The Suns are currently two games behind the 8th seeded Mavericks; but they are still celebrating today even after a loss yesterday. Offseason-acquisition Eric Bledsoe made his return to the Suns’ line up against the Cavs Wednesday night. He came off the bench and contributed 15 points and 9 assists to the stat sheet along with 2 steals. In his first action after missing 33 games, Bledsoe reminded all his skeptics what he was capable of and came back to play 32 minutes.
This next chunk of schedule is important for Phoenix, as seven of their next eleven games are against teams below the .500 mark. Though the Suns did recently just defeat the Thunder, they’ve hit a bit of a skid while the Mavericks, Grizzlies, and Warriors are all getting hot. Even the Knicks have been winners of five straight. New York fans must be happy with the Knicks’ recent winning as they’ve pulled within three games of a playoff spot this year and they’ll have Phil Jackson to pull free agents to Madison Square Garden and guide the Knicks deep into the postseason in the future (Knick fans hope, at least).
Gerald Green did not play well in Bledsoe’s return, going 4-14 and fouling out against the Cavs, and Phoenix couldn’t afford Green’s struggles with Tucker serving a one-game suspension for an altercation with Blake Griffin. Although Dragic scored 20 and had 5 assists, Cleveland still came out on top behind 23 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists from Kyrie Irving and a steady 19 point contribution from Spencer Hawes. Hawes went 3-4 from beyond the arc last night in a game where three point percentage was a real difference maker; Phoenix lost that battle by a large margin as they shot just 27% from behind the three point line while Cleveland made half of their threes.
Certainly as Bledsoe gets back up to game speed and plays among a very talented group of players in Phoenix, the Suns will make a push to make it to the playoffs. Being counted out in almost every game against contenders they play, every game has been like a playoff game for the Suns, and they aren’t backing down from the dog pile of a playoff scenario in the Western Conference.
While Phoenx recently defeated OKC behind a terrific performance from Gerald Green, they must hold back their sigh of relief another two games. They have back-to-back road contests against the Warriors and Clippers. The Warriors are just starting to heat up, going 8-2 in their last 10. The Suns will surely have a handful with Golden State’s diverse offensive arsenal. With only one game separating the Suns from the number 7 seed in the playoffs and watching the playoffs on TV, each of these next to games holds importance. In fact, every game down the ending stretch of the season holds importance for the Suns. With a hot streak, Phoenix could have home-court advantage for a playoff series – ironically the number 4 seed is currently home of the Clippers and only six games out of the Suns’ grasp. Wins against the 6th and 4th seeds, the Warriors and Clippers respectively, could bode well for Phoenix. There is no question that the Suns will come into these next to match-ups with a head full of steam after defeating the number 1 seed Thunder earlier in the week. Expect two very good games from a Phoenix team determined to make it to the postseason.
In both the Eastern and Western conferences the playoff seeds are being dispersed; and as anyone could guess, it’s getting competitive. The Suns have fallen to the 8 seed in the West, but with the way the number 1 seed Thunder have been playing since Westbrook returned, maybe that isn’t the worst seed to have. There’s no reason to lose optimism for Suns fans though especially when considering Bledsoe will probably be back in the line up within a week or so and Dragic will be able to rest his injured ankle while giving Bledsoe ample minutes to get back into the swing of things.
While some players (like Westbrook and Bledsoe) may be returning from injuries, many teams are catching the injury bug around the league. The Trail Blazers’ luck seems to be sour as month-old milk, losing LaMarcus Aldridge and Thomas Robinson in the same seven day span. Robin Lopez and Damian Lillard are each stepping up for the Blazers, but without the return of their big men soon they could be in danger of dropping down in the standings. Jamal Crawford and Anthony Davis each suffered injuries during ESPN’s Wednesday Night Basketball in separate games as well. That news is more worrysome to Clippers fans than Pelicans fans as it seems the Pelicans are still another year or so away from the playoffs. Considering Crawford’s been stepping up in place of the injured J.J. Redick, his injury could be detrimental to the Clippers. The Clippers have acquired Glen “Big Baby” Davis and are working on signing Danny Granger (so long as the Spurs don’t snag him first). What the Suns will need to do is continue to see production from P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris, Gerald Green, and Ish Smith until Dragic and Bledsoe are each playing at 100% because of the hot streak the Mavericks have put together and the Grizzlies not so distantly in the rear-view mirror.
