PHOENIX — The Cleveland Cavaliers have made a habit of late when it comes to building big leads against the Phoenix Suns — 20 and 26 points respectively back in Jan. 2014 and Nov. 2013....

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The Phoenix Suns have completely lost their mojo. Since losing a hotly contested game at home to Houston two weeks ago, the Suns have been in a funk they might not survive after losing to Cleveland at home as Memphis and Dallas continue to win.

After being down 24 at halftime in Cleveland in January only to come back to win by 9, the Suns apparently decided they wanted to try that formula again. This time, the Suns slogged and sloughed their way to a 13-point halftime deficit before waking up to the level of play necessary to win an NBA game.

But this time it wasn't meant to be. The Cavaliers made shots, and the Suns just couldn't make theirs when they mattered, as the Cavaliers won 110-101. The game was excruciating to watch.

The Phoenix Suns now sit 2 full games out of playoff position, behind both Dallas and Memphis who continue to win.

The Suns had several chances to take the lead late in the third, but just could not convert. The closest the Suns got was 75-73. But Dragic stepped out of bounds after missing two threes on one possession and Cleveland scored at the other end.

When the Cavs realized they had survived the Suns storm, it was like a gift. For a team suffering a 4-game losing streak, they didn't pass up the chance for a win when it was handed to them. The Cavaliers won this game walking away. Or, walking to the free throw line. The last minute of play was interminable.

The Cavs blasted the Suns in every area of the game - shooting, rebounding, assisting, everything.

The Suns bright side notes:

  • Eric Bledsoe looked like his old self, and should be a good boon for the Suns the rest of the year. He had 15 points, 9 assists, 3 rebounds and two steals in 33 minutes of play, while Dragic had 20 points and 5 assists playing a lot off the ball.
  • The Cavaliers only shot 46% for the game, breaking the Suns ignominious run of allowing 50+% shooting to seven straight opponents.

But the Suns just watched more air go out of their playoff balloon.

Pfffffft.

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Postgame notes:

  • Coach Hornacek is at a loss for words
  • Goran Dragic (20, 5) covered his head with a towel for the first five minutes of postgame media time in the locker room.
  • Markieff Morris (18, 10) took questions at his locker with a somber tone and head shakes on what's happened to the Suns.
  • Dragic pulled off the towel, took questions for almost ten minutes. He's never been this physically beat up at this point in the season. And had to talk himself into 18 games being a lot of time left to make up a two-game deficit on the playoff chase.

THIS right here is the lowest point of the season. Let's see what happens with this team here on out.

"They looked like the team that was trying to get into the playoffs," Hornacek said. "We looked like the team that just wanted to play a baskeball game."

The good news is that the Suns will be #fullsquad in the next game for the first time since they were 19-11.

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The Suns started out the game playing in quicksand, everything a step short. The Cavaliers made two wide open corner threes (something the Suns denied best in NBA until a couple weeks ago) and drew fouls while the Suns stumbled and bumbled to a 10-2 deficit.

Only Goran Dragic's three stopped the bleeding for the moment, but then the blood letting picked up again. While Eric Bledsoe returned to action looking like his old self, the rest of the Suns unfortunately looked a lot like their new selves.

Spencer Hawes went off for 17 points in the first 9 minutes of play on 3-3 three-point shooting and 5-7 overall from the field. One of his only misses was so bad it didn't hit the rim, but bounced right to his own guy. Hawes then climbed over the backs of the Suns for the putback on the next miss. I guess that's legal.

At the end of one, the Cavaliers led 37-24. They led the Suns 16-0 on second-chance points. They led 16-5 in rebounds.

Un. Be. Lievable.

When Hawes went out and the second units came in, the Suns cut the Cavs lead to just 8. By just, I mean that the Suns Suns were still bumbling and stumbling along but the Cavs cooled off.

Suns pulled to within 43-35 when Kyrie Irving and the starters returned for the Cavs, feeling like they could win the NBA championship. The Cavs pulled back to a 53-39 lead just by playing smart basketball and letting the Suns watch the game from the great angle of the floor.

By halftime, the Suns threw away chance after chance to pull closer and the Cavs went into halftime with a 60-47 lead on the Suns.

Here's the Suns defense in a nutshell:

  • Cavs 60 points is 13 ahead of their season average for 24 minutes (20% higher than usual)
  • Cavs shot 8-11 on threes - all uncontested, double their season average rate
  • Cavs 8 threes at halftime is 1 more than their average PER GAME this season
  • Cavs shot 50% in the first half, on pace to help Suns break 17-year NBA record for opponent shooting % over 50% in 8 consecutive games

The good news is that Eric Bledsoe brought back everything but his shooting touch (and maybe his defense) by putting up 6 assists in only 13 first half minutes of play, along with 3 points and 1 rebound. He looked good on the court, like his old self.

Goran Dragic had only 5 points and 3 rebounds, deferring a lot to Bledsoe in the first half. But offense, aside from missing open shots, wasn't really the problem in the first half. It was the lack of any defense on the other end.

The Suns opened the second half with Bledsoe in there alongside Dragic, but the initial results were the same. Luol Deng got an open J to push the Cavs lead to 15, but then the Suns got a couple turnovers and made some threes and went on a run. Would have been even better if they'd hit their free throws.

