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The Suns are now 5-7 in games that Eric Bledsoe has missed and face tribulations in the coming days. These problems aren't specific to the Suns, though, as the mangled players problem is a league-wide pandemic. This injury insect is really starting to bug me.

Two weeks ago everything was sanguine in Suns' basketball. The team had proved their mettle as one of the better teams in the league. Now, a major loss threatens to undermine the work that had the team poised for a stretch run in a playoff positioning battle.

Let's project, for the sake of argument, that Bledsoe returns from his surgery to remove a torn meniscus in his right knee in six weeks. That would put his return to action on February 21st against the San Antonio Spurs, which gives the Suns 17 more games without their prolific pacesetter at the point.

17 games. That seems like an eternity considering the team's discord in Bledsoe's absence. The Suns future over this stretch appears capricious and their lead over the teams directly behind them seems precarious. Will the team stabilize and be able to attain at least a 9-8 record over this pivotal period? A 7-10 mark could see them on the outside looking in as opposed to possibly making a push for a fourth or fifth seed...

Here is the Suns upcoming schedule:

1/13 at New York Knicks

1/15 vs Los Angeles Lakers

1/17 vs Dallas Mavericks

1/19 vs Denver Nuggets

1/22 vs Indiana Pacers

1/24 vs Washington Wizards

1/26 at Cleveland Cavaliers

1/27 at Philadelphia 76ers

1/29 at Milwaukee Bucks

1/30 at Indiana Pacers

2/1 vs Charlotte Bobcats

2/4 vs Chicago Bulls

2/5 at Houston Rockets

2/8 vs Golden St. Warriors

2/11 vs Miami Heat

2/18 at Denver Nuggets

2/19 vs Boston Celtics

But the Suns aren't on an island in terms of dealing with injury setbacks. Significant attrition of talent has spread across the league like wildfire. Ailments have discouraged fans of individual teams and robbed us of enjoyment of the most entertaining basketball possible through dilution of the talent pool.

Here's a stroll around the league to examine the extent of the carnage:

Atlanta Hawks - Al Horford torn right pectoral muscle

Boston Celtics - Rajon Rondo ACL tear in right knee

Brooklyn Nets - Brook Lopez broken right foot (second time), Deron Williams litany of injuries to both ankles

Chicago Bulls - Derrick Rose meniscus tear in right knee (ACL tear in right knee last season)

Denver Nuggets - Danilo Gallinari partial ACL tear in left knee, Javale McGee stress fracture of left tibia

Golden St. Warriors - Andre Iguodala right hamstring

Los Angeles Clippers - Chris Paul grade three AC joint separation of right shoulder

Los Angeles Lakers - Kobe Bryant torn ACL in left knee, left knee fracture

Memphis Grizzlies - Marc Gasol MCL sprain in left knee

Milwaukee Bucks - Larry Sanders torn ligament in right thumb

New Orleans Pelicans - Jrue Holiday stress fracture of right tibia, Ryan Anderson right toe fracture, herniated disk

New York Knicks - Tyson Chandler broken left fibula

Oklahoma City Thunder - Russell Westbrook third surgery since meniscus tear in right knee last season

Phoenix Suns - Eric Bledsoe meniscus tear in right knee (second time)

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Then there are injuries to young phenoms Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (broken left hand) and Nerlens Noel (torn ACL left knee) that rob us of being able to enjoy their development.

This list doesn't even include players like Goran Dagic, Dwyane Wade and Michael Carter-Williams who haven't missed as much time but have been dealing with their own injury issues.

To emphasize the totality of these afflictions I put together a chimerical collection of these players that would compose a nightmarish team.

