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The Phoenix Suns finally snapped their losing streak with an impressive win on the road against the Chicago Bulls last night. Still, despite ending on a high note, this wasn't a very good week for the Suns who went 1-4 overall, and at times appeared to be on the brink of a total collapse.

However, there were still certain players who were giving their all and trying to keep the team competitive even when things were looking bleak.

Here's a look at this week's player rankings the way I saw them:

1. Marcin Gortat

Weekly Average: 11 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks in 35 minutes of play

Gortat is quietly playing consistent and efficiently even while the Suns continue to struggle. Although Dudley is getting most of the attention it seems for being the Suns most consistent player as of late, Gortat is impacting the game in a variety of ways and averaged a double-double for the week which is good enough to get the top spot.

2. Jared Dudley

Weekly Average: 14 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists in 35 minutes of play

Dudley had another really good week, and really could be considered as a tie for first place with all that he does for the team. Even when he struggles to score (like going 6-17 against Boston) he finds a way to make an impact (like his 10 rebounds in the same game).

3. Luis Scola

Weekly Average: 14 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assist in 29 minutes of play

Scola is becoming one of the main faces of this team now. I'm not really sure if that's a good thing or not, but there's no denying that he is one of the most consistent and efficient offensive players on the team, and also does a pretty good job at rebounding for a guy who can't jump. Another very good week for Luis.

4. Goran Dragic

Weekly Average: 12 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 steal in 31 minutes of play

Dragic seems to be struggling a little more than his stats let on, and I think it has a lot to do with his frustration with his teammates and in losing so many games. I do believe Dragic would register more assists with better shooters and scorers around him, but he's not shooting the ball very well either...and that's all on him.

5. P.J. Tucker

Weekly Average: 7 points, 4 rebounds in 25 minutes of play

Tucker is now a starter on the Suns...whodathunkit? It just goes to show how important consistent hustle and effort are, and how rare of qualities they are in your average NBA player. Tucker's stats certainly don't reflect his importance to the team, and they never will, but the guy battles out there every night and seems to be trying to improve offensively as well.

6. Markieff Morris

Weekly Average: 6 points, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 assist in 18 minutes of play

Morris is quietly becoming our best bench player these days and seems to be doing a much better job of scoring inside rather than taking long jumpers. More importantly, Markieff is defending well, getting his hands on the ball, and blocking shots. I don't think he gets as much credit as he should, but he's been playing pretty darn well lately even though the team has been struggling.

7. Sebastian Telfair

Weekly Average: 6 points, 2 assists, and 1 rebound in 16 minutes of play

Telfair is struggling with his shot lately (going 7-19 on the week), and the second unit has also struggled with him running the point this week. Let's hope he gets back to being that spark off the bench that helped the Suns so much earlier in the season.

8. Shannon Brown

Weekly Average: 9 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal in 22 minutes of play

Brown has been very inefficient offensively (16-44 overall for the week) and his three point shooting continued to be awful (1-5), but thankfully he stopped attempting so many of them this week. However, what really hurts the team is his lack of defense, and his tendency to try to bring the ball up-court rather than letting Dragic run the offense...which more often than not results in a bad possession. Brown can do a lot of things to help this team if he can just learn to play within himself.

9. Michael Beasley

Weekly Average: 7 points, 3 rebounds in 10 minutes of play

If not for last night's aberration against the Bulls (and yes, it will remain an aberration until he can string together more than one of these games every couple of months), Beasley certainly would have been at the bottom of the list once again. One game does not change things, but let's give Beasley credit for at least having one good game this week and helping the Suns to beat a very tough opponent on the road that nobody thought they had a chance against.

10. Jermaine O'Neal

Weekly Average: 4 points, 3 rebounds in 12 minutes of play

O'Neal has really been struggling as of late and I'm not sure what the cause is. He was staggeringly inefficient in the low post for the week going only 8-24 overall...yuck! And while offense certainly isn't his main focus, he has to be able to convert at a higher percentage when shooting between 0-10 feet from the rim. More importantly, his defense and rebounding has also regressed. Let's hope this was just a bad week and not a sign of things to come.

