Since the return of Bledsoe to the starting line-up, the Suns have gone 7-1 over the last eight games, and have taken over the seventh spot in the Western Conference playoff seedings. There's no doubt....the Slash Brothers are back!
The NBA is all about which player and team can rule the court in the most epic fashion and Bright Side of the Sun has teamed up with Crown Royal to rank the best of the best Phoenix Suns players each and every week. Which player(s) ruled the court this week? #ReignOn
Weekly Stat Averages:
Points: 20.0 FG%: 44% 3FG%: 61% Assists: 5.5 Rebounds: 6.0 Steals: 1.75
Now that he's back, they are on a six game winning streak going 7-2 overall. The grand tally thus far is 24-10 with Bledsoe vs. 20-19 without him...That's not even counting the handful of games that Dragic missed, which contributed to a few of those losses with Bledsoe in the line-up.
Bledsoe's aggressive style of play on both sides of the court is making a big difference for the Suns. Not only has he helped ressurect the defense, he is attacking the basket and getting to the line frequently, where he shoots a very efficient 80%. In fact, 27% of his total points come from the free-throw line. His 5.3 attempts per game is the 18th best among all players in the league, but only second on the Suns. Guess who's first?
Weekly Stat Averages:
Points: 23.5 FG%: 59% 3FG%: 50% Assists: 5.5 Rebounds: 3.3 Steals: 1.5
Goran Dragic has become not only the face of the franchise, but also a top-five MVP candidate this season. Dragic has had a magical season in every way possible.
Dragic is ranked 18th in scoring this season, averaging 20.6 points per game. His passion for the game and willingness to sacrifice his body in order to apply pressure on the opposing defense and attack the rim have been consistent all season long. The Dragon only knows one way to play the game...by giving everything he's got.
Not only is Dragic an incredibly passionate player who lights up the scoreboard on a nightly basis. He is one of the most efficient as well. Dragic is 10th in the league in adjusted field-goal percentage, which also factors in the amount of points per attempt, where he averages .574. If Dragic isn't relentlessly attacking the rim, he's taking efficient three-point shots that he's shooting at an incredibly high percentage. This combination makes him one of the most dangerous scorers in the entire league...and this week was no different.
Combined Weekly Stat Averages:
Points: 43.5 FG%: 49% 3FG%: 56% Assists: 11.0 Rebounds: 9.3 Steals: 3.25
Forget about the "Splash Brothers"...There's a new "Two-Bleded Dragon" in town...and they have become the premier back-court in the league. Although Bledsoe and Dragic can both light it up from beyond the arc, just like the Splash Brothers of Golden State, they have an added dimension to their game that sets them apart.
Remember that stat above that lists Bledsoe at 18th in the league with 5.3 free-throw attempts per game? Well Dragic is tied for 15th in the league with 5.6. They are one of five tandems to crack the top 20 in this category, the others being Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (1st and 12th), Dwight Howard and James Harden (2nd and 4th), Demarcus cousins and Isaiah Thomas (3rd and 13th), and Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge (18th and 20th.
You may expect the Slash Brothers to have an advantage when attacking the rim...after all, that's where the name comes from. But what about the "Splash" aspect of their games? Surely the Golden State Warrior duo has a considerable advantage in this category...right?
Well kind of...Stephen Curry shoots a very high .417 from beyond the arc, ranking 13th overall, and Klay Thompson is right behind him shooting .410, ranking 18th. However, Goran Dragic shoots a staggering .428 from three...ranking in the top 10 at #9 overall...higher than both of them. Eric Bledsoe is not in their league though. He shoots only .353 from three on the season, ranking 152 overall. You have to wonder if that number would improve with Bledose playing more games...I think it would.
But still, with one of the Slash Brothers leading both of the Splash Brothers in their own category, and the Slash Brothers proving their dominance when it comes to attacking the rim...I know who I'd pick to have leading my team.