Injury All-Stars

Point Guard - Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Eric Bledsoe, Jrue Holiday, Deron Williams

Shooting Guard - Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook

Small Forward - Andre Iguodala, Danilo Gallinari

Power Forward - Ryan Anderson, Al Horford

Center - Marc Gasol, Brook Lopez, Tyson Chandler, Larry Sanders, JaVale McGee

*Alternates in italics

This would be a hell of a team. So much so that they might even rival one of the actual teams that will take the floor in New Orleans for the annual superstar scrimmage. Let's look at the team constructed by Jacob Padilla with his possible reserves...

Eastern Conference All-Stars

Point Guard - Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Kyle Lowry

Shooting Guard - Dwyane Wade, Arron Afflalo

Small Forward - Paul George, Paul Millsap

Power Forward - LeBron James, Chris Bosh

Center - Carmelo Anthony, Roy Hibbert, Joakim Noah

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Now here is my team from last week's Going Gorilla:

Western Conference All-Stars

Point Guard - Stephen Curry, Tony Parker, Damian Lillard

Shooting Guard - James Harden, Goran Dragic (this will likely be Kobe... but let's pretend)

Small Forward - Dirk Nowitzki, Anthony Davis

Power Forward - Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin

Center - Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan (honorable mention to DeMarcus Cousins)

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Steering the Conversation

Given this information it's your turn to discuss a few relevant topics:

1. What will the Suns record be over the next 17 games if there are no other personnel changes over this period?

2. Did I miss any other significant injuries that you think should be included?

3. How would the injury All-Stars fare against the healthy teams?

4. Should any of these beleaguered teams make moves (buying or selling)?  Suggest some realistic propositions of your own. As far as trade scenarios (#4) go, here are two to start you off:

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Chicago Bulls get Emeka Okafor, Alex Len and 1-2 first round picks (Phoenix's own and/or Indiana's)

Phoenix Suns get Kirk Hinrich and Joakim Noah

This instantly shores up salient weaknesses - rebounding, defense and distributing (Noah would be the team's best frontcourt passer) without subtracting from Phoenix's regular rotation, but is Len's upside too great to sacrifice him in this deal? Can the Suns build a contender around Bledsoe (24), Dragic (27) and Noah (28)? Would this hamstring their financial flexibility and take away assets needed to go after more of a unicorn type player?

The Bulls clear salary and get pieces to rebuild after their window has been boarded up due to the zombie apocalypse.

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Orlando Magic get Thabo Seflosha, Steven Adams and PJ3

Oklahoma City Thunder get Arron Afflalo

OKC gets a premiere SG/SF in an attempt to push them over the top. The Thunder are (is) 21-4 with Westbrook and 7-5 without him, so this also helps keep them in the running with the Spurs and Trail Blazers for a top seed until they are healthy.

Orlando gets rid of their best player to help them pass the Bucks in their quest for the most lottery combinations and acquires young prospects in the process.

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Go!

This was a rough stretch for the Suns, who have struggled to replace one half of their dynamic duo with Eric Bledsoe out after meniscus surgery. The Suns went only 1-3 this week. However, in the midst of these losses, the players are still fighting and are never giving up. So, who deserves to be named the player of the week?

The Finalists


Goran Dragic aka "One Man Fast Break"

Weekly Stat Averages:

Points: 20.75  FG%: .491  Assists: 6.75   Rebounds: 3.75

Dragic had another very good week.  In fact, he is the biggest reason the Suns remain competitive at this point. Goran is doing all that he can to lead the team without his other half, but it is becoming more and more difficult it seems for him to maintain his level of play.

One noticeable difference this week was his lack of steals.  Dragic has been averaging nearly two steals a game, which is one of the main reasons the Suns are so effective at scoring on turnovers and fast breaks.  This week, however, he only recorded one steal in four games.  If the Suns are going to survive this stretch without Bledsoe without falling out of playoff contention, they will need to find a way for Dragic to remain as active on both ends of the court as we saw early on.

Channing Frye aka "ICMF"

Weekly Stat Averages:

Points: 16.0   FG%: .423   3PT%: .383  Rebounds: 4.75

Channing Frye is providing the spacing and three-point shooting that the Suns need to operate, even if they currently don't seem to be taking full advantage of it.  Not only that, but he is providing some quality interior defense and helping in various ways.