So there you have it...Feel free to voice your opinion in the comments below!

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I have written on this topic several times (as far back as here in August 2010 and here in July 2010, when the Suns let their last franchise draft pick leave). At the time, losing a ton of games to win the lottery was a far-fetched and unlikely notion.

Fast forward to spring of 2013. The Phoenix Suns are now looking at the cream of the crop in the draft while suffering through the cost of acquiring a top pick: lots and lots of losing.

This is unfamiliar territory. The Suns are used to winning, and have publicly stated they would rather be competitive year-in-year-out than attend the Draft Lottery proceedings. To wit, the Phoenix Suns have the fourth-highest winning percentage in NBA history and have the 10th-most wins in NBA history. The Suns have qualified for the playoffs in a whopping 29 of those 45 seasons.

But of all the top-10 teams in NBA history, the Suns stand out with their inability to finish the job. They have won their division just 6 times, made 2 NBA Finals and have no championships on their resume.

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No Top-5 Selections Since 1978

The Phoenix Suns have never had the top overall selection in the NBA draft. They have drafted #2 overall twice in their history, taking Neal Walk (after losing a coin flip for Hall of Famer Lew Alcindor/Kareem Abdul Jabbar) and Armen Gilliam (taken just after Hall of Famer David Robinson).

Other high selections: Corky Calhoun (4th, 1972), John Shumate (4th, 1974), Alvan Adams (4th, 1975), Walter Davis (5th, 1978).

That's it. No top-5 picks since 1987.

Shawn Marion was a #9 pick, as was Amare Stoudemire. There was Tim Perry at #7. William Bedford at #6.

Superstars matter, and they come through the draft

The last 22 seasons have seen the following players lead their teams to more than one championship: Michael Jordan (6 rings, #3 overall), Hakeem Olajuwon (2 rings, #1 overall), Shaquille O'Neal (4 rings, #1 overall), Tim Duncan (4 rings, #1 overall), Kobe Bryant (5 rings, #13 overall) and Dwyane Wade (2 rings, #5 overall).

Of those only Shaq was acquired via free agency. The rest were drafted and kept.

Note the Shaquille O'Neal won his 4 rings only by teaming up with Kobe (3) and Dwyane (1). He did not do it alone. Jordan had Scottie Pippen (#5 in his own draft). Duncan started with David Robinson (#1 in his own draft). Wade had Shaq and LeBron James (#1 in his own draft). Kobe had Shaq for 3 of his 5 rings.

These 6 guys account for 19 of the last 22 championships in the NBA.

Jordan, Olajuwon, Duncan and Wade were drafted by their team's own draft pick. Kobe was acquired via a draft-day trade with Charlotte. Shaquille O'Neal was signed as a free agent from Orlando.

Outliers

One-time winning teams include the 2004 Detroit Pistons (no franchise star), the 2007 Boston Celtics (3 stars, but no one franchise player) and the 2011 Dallas Mavericks (franchise player Dirk Nowitzki).

That's it. Three. Three championships won without a multi-ring franchise player at the helm in the last 22 years (since 1991).

Pretty obvious that you need at least that one guy, and that one guy must be acquired via your draft pick.

Lottery picks via trade can help

OKC acquired the #11 overall pick in the 2010 draft because they were willing to absorb a $5 million contract into their available cap space from a team desperate to shed payroll (New Orleans). In the past, they also acquired 2 unprotected first-rounders from the Suns to absorb Thomas' 8 mill. Those *could* have been high picks, but lucky for the Suns they weren't.

Utah Jazz acquired the #9 overall pick in the 2011 draft in a trade from years prior (involving the Suns, no less).

In 2010, Washington traded their #5 overall pick to Minnesota for a couple of warm bodies in their ill-fated attempt to bring in veterans for a playoff push. Minny drafted Ricky Rubio, their future franchise point guard.