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Recapping the Western Conference action in the Suns chase for the playoffs
This is just really fun, huh? The Suns are winning games, our Western Conference competition is giving up basically no ground, and Bright Side of the Sun is basically throwing back to 2010. If you are not enjoying yourself right now then there's absolutely nothing I can do for you.
I'm hungover so that's all your going to get for an intro. If you want more then write it yourself.
Friday March 28th Key Western Conference Results:
Phoenix Suns 112 New York Knicks 88 (Recap) - At the 4 minute mark of the 1st quarter the Knicks led the Suns 22-19 and it looked like defense was going to be optional. After that point it was pretty much all Suns. No doubt spurred on by my presence at the game, the Suns led the game by 32 at one point and in a rare (and delightful) change of pace, cruised to victory. Goran Dragic scored 18 points in the 3rd quarter and then got all lazy and finished with a mere 32 points on 11/17 shooting. Eric Bledsoe had an Eric Bledsoey box score with 16 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists - but he shot poorly so we should trade him back to the Clippers for Jared Dudley and a 2nd round pick. But if you really want to have some LOLKnicks time feel free to point to the fact that Miles Plumlee played only 23 minutes and managed to post his first double-double since January 27th. I haven't read the comments from the celebration thread yet but I'm fairly sure nobody pointed out that the universally loved Channing Frye missed all 4 of his shot attempts.
Portland Trail Blazers 91 Chicago Bulls 74 (Recap) -How do you win a game where your leading scorer puts up 16 points and your All-Star forward scores 5? You play the Bulls offense and watch them go for 74 points total. Seth Pollack's adopted shaggy haired son scored 13 points on 6 of 9 shooting and added 9 rebounds. That was enough to overcome a Bulls team which shot a sterling 3 of 17 from three. After looking like crap for a while the Blazers seem to have righted the ship with a couple wins over Eastern Conference playoff teams. We'll see for sure on Sunday when Portland returns home to face Memphis. In case you missed this stat in the comments of an earlier Playoff Report the Blazers have lost 12 straight games to the Top 9 teams in the West.
Golden State Warriors 100 Memphis Grizzlies 93 (Recap) - Stephen Curry is really good but you knew that already. The Full Squad State Full Squadiors played with David Lee (hamstring) and had Andrew Bogut for just 4 minutes until the oft-injured Aussie left with a bruised pelvis (which sounds awful). Despite missing their starting bigs and playing the big man basketball version of Dick Dastardly and Muttley - the Warriors won anyway. Curry scored 33 points on 13/22 shooting and got help from Marresse Speights (15 on 7/9) and Klay Thompson (sort of - he scored 14 points but did it on 16 shots) in the win. The Grizzlies led the game by 7 with just 4 minutes remaining but in the exact opposite way which they stormed back to beat the Jazz - the cuddly teddy bears missed their last 7 shots and never scored again.
Current Western Conference Standings:
|2. Oklahoma City
|3. LA Clippers
|4. Houston||49||22||.690||6.5||7-3||WON 5|
|6. Golden State
Saturday March 29th Western Conference Games of Significance:
Kings @ Mavericks - This is the only relevant game on the docket tonight and it's one where I'd be pretty surprised if the Kings managed to pull an upset. Sacramento hasn't won a game against a member of the Western Conference Top 9 since January 7th - a streak which covers 10 attempts. So I guess they're due? At least the ten thousand game homestand the Mavericks are on ends in 2 more games.
They weren't supposed to be here. But the Phoenix Suns now have their destiny in their own hands, and the NBA had better be ready for the Suns big stage.
Just two weeks ago, the Phoenix Suns were on the precipice. The team had lost its mojo a tiny bit, and doubt began to creep in.
They didn't doubt their talent or their futures. But they did begin to doubt their ability to make the playoffs in this most cinderella of seasons after having barely survived more than two months without their second-best player.
With that loss, the Suns had just finished a stretch of 13 of 18 games at home since the beginning of February, but went just 8-10 in those 18 games, capped bluntly by a 3-game losing streak.