Frye was the second leading scorer this week...and while that seems like a good thing for Channing, it's not necessarily good news for the Suns.  However, to his credit, he is stepping up his game and doing all that he can to help the Suns get through this, and I expect Channing to continue to do so.

Miles Plumlee aka "Plumdunk"

Weekly Stat Averages:

Points: 10.5   FG%: .513   Rebounds: 7.25   Blocks: 1.0   Steals: 1.25

Miles Plumlee is quietly having some very solid games.  He is making the most of his offensive opportunities and continues to alter shots defensively with his ability to move his feet and time his blocks.  He is still a very raw player, but he makes the most of his natural ability, and seems to have a pretty good understanding of the game as well.

The biggest knock on Plumlee is his positioning on rebounds.  While there's no doubt he needs to improve in this regard, a big factor in this is that he is  going after blocks and challenging shots, so he is often times not in position to make that second jump for the rebound. If he is going to continue to challenge shots, which he should, the Suns need to give him help in the post to corral the rebounds.

The Player of the Week

Goran Dragic

Let's be honest, this wasn't a great week for the Suns.  But where would they be without Dragic?  He was the only player to average over 20 points per game this week, and also controlled the offense dishing out nearly seven assists per game.

The fact of the matter is, the Suns can't rely on Goran to do it all, yet that seems to be what's happening on most nights.  Sure, they are getting quality contributions from various players in different games, but who else can the Suns really count on game in and game out to fill up the stat sheet?

With Dragic, you know what you're going to get each and every game.  Sure he'll  have better and worse games, but he's by far the most consistent player on the team.  Dragic is doing everything he can on a consistent basis to help the Suns survive the absence of Bledsoe.  The questions is, who else will step up and join him?

Poll
Who do you think deserves to be named Phoenix Suns' Player of the Week?

  178 votes | Results

When Eric Bledsoe went down to a knee injury, many in the basketball world said "uh oh". Now that the Suns have gone 2-4 without Bledsoe, those folks are nodding in assent. But is the problem really all about Bledsoe?

The Phoenix Suns reached their high water mark of the season at eight games over .500 (giving them a 19-11 record) nearly two weeks ago with a drubbing of the Los Angeles Clippers in LA in which the Suns took a big first-half lead and never looked back. Their hot shooting and scrappy defense made the Clippers look pedestrian.

The future looked quite bright, highlighted with the promise of opening 2014 with eight consecutive games against losing teams.

But since then, very little has gone right for the season's biggest surprise team. Eric Bledsoe injured his right knee in that Clipper game and has not played since. Compounding the problem, the Suns went through a lull defensively while they hung their hats on hot shooting - a recipe for failure as a season-long road trip began.

While the loss of Eric Bledsoe may ultimately be the death knell to the Phoenix Suns' playoff hopes, or at least any chance of climbing into a top-4 seed, their 1-3 record in the last 4 games has been more a perfect storm of negative indicators than any long-term indication of failure.

Delayed start to 4-games-in-5-days

It's hard enough to go on a season-long road trip of 5 games. Harder still to play those 5 games in 7 nights, starting with the first 4 in only 5 nights.

But the difficulty factor goes up another notch when the weather is so bad you don't even travel to the first city until 6 hours before tipoff. That kind of travel ruins routines, and adds fatigue. I know it's only riding on a plane, but anyone who's traveled knows that for some unknown reason you're always tired at the end of a day of travel.

This factor is a small one, to be sure. A young team shouldn't need a lot of rest. But routines are routines, and if you're off kilter you don't play as consistently.

