Leandro Barbosa is back. What is he going to bring to the Suns in his second stint in the Valley of the Sun?

When the Suns announced the return of Leandro Barbosa, I think the general response from Suns fans was excitement but tempered expectations. Barbosa is a 31-year-old guard who relies on speed and was coming off of a torn ACL. Two weeks ago he was playing in Brazil. How much could he possibly have left?

Well, three games into his second stint with the Suns, the answer appears to be plenty. From the first moment he checked in against Minnesota, he looked like the Brazilian Blur we all knew and loved. He only made one of his six shots, but he got to the rim at will and looked just as fast as ever. Game number two was more of the same as he shot 2-of-7 for four points. The third game continued the upwards trend, as Barbosa scored nine points on 3-of-9 shooting.

Then came the game against the New York Knicks. Layups went in, jump shots fell and Barbosa exploded for 21 points on 8-15 shooting.

The fourth quarter alone, in which Barbosa scored 14 of his points, showed what Barbosa can bring to the team and why the Suns might be able to hold on and tread water while Eric Bledsoe recovers.

His first bucket came almost two minutes into the period out of a simple pick-and-roll set with Marcus Morris.

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Mook sets the high screen and Barbosa uses it. Stoudemire hangs back instead of hedging while Toure' Murry goes under the screen.

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As I have pointed out with the red arrow, this gives Barbosa a wide open lane to the basket.

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Barbosa's speed and long arms (plus Stoudemire not even attempting to help) allows Barbosa to get to the basket and finish.

The next possession was more of a pseudo-pick-and-roll as Keef runs down the court and just kind of keeps going. Felton gets stuck behind him.

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Barbosa takes a dribble right, then comes back left as Keef shifts a little bit (this could have easily been called  a moving screen, but no whistle so it's good!).

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Instead of coming off the "screen" going 100 miles an hour, Barbosa slow plays it a bit.

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It's tough to show in pictures, but Barbosa actually hesitates here as Felton is trying to get back to him.

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The hesitation freezes Felton and allows Barbosa to blow right past him. Amar'e Stoudemire is waiting for him at the rim ...

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So Barbosa elevates and adjusts in the air for a tough finish (not that Stoudemire bothered to leave his feet to contest it).

Barbosa's next bucket starts with a pick-and-roll, which New York switches.

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Frye initially looks for a post-up but then decides to clear out along with everyone else, giving Barbosa space to isolate on Kenyon Martin.

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Barbosa uses his quick first step and long strides to attack Martin and get to the rack.

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Martin actually does a decent job of staying with Barbosa, but LB rises up and banks home the runner anyway. Pretty good defense forcing a tough shot, but it still went in.

Leandro also helped Martin up after they both fell down on the play. What a nice guy.

Barbosa's next basket began with an offensive rebound as Green overshot his mark and the ball bounced out towards the corner.

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Plumlee sets a screen for him to get the ball out of the corner, but both defenders stay under the screen

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Barbosa realizes nobody is guarding him, so ...

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He rises up and knocks down a wide open jumper. Barbosa is a career 39 percent 3-point shooter, and while he has shot very well so far with the Suns, the jumper should come around sooner rather than later.

Finally, this last bucket was another pick-and-roll into an isolation. Inititially, Miles Plumlee (who was being guarded by Kenyon Martin) looked to come set the screen after Dragic handed it off to Barbosa, but LB waved him away.

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LB looks to shake free from Felton, but Felton stays in front of him and he decides to use Mook's screen instead.

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Barbosa gets the switch he wanted again, and isolates on Andrea Bargnani.

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Bargnani has no chance, and Barbosa blows right past him...

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Then uses his body to give himself enough space to finish off the glass.

These are just five of Barbosa's made shots and 10 of his 21 points. He also had a couple 3-point plays and drew fouls on two other plays. He still missed a couple jumpers and a few shots around the basket, but that's who he is.

Unfortunately, Barbosa injured his shoulder late and the Suns fell in overtime with him on the bench (there may be a correlation there). He also missed the game against the Los Angeles Lakers, which the Suns managed to win with a huge game from Gerald Green. However, Green isn't going to be that hot every game and the Suns are going to need Barbosa moving forward.

As demonstrated by these plays I've shown you, Barbosa brings something to the table that none of the team's guards other than Dragic can really do: create off the dribble. Barbosa still doesn't know the full offense, but he's more than capable of running the pick-and-roll or isolating if he has a mismatch. The speed we all remembered is still there. He's never going to be the Sixth Man of the Year LB again, but he still can contribute and help this team win games. He's comfortable with the team and Goran Dragic is comfortable with him (as is Channing Frye).

"@JacobPadilla_: @Channing_Frye What is it like having Goran and LB back running with you again?"- awesome i love playing with both of them

— Channing Frye (@Channing_Frye) January 14, 2014

Barbosa was signed on Jan. 8, meaning his 10-day contract is up in two days. However, expect to see Barbosa in the Valley of the Sun for much longer than that. Per ArizonaSports.com, we haven't yet seen the best of the Blur.