The Cavs didn't just lay down this time, staying competitive by making shots (where have we heard that before?). Gerald Green came in to miss a several open jumpers and the Suns struggled to tie up the game despite the Cavaliers missing shots at a high rate.

The Suns went into the 4th quarter down 5 by missing free throws and open shots while giving up a late 3 to Dion Waiters to get the lead back to 5 as time expired in the third.

Waiters hit another to open the third and then missed one so badly it bounced ON THE COURT and Tyler Zeller corralled it for an easy Irving jumper. That's the Suns night.

Even two consecutive Suns dunks couldn't raise their spirits, considering they only brought the Suns back to an 8-point deficit.

News Flash: beating ANY NBA TEAM requires consistent effort and energy. The Suns did not have that tonight.

Time: 7 p.m. MST TV: FSA “Yes. He is in.” Those were the words from Suns coach Jeff Hornacek today, answering the question before it was even asked to him after shootaround. Eric Bledsoe...

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The Phoenix Suns really need a win to stay within shouting distance of the playoffs, and they return their second best player tonight in Eric Bledsoe from a nearly three-month injury.

Ah, the crazy way the NBA season progresses. Welcome to the playoff chase.

Seven days ago, the Phoenix Suns were on the verge of dropping from a playoff seed if they'd lost to league-best Oklahoma City. But the Suns beat OKC while the Grizzlies and Mavericks lost to bump the Suns back to 7th in the race. Yet, six days later the Suns have dropped to 9th thanks to back-to-back losses coupled with wins by their competition.

As fast as they can drop, the Suns can jump right back into contention with some wins against the East in the coming weeks. While most of the games are on the road, the Suns do play 9 of their next 10 against Eastern Conference foes not named Indiana or Miami. The games are winnable, so coming out with a winning record over the next 10 games is imperative if the Suns hope to make the playoffs.

The return of Eric Bledsoe should help. The Suns are 12-6 with him and Goran Dragic starting and finishing the same game. They are 16-8 overall with Bledsoe in the lineup. Without Bledsoe, the Suns are only 20-19 on the season. Bledsoe helps on both offense and defense, and could be the deciding factor of the Suns playoff push.

The Opponent

After winning 6 straight games in February to give their fans some hope of making the playoffs in the terrible Eastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers have now lost 7 of 9 and sit at 24-40 despite adding Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes without giving up any of their young talent in the process.

It's quite possible that Mike Brown just isn't the right coach for this team. They are one of the league's youngest, yet play at a slow-ish pace (21st). They added a strong veteran in Luol Deng and their coach is a defensive-minded tactician, yet they deploy one of the league's worst defenses (20th overall).

The Cavs have a strong starting lineup, but they just have not meshed well this season. Let's hope that failure to launch continues at least one more game.

The Suns

Well, a look at the Bright Side says "at least they didn't go 0-4 in that tough stretch". Given that the Suns are displaying the WORST defense in the entire league over the past 7 games, it's amazing they have even been close at all.

The Matadors have allowed a league-worst 115.4 points per 100 possessions over the last 7, including the opponent hitting better than 50% of their shots in each and every one of those games (average = league worst 53.1% allowed). Prior to that 7-game stretch, the Suns had allowed the 9th lowest opponent field goal percentage (45.4%).

The Suns used to be a top-5 defense in opponent three-point field goal % (allowing just a 33% conversion rate), but the last 7 games have seen the Suns allow better than the 41% they allowed a year ago as the worst in the league (41.7% allowed in 7 games is 4th worst in the league over that stretch).

So how have the Suns even sniffed at a 3-4 record in that 7 games? By playing the league's 3rd best offense (112.9 points per 100 possessions) and somehow being 6th in rebounding over that stretch of 7 games (52.9% of all rebounds). The Suns are rebounding the available misses better than usual, they just can't stop the initial shot any more.

The Stats

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The Lineups

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With P.J. Tucker suspended and Suns coach Hornacek previously saying he'd bring Bledsoe off the bench for at least a game or two, my guess is that Marcus Morris gets his first start of the year tonight for the Suns. Plumlee returned from injury and started last game (12 points, 9 rebounds), so expect the usual lineup with the exception of Mook.

The Key Matchup

It's the RETURN OF ERIC BLEDSOE tonight, so of course the key matchup will be Kyrie Irving against the Suns Slash Brothers of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe.

We might even see some Slash Brothers against the PG duo of Irving and Jarrett in a battle of the two-PG lineups. Ish Smith will rotate in as well.

The Prediction

The Suns really need this win, and the Cavaliers might just be the right foil at the right time.

Suns by 10.

Tucker threw the elbow to the throat. Now he gets to miss a game.

Maybe I'm a homer but it sure looked like Griffin swung at Tucker too.

Phoenix Suns forward P.J. Tucker has been suspended one game without pay for elbowing Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin in the chin. See the play above.

The incident occurred with 5:28 remaining in the fourth quarter of the Clippers’ 112-105 win over the Suns on Monday, March 10, at Staples Center.

Tucker will serve his suspension on Wednesday, March 12, when the Suns host the Cleveland Cavaliers at US Airways Center.

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