What sucks the most for the Suns is that if they were in the Eastern conference with their record, they’d have the 3 seed and all but locked up home-court advantage for at least one round of the playoffs. While they could have a higher seed and an easier first round of the playoffs if they were in the East, they’d still ultimately have to deal with one of the two most complete teams in the league right now: the Pacers and Heat. The Heat I’m giving the benefit of the doubt to because of LeBron and being the defending champs. The Pacers, meanwhile, by dishing Danny Granger to Philly for Evan Turner (a deal which will surely pay off in large dividends come playoff time) have solitified themselves as the favorites to win the title, in my eyes. In Turner’s first game with the Pacers they had a season-high in field goal makes, attempts, and in bench points. This is a good sign for Pacers, but not really for any other teams who may potentially face them in the postseason.
At any rate, look for the Suns to heat back up with the return of their starting guards in the upcoming weeks. In the meantime, their role players will need to step up to keep the Suns in contention.
Here is Goran Dragic watching teammate Miles Plumlee defending Dwight Howard on a move to the basket. The Suns look to contain the Rockets center at 9pm Eastern tonight on ESPN, should be a good battle between two teams with playoff expectations.
With Green and Dragic’s stellar play as of late; it may look like the Suns don’t need anybody besides those two on the court at all times, but in yesterday’s win against the Celtics their role players stepped up. P.J. Tucker came up with big contributions in multiple ways. He finished with a double-double of 10 points and 11 boards. Tucker also passed the ball well, having 6 assists and no turnovers. Defensively, he also picked up 3 steals. Miles Plumlee also contributed defensively with 3 blocks and a steal. Dragic also picked up 6 dimes and had himself a couple blocks while he and Green each scored 17 points. If either of them called their game “subpar” it was only from the vicious standards they’d set for themselves this season. Markieff Morris led the team in scoring with 18 points, one of six Suns in double figures against the Celtics. Channing Frye scored 15 points while making 4 of 6 from beyond the arch. The role players on the Suns forced turnovers and held a Rondo led Celtics team below 40% field-goal percentage and below 30% from downtown. Rondo didn’t disappoint in what very well may have been his last game as a Celtic with the trade deadline closing in fast. Rondo scored 18 points, dished out 10 assists, and gathered up 7 boards. Even though the Suns remain in the playoff picture in the Western Conference, there’s a great deal of buzz surrounding them approaching the trade deadline. Will they end up with Gasol? Or Rondo? Or even Spencer Hawes? We’ll see tomorrow when all is said and done. Thankfully, though, Phoenix fans can fall asleep and have dreams of their 100-94 defeat instead of worrying all night about the trade deadline.
Gerald Green had a career night against the Nuggets, finishing with 36 points. Of his career-high 36, 27 came in the second half and overtime. The final in Denver was 112-107 with the Suns coming back after going into the 4th quarter with a one point deficit. Phoenix played hard the whole game, with Markieff Morris, P.J. Tucker, and Goran Dragic all finishing with double-doubles and heads up late game plays to clinch the victory.
Hard to imagine the surging Suns dropping this one to the Nuggets without Ty Lawson and Dragic dishing a season-high 14 assists to go along with 21 points. The Nuggets saw a big contribution from a usual suspect – Kenneth Faried putting up 21 points and 11 boards – and received a pleasant surprise from Evan Fournier scoring a career-high 25 points and 8 rebounds. Fournier’s performance helped to account for the missing Lawson and Randy Foye’s off night at the point. Foye was just 3-11 from the field and scored just 8 points while fouling out. Lawson should be returning soon for Denver though, which is good news for Nuggets fans.
Good news for the Suns came from all angles: winning a close overtime game on the road, breaking the Nuggets’ eight-game overtime home winning streak, a career-high in points from budding Gerald Green, a nice start after the All Star break for Markieff Morris (13 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 steals), and the return of versatile guard Eric Bledsoe out on the horizon.
Just a flashback to the 2005 NBA All Star Weekend and that year’s Slam Dunk Contest featuring Amare Stoudemire of the Phoenix Suns. Stoudemire took something he did just about every game he played with Nash – catching alley-oop passes from Nash – and gave it a new twist. Stoudemire caught an alley-oop pass from Nash headbutting the ball perfectly and then slammed the dunk home. Great dunk video, worth watching for sure.