Three years ago, the Celtics traded their #5 overall pick to Seattle for Ray Allen and a bad contract or two.

Remember, Kobe was drafted #13 overall via a draft-day trade and the Suns acquired PG Kevin Johnson (#7 overall) from Cleveland for Larry Nance back in 1987. So these high picks *could* turn out to be franchise-changing players.

Teams need luck

Utah had that unprotected 2010 pick for years from New York. It could have been a low pick (which the Knicks were banking on), but there was a chance the Jazz could have won the lottery with it too. Though John Wall, the clear #1 in 2010, wouldn't necessarily have fit alongside Deron Williams, that would have allowed them to move on from Williams even faster.

Lottery balls and coin flips have never gone the Suns way. The Suns, for their part, *almost* got Lew Alcindor in 1969. And they *almost* got David Robinson in 1987.

More recently, the Suns *almost* got a #6 draft pick (would have been used to take Joakim Noah) in the summer of 2007. They had Atlanta's top-3-protected pick. Unfortunately, Atlanta kept it by lucking into the #3 pick (taking Al Horford). The Suns had won 62 games that year and *almost* got the guy they needed in Joakim Noah that *could* have propelled them to a ring or two.

This year, it's possible that the Suns acquired 1 or even 2 lottery picks from the Los Angeles Lakers in the Nash trade. Those picks are potentially gold to a team needing lots of young talent.

Summation

If the Phoenix Suns want to win a championship some day, they need luck and high draft picks to do it.

The Suns are no longer on that playoff bubble of mediocrity. It's time to strike with young talent via the draft. Sure, there's no sure-fire franchise player in this upcoming draft, but the Suns need the best talent period. And any Top-5 pick is better than anyone on this current roster, and a LOT cheaper than anyone acquired via trade or free agency.

Absolutely unbelievable. Those are the only words that come to mind in the wake of Phoenix’s 97-81 victory over the Chicago Bulls. This victory removes several of the monkeys who had taken up...

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Recap:

Both teams stumbled out of the gate trudging at a molasses pace. Neither team trailed by more than four in the period as the teams battled back and forth. Luis Scola got off to a hot start with 10 points, while Joakim Noah countered for the Bulls with six points and five rebounds. Score: Bulls 21, Suns 20.

The second quarter started with more of the same. I was struck with abulia while trying to decide whether the paucity of points was due to stagnant offense, pesky defense or a combination of both. Then something unexpected happened. Something as unexpected as getting struck by lightning three times on your way to collecting your money from winning the powerball twice in one week. Michael Beasley happened. Given an opportunity to see the light of day due to a hand injury to Jared Dudley, Beasley went for 14 points in the second quarter on 7-8 shooting and carried the Suns in the period. Scola also finished the half with 14, as the two were the only Suns with more than four points. Noah led the Bulls in scoring (8) and rebounding (5) at the half, but managed only two points and no rebounds in the second quarter. Score: Suns 49, Bulls 42.

Scola continued the torrid shooting he displayed in the first half. I don't understand why so many teams concede him open looks from 20 feet when he makes them with such proficiency. The usually stingy Bulls defense was being exploited by a Suns offense that has recently been anemic (to be kind). Inconsistent officiating led to the Bulls doing more complaining than hustling and it was clearly evident players like Tucker were in their heads. Scola led all scorers with 22 points. Boozer had collected a double-double after a strong third quarter. Score: Suns 77, Bulls 63.

The blowout was on. The Suns stretched the lead to as many as 19 twice and the Bulls never made it within the 14 they trailed by going into the quarter. Sebastian Telfair, Markieff Morris and Beasley put the Bulls out of their misery as Phoenix cruised to the easy victory. Score: Suns 97, Bulls 81.

Suns win.