Playing 4 of the league's best 7 rebounding teams

We all know the Suns have trouble rebounding. I wrote last week that the Suns, already 28th in the league in defensive rebound rate (% of time they pull down an opponent miss) over all games (72%). They get absolutely killed in their losses to the tune of only pulling down 65% of opponent misses. That means 35% of the time the opponent gets inside position and an easy putback attempt.

During the first 4 games of the road trip that could easily have been a 4-game losing streak, their defensive rebounding rate was good only in that Minnesota win. In the other losses, it's been more of the same: 68%, 69% and 59%.

In the six games since the pasting of the Clippers, the Suns have faced a top rebounding team in 5 of them (Milwaukee the only exception).

Memphis (twice), Chicago, Minnesota and Detroit occupy 4 of the top 7 slots in rebound rate - and the Suns have gone 1-4 against those teams.

Cold Shooting

Normally this season, the Suns counter those putbacks against them by running down and making a fast break layup (league high 19 FB points a game) or a three-pointer (2nd in league with 31% of all their shots being 3s) to more than offset those little 2-point putbacks.

Between the fast breaks and the 3s, the Suns had the league's 5th highest Effective Field Goal percentage at one point, which factors in the higher value 3-point shot.

The idea is that the opponent should be so worried about the Suns fast breaks and shotmaking they abandon the offensive boards to get back on D as quickly as possible.

But when those shots aren't falling as often, the Suns offensive advantage is negated.

Over this 2-4 stretch, the Suns have made only 42% of their shots while allowing 46% to the other team. The Suns are still making 3s and defending 3s okay, but facing great rebounding teams has slowed down the pace and reduced the Suns fast break to a trickle.

Long term impact over the second half

The Suns plan is to overcome those great rebounding teams with fast breaks and 3s. While the 3s are still there, over the past week the fast break has been an issue. Partly at fault is the opponents. Great rebounding teams make you stay in the lane for boards rather than leak out for the break.

Partly at fault are the Eric Bledsoe replacements. While Bledsoe is one of the best in the league at creating and finishing in the paint, Ish Smith and Leandro Barbosa have been less than stellar in that area. Goran Dragic is still the Dragon, but he needs help running the offense over 48 minutes.

Barbosa used to be one of the best on the break and finishing at the rim, so the hope is that Barbosa just needs time to acclimate back into the NBA game. He's got his speed back, but his timing is off and he doesn't yet know the offense or defense enough to make a difference.

Given time, more home games and opponents lower down the rebounding food chain, the Suns should be able to weather this storm thanks to their hustle and shooting.

Of the next several opponents, only the Indiana Pacers are a really good defensive rebounding team. The Knicks, Lakers, Mavericks, Nuggets and Wizards won't be able to control the boards like recent opponents.

Factor in that all but one of those games are in the warm desert, look for the Suns shooting to rebound as well.

The Suns were down the whole game, but fought back in the end to tie it up with just seconds left. However, they couldn't take the lead as the Pistons were able to outlast the Suns 110-108.

The Suns started out the first quarter by getting completely dominated inside on offense and defense, with Andre Drummond, Josh Smith, and Greg Monroe each getting to the rim for easy baskets and getting their hands on rebounds and bothering the Suns defensively to jump out to an early 12-3 lead before Hornacek had seen enough and called a time out to stop the bleeding.

Things improved a bit for the Suns once they made some adjustments, mainly by more plays with Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee rolling and slashing to the rim to help Phoenix cut the deficit to just two points after an 8-0 run, with a score of 17-15 about half way through the quarter as it was Detroit's turn to call the timeout.

Josh Smith quickly took over for the Pistons scoring six consecutive points. Then received some help with contributions by Kyle Singler, Greg Monroe, and Brandon Jennings who racked up 11 assists to once again balloon the lead as Phoenix missed shots and turned the ball over, leading to fast break points and easy buckets by the Pistons.  Detroit was firmly in control at the end of the first, leading 35-21, marking the most points the Suns have given up in the first quarter all season.