Their leading scorer was banged up, exhausted, unable to even stand during postgame interviews. He looked like he'd been put through the ringer this season. Five times he twisted an ankle. Once he'd hit his head so hard he couldn't see straight for the rest of the game. And now there was a rib injury.
"It's like they were targeting it," he said. "Every time."
On that night, the loss to Cleveland left them as the 9th seed in a conference where only 8 teams make the playoffs.
Goran and I talked about the Suns' collective lack of playing experience, able to count only a few guys who even played roles on a successful push to the postseason. He and Channing Frye were subs for the 2010 Suns. He started for the 2012 Rockets, but they came up just short. Bledsoe was a sub for the Clippers the last three years. Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee watched the Pacers run 2013 from the deep bench.
None, not one of them, had been a big-minutes rotation player during a successful postseason push.
And it was only going to get harder. What remained on the schedule was the opposite of what they'd just flubbed. A road-heavy schedule to finish the season had 12 of their final 18 away from the friendly confines of US Airways Center, a supposed death knell for an inexperienced team.
Would this season flame out like everyone predicted?
No. At least not yet, anyway.
Bledsoe was a breath of fresh air. His energy boosted the team even in his first start and their collective mojo has grown on a nightly basis since.
The Suns are 8-1 since Bledsoe returned to the lineup, making them 19-5 in games where the Slash Brothers (along with Frye, Plumlee and Tucker) start and finish the game.
19-5, as long as Bledsoe and Dragic are there at the start and the finish.
That's the lineup the NBA should fear. That's the lineup that creates mismatches all over the floor with the Slash Brothers surrounded by shooters who can make the three-ball.
The nickname Slash Brothers began here on Bright Side as a twist on the popular nickname given to Golden State's Curry and Thompson for their jump-shooting prowess: Splash Brothers. The Suns were about to face the duo, so I penned the nickname in the game preview just to have a little fun.
"Slash" is a great descriptor for these guys because they attack the paint first, forcing the defense to respect their ability to finish at the rim, and then either score or kick it back out to a three-point shooter or their brother to restart the process. having one of them out there at a time is tough enough to defend, but two is nearly impossible. Especially since each can be the weak-side three-point shooter for the other.
The nickname has stuck, with NBA.com now using it when promoting the Suns. Short of any household names, the national media had to latch onto something to excite the fans, and this nickname is as good as any.
Anyhoo, I digress. Back to the story of the Rising Suns.
After winning 8 of 9 games, the Phoenix Suns now find themselves right back in the catbird seat in 7th place in the West. Their hold is still tenuous, but now it's no more or less tenuous than Dallas or Memphis'.
"We are just trying to get in," coach Jeff Hornacek said last night. "We are not concerned with trying to climb the ladder and get way up there. I think when you look at some of the teams up there: Golden State, Portland - it is going to be hard to catch them unless we finish off 7 and 2 or something like that where than maybe there is a chance.
"Our schedule gets harder. We are trying to win these games we have in front of us right now. We talk about just having to win our games and we won't worry about what these other teams do."
In the last nine games, the Suns face three of their targets for postseason position: Portland (home), Dallas (away) and Memphis (home). They have already split a season series with Golden State, each winning two games.
I remember the 2010 Suns, despite a 26-7 run, still had to win their last two games to improve on their 6th seed in the West. With back-to-back wins over Utah and Denver, the Suns jumped from 6th to 3rd to start the playoffs.
Will this team make the playoffs? Very likely.
Will big wins in the final week be able to vault them into 6th or even 5th place? Quite possible.
The Suns are riding high right now, full of moxie and confidence. They KNOW how to win games. They KNOW their style is nearly unbeatable. They can defend. They can rebound. And boy can they score.
"To go from one of the worst teams in the league last year," P.J. Tucker said. "To having a chance to make the playoffs, that's the hunger right there. There's no question everybody in this locker room is committed and we all have shown that we're getting better as the year goes on. I've said all year we can win, we are one of the better teams in this league."
Watch out, NBA. The Slash Brothers and their band of merry men are ready to hit the big stage!