns Road Trip

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Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek prefers a set rotation of eight to nine guys.

Preference, however, has been set aside in favor of necessity. Phoenix is in the midst of a five-games-in-seven-days road trip. Eric Bledsoe is out with a knee injury.

Others will pick up the slack, but Hornacek doesn’t want guys already carrying heavy loads to shoulder too much more, not with the calendar as full as it is.

Instead, he’d prefer to see the formula that produced a win on Saturday and nearly stole one in Chicago last night: bench guys providing a much-needed lift while simultaneously preventing the starters from doing too much heavy lifting.

Ish Smith (eight points, eight assists, one turnover) and Markieff Morris (14 points, five rebounds) led the reserves late in the game to a double-digit win. Consequently, Goran Dragic wasn’t required to play the entire fourth quarter.

“We need more of that on this trip so that Goran can be rested," Hornacek said. "He goes hard on both sides [of the court]. If we’re playing him 36 to 40 minutes a game, by game five [of the road trip] in New York, he’s going to be worn out. Other guys have to step up.”

Hence the deeper-than-usual rotation in Tuesday night’s loss to the Bulls. Eleven players saw court action in the first half, including rookie center Alex Len (six minutes, three points, two rebounds). Smith again played significant time off the bench (10 points, three assists). Dionte Christmas sparked a 16-3 Suns run by doing a little bit of everything (seven minutes, two points, three rebounds, two assists, one block).

These are players whose usage isn’t consistent, but their preparedness is required to be.

“We always tell them one of these guys might have a bad night,” Hornacek said. “We might throw you in there and you might be the guy that gives us the big lift. Someone might get hurt and all of the sudden you’re in the rotation.”

Which is exactly what’s happening now. Smith figures to continue receiving the 18-to-25 minutes per game he’s been getting when either Bledsoe or Dragic have been hurt this season. His speed – along with his inclination to use it – ensures that Hornacek’s up-tempo offense will remain intact when Dragic takes a breather.

Yet the Suns’ head coach has proven he isn’t afraid to go an entirely different direction if he senses the need. Christmas’ number is usually called if Phoenix needs an extra shooter and/or an injection of energy on both sides of the floor.

The shooting is vital, since Christmas poses the best long-distance threat at the backup guard spot now that Green has shifted into a starting role.

Rookie guard Archie Goodwin is yet another option, though his strengths lie on playing the passing lanes for steals and slashing to the rim.

“We always tell these guys, ‘part of your job is to be ready,’” Hornacek said.

The Suns' next few games are a big reason why.