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Player of the Game:

Michael Beasley. Michael finished with 20 points, on 10-14 shooting, and six rebounds. He was the Suns catalyst in the second quarter where the Suns took a lead on the Bulls and never looked back. It was easily one of his best handful of games as a Sun. He did have five turnovers, but I'm sure the Bulls never scored off of one anyway.

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Comments of the Game:

JO seems done.
He's been TERRIBLE recently.
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Who is this Beasley?
I like him much more than the Beasley we had all season so far. His suck defense is eclipsed by his offense.
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Seriously though.
It's gotten so bad as of late that I have zero faith this team is going to come out of the half and actually even keep this game close. Would love for them to prove me wrong, however, for it has gotten borderline depressing at this point with the ability the Suns have to just epically collapse towards the end of games this season.
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So wow. The Suns played basketball in the 3rd quarter.
Can they keep it up in the 4th?
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The Suns are like: What do we say to the God of losing?
Not today!
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Guess you can't lose them all.

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The Good:

The bench, which has been the bane of our existence recently, didn't come out and wet themselves in the second quarter. The Suns reserves actually outplayed the Bulls all night long behind several spectacular performances.

Michael Beasley. Give credit where credit is due. The much maligned Beasley, who has spent his recent games banished to the end of the bench, came out with a truculence that has been absent for most of the season. Or maybe he wasn't actually more aggressive and the shots just fell for a change. Either way, Michael lit it up in the second quarter and carried the Suns for the better part of his nine minutes on the court.

The Suns defense was consistent all night. The Bulls shot just 36.4% from the field and were only 2-10 from three point range while being held to 81 points. Suns were feisty and fearless, which led to the Bulls becoming disconcerted and discomposed. This was one of the best and most complete defensive performances of the season.

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The Bad:

Dragic with two more first quarter fouls. I need to find a way to track how many times he's done that this season. This time it was on a staggeringly bad decision to make an obvious foul from behind on Nate Robinson. It looked like an intentional foul. Not smart.

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The Ugly:

Nothing to report. When the Suns play like this they don't rack up uglies.

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Final Thoughts:

The Suns broke two losing streaks (12 on the road and five overall) on their way to their 2,000th win. My final thought is - Where the hell did this come from?! I am stunned that the Suns managed to win their third road game of the season in blowout fashion. In a season that has devolved into a battle for lottery positioning this game was a completely unanticipated surprise. Almost everyone who played contributed. What a solid overall victory! I actually felt proud of this team (tear rolls from eye).

I guess Jared Dudley has been holding us back this whole time.

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When: Saturday, January 12, 2013, 6:00 PM local time (8:00 EST)

Where: United Center, Chicago, IL

Watch/Listen: TV: FSAZ, Radio: 620 KTAR

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Last Meeting:

Wednesday, November 14, 2012 in Phoenix

The Suns early season proclivity for amassing huge deficits and battling back to make games competitive was on display this night, as the Suns trailed by 18 before using a 31-17 fourth quarter to complete their comeback in regulation. PJ Tucker gathered the ball out of a scrum to tie the score at 100 and the game headed into overtime. The Suns appeared to have expended too much energy at this point and the Bulls rolled to a 112-106 victory.

Carlos Boozer had 28 points and 14 rebounds to help the Bulls pull away, but only scored two while the Suns made their comeback in the fourth. Luis Scola led the Suns with 24 points and 14 rebounds.

Team Bios:

Chicago Bulls: 20-14

Points per game: 93.9 (26th) Points allowed: 92.2 (3rd)

Injuries: Derrick Rose is out (torn left ACL), but is expected to return before mid-March. Kirk Hinrich has been nursing a sore elbow, but played in last night's victory over the New York Knicks.

The Bulls are a defense centric team that slows down the game (24th in pace) and wins with inexorable pressure that disrupts the offensive flow of their opponents. They play ugly, grind it out basketball. Despite their parsimonious nature on defense, the Bulls munificence on offense slots them at 6th in the league in team assists per game. The Bulls are also in the top half of the league in rebounding, rounding out a solid overall team.