The Second quarter started with the Suns' bench getting their hands on the ball a bit more defensively, which led to a couple of fast breaks.  However, the Suns were only able to convert on one of them, a drive by Leandro Barbosa, who seemed to be the one spearheading the offense as Goran Dragic rested.

Alex Len also helped the Suns battle on the boards with Miles Plumlee out, and  was able to tap the ball out a couple of times to keep the offensive possessions alive for Phoenix.  Some good defense and hustle on offense helped the Suns cut the lead to single digits, 37-28, after about four minutes through the quarter.

The Pistons continued to fight however, and were able to go back and forth with the Suns, who still couldn't manage to gain an upper hand.  As many of the starters returned for both teams, the Pistons were able to once again restore their domination on the court by seemingly getting to the basket almost at will.

However, the Suns wouldn't quit and kept battling behind the hustle of Dragic, Plumlee, and Marcus Morris to keep the game from getting out of control, if nothing else.

At the half the Detroit led the Suns 64-51.

The third quarter began with more of the same...fast breaks and paint scoring by the Pistons.  However, the Suns were able to knock down a few threes by P.J. Tucker, Channing Frye, and Goran Dragic as they were able to once again keep the Suns close.

To their credit, the Suns kept fighting and did their best to get their hands on loose balls, and both Tucker and Dragic also kept the pressure on the Pistons by attacking them when they had the opportunity to push the tempo, but for the most part it was still the Suns who were on their heels for most of the quarter.

Still, the Suns were able to chip away at the lead little by little, and at the end of the third quarter the Pistons maintained the lead, 89-79.

The Suns second unit started the fourth quarter with some renewed hope after battling their way back, and you could see they were hustling and playing faster than before.  They were suddenly the fast and furious Suns we are used to seeing...as they got stops on defense and ran on offense in the first two minutes going on a 7-0 run to close the gap to just three points...timeout Pistons

It wouldn't be long before the Pistons went right back to what worked for them, getting the ball inside. However, the Suns continued to push the ball and started striking from behind the arc, with Tucker and Frye both hitting big shots to eventually tie the game at 92-92 halfway through the quarter.

Just when it looked like the Suns may be able to pull off another unlikely victory from behind, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope answered back with a big three of his own and then a fast-break to once again recapture the lead by five.

The Pistons would continue to trade baskets with the Suns...every time the Suns would hit a big shot the Pistons would answer back. The Suns had some great open looks down the stretch and some fast breaks that they just couldn't convert, which ultimately sealed their fate.

The Suns fought back valiantly and once again and a big three by P.J. Tucker off an assist by Barbosa once again tied the game with 51 seconds left. However, Josh Smith hit a three with one second left on the shot clock on the next possession...dagger

Just when it looked as if all hope was lost, Gerald Green got fouled on a three point shot with just four seconds left in the game, down three points, and he was able to hit all three shots to tie it up once again.

Could the Suns really do it again???

After Detroit called a timeout, Josh Smith drove on an off-balance layup off the wrong foot and was able to hit the unlikely shot which proved to be the dagger that buried the Suns for good, as Gerald Green missed the fall away jumper at the end.

The Detroit Pistons went on to win it 110-108...They can't all be happy endings, I guess.

Game Leaders:

Josh Smith led all scorers with 25 points along with his 11 rebounds and 5 assists. Both of the Twin Towers, killed the Suns on the glass and in the paint.  Andre Drummond scored 13 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to go with his 5 blocks, and Greg Monroe also destroyed the Suns with his 20 points and 12 rebounds.  Brandon Jennings dished an astounding 18 assists to go with his 8 points and 8 rebounds.

For the Suns, Channing Frye was the leading scorer with 21 points.  However, P.J. Tucker probably had the best all around game with 17 points and 11 rebounds.Gorand Dragic scored 15 points and 8 assists, Gerald Green had 15 points and 7 rebounds, and Marcus Morris contributed with 17 points and 6 rebounds.

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