Chicago is coming off recent road wins against the Miami Heat (96-89) and the Knicks (108-101 in a game that wasn't that close). The Bulls, who have won four of five, will look to continue their winning ways against the lowly Suns. Chicago will be playing on the back end of a back-to-back, just like the Suns, after a couple of players logged heavy minutes, topped by Luol Deng with 42.

Deng leads the Bulls in scoring with 17.9 points per game (he had a season high 33 last night). Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah complete a very competent frontcourt, but one that lacks great size and shot blocking. The Bulls backcourt is probably their weak spot, at least relative to the forwards and center, as the team awaits the return of their leader, Derrick Rose, later in the season.

Chicago Bulls team statistics.

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Phoenix Suns: 12-26

Points per game: 95.5 (19th) Points allowed: 100.2 (25th)

Injuries: Wounded spirit.

The Suns reach their last stop on a four game, five night eastern road swing. The losses have been progressively worse, culminating in last night's massive mortification. The second half against the Nets, where the Suns were outscored 53-26, ranked right near the top of the humiliation scale in what has become a forgettable (please let me forget) season. Check out my earlier recap for more grisly details.

The Suns enter tonight's matchup against the Bulls with a record of 2-17 on the road this season, including 12 consecutive road losses. If the Suns lose to Chicago they will be 2-18 which would put them on pace to go 4-37 for the full campaign. Four road wins. Four.

The Suns have been led by absolutely nobody Jared Dudley during the recent stretch that has seen them drop 11 of 12 games. Jared has averaged 14.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.9 assists over this period and has exuded dependability and composure. The rest of the starters haven't really been that bad either, but ironically the Suns appear to have sunken to new depths after inserting the whirling dervish, PJ Tucker, into the starting lineup and banishing Michael Beasley to the end of the bench. Every time the second unit steps onto the court I can sense a collective cringe from the fans.

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What To Watch For:

PJ Tucker vs. Luol Deng: Deng scored a season high 33 points last night, but logged heavy minutes (42) in the process. Tucker will be given the task of preventing a repeat performance tonight against the Suns.

Suns doing the scoring limbo: The Suns were limited to 77 points twice earlier in the season, a 103-77 loss at home to the Clippers and a 117-77 loss at the Pistons. The Suns have now scored 79 points in back-to-back games and are trudging and stumbling into their fourth game in five nights on the road. Is the stage set for the Suns to go low?

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Notes/Stats:

The Suns last win on the road was November 27th against the Cleveland Cavaliers. That was 47 days ago.

The Suns are 2-17 on the road and have lost 12 straight road games.

The Suns have lost 11 of 12 overall.

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2013 Lottery Watch

Last night's games of interest:

The Toronto Raptors (14-22) beat the Charlotte Bobcats (9-26) 99-78

The New Orleans Hornets (11-25) beat the Minnesota Timberwolves (16-17) 104-92 - the Suns are now tied with the Hornets for the fourth worst record in the NBA

The Detroit Pistons (14-23) beat the Milwaukee Bucks (18-17) 103-87

The Oklahoma City Thunder (28-8) beat the LA Lakers (15-21)

Tonight's matchups:

Orlando Magic (12-23) at the LA Clippers (28-8)

Atlanta Hawks (21-14) at the Washington Wizards (5-28)

Charlotte Bobcats (9-26) at the Indiana Pacers (22-14)

Utah Jazz (19-19) at the Detroit Pistons (14-23)

Memphis Grizzlies (24-10) at the Dallas Mavericks (14-23)

Miami Heat (23-11) at the Sacramento Kings (13-23)

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The Final Word(s):

The Suns have kept it interesting by continuing to find new ways to reveal their horrid nature as the season has progressed. Casual fans have largely tuned out by this point, much like several of the Suns players, but fans with an unhealthy obsession who truly love Suns basketball are welcome to join me in watching them make positive history (slim chance) by winning franchise game #2,000... or more likely try to set records of futility as this season descends into the ranks of worst ever.

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