Hornacek believes Barbosa, who had been out of the NBA since tearing his left ACL in a game last February, will continue to get better as he gets re-acclimated to the game and learns his new teammates.

"We get a couple days to practice our plays with him and I think he'll be a good addition for us."

And not just for the rest of the week, as Hornacek said the plan would be to keep the 31-year-old around the rest of the season.

"He's a veteran guy," the coach said. "If we're going to try to make a push for the playoffs you'll need that veteran guy whether Eric comes back in two weeks or five weeks or whenever it is.

"Leandro, once Eric gets back, will be just another good piece to bring off the bench and bring veteran play."

The Phoenix Suns beat the Los Angeles Lakers in a muddy game highlighted by a fight more than anything else. Eventually, a basketball game was played.

Both teams were winners because they had lots of fans in the stands. And both teams were losers because they played a bad basketball game.

But the Phoenix Suns win the tiebreaker by scoring the most points.

Neither team will chalk this game up to a good defensive effort.

Goran Dragic came up just short of a triple double (18 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists) and Gerald Green broke out of an ice-cold shooting slump with 28 points on 18 shots, plus 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals.

Channing Frye somehow had 20 points and 8 rebounds despite playing poorly and passing on open shots. Alex Len had his best effort of the season (2 points, 3 rebounds in 4 minutes) but got himself kicked out due to a hard foul on a breakaway by Nick Young. Young got up fighting, and both players were ejected.

The Suns barometer, Markieff Morris, had 25 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists. Of course.

First Half Notes

Kendall Marshall started the night on Goran Dragic, and the Dragon was so excited with his options he didn't know what to do. In the end, he dribbled the ball off his leg.

However, the Suns first 10 points were on 5 transition baskets, two of those putbacks thanks to extra effort, giving the Suns an early 10-4 lead.

The Lakers stayed in the game, though, with offensive rebounds (early) and made jumpers (later), while the Suns continued to struggle with playing well for more than a few seconds at a time.

Markieff Morris was the Suns best player early, tallying 9 points and an assist in his first 6 minutes of play. He still forced a lot of fallaways and played poor defense in the post.

The Suns went on a miss-the-threes run while the Lakers turned to Chris Kaman for offense, and a 6-point Suns lead turned into a deficit as the quarter ended.

The Suns were just missing on all cylinders, and the Lakers had a 27-26 lead after one. No one was really inspired, and no one tried to play much defense. Not a good combo, Suns.

In the second quarter, I realized how much I miss seeing Archie Goodwin out there. He didn't do much, but he looked good. Rookie Alex Len looked great as well in limited time, even calling for the ball on an occasion.

Nick Young had 9 points in 6 minutes, but took exception to a hard foul by Alex Len, got up pushing Len and then even punched Goran Dragic (like a basketball player punches, anyway). In between, he was shoved a couple of times by Marcus Morris. After the melee, the Lakers ended up with the lead but lost their best scorer.

Nick Young was ejected, as was Alex Len. Too bad. That was Len's best stretch as a Phoenix Sun, with bounce in his step and confidence in his movements. He altered shots and had 2 points, 3 rebounds and a block in 4 minutes before getting kicked out.

The Lakers kept the lead because the Suns brought their road shooting back with them - 41% through the middle of the second quarter while the Lakers got some confidence on back-to-back-to-back threes from Marshall (twice) and Meeks and three more free throws.

This game was close to getting out of hand. Against a Laker team on a 5-game losing streak. Missing their best scorer. With Kendall Marshall getting pumped up and quieting the crowd (hard, since there were way too many Laker fans in attendance).

I would say the Suns defense looked terrible, but I couldn't find it to properly evaluate.

I would say the Suns defense looked terrible, but I couldn't find it to properly evaluate.

Goran Dragic finished just 1-8 from the floor in the first half (5 points), but had 6 rebounds and 5 assists to help the Suns cut the Lakers lead to just 4 at halftime, 58-54.

Second Half Notes

Let's see if the Suns can come back in this second half to a semblance of their former selves. They are down only 4 at halftime, but with their recent shooting that's a daunting deficit.

But the Suns came out with energy and took the lead just two minutes into the quarter. Green got his confidence with Marshall defending him (who wouldn't), by taking KMarsh into the post several times for clean scores.

The Suns still stepped on their own feet too much with turnovers, but were playing with more confidence in their shot so that's a plus. They weren't really going in, mind you (Green and Frye with an egregious three consecutive misses on open OPEN shots) but at least the Suns were energized.

The Lakers kept it close on pocket passes from Marshall and Gasol becoming inside shots and jumpers just outside the paint.

The Suns finally pulled ahead with fast breaks and finally making some midrange jumpers. Those were needed, since the entire team was 2-16 from the three point line.

No word whether the team made 2 of 16 on threes as a TEAM FIRST statement in support of Green's 2-16 night on Monday. Team would probably deny it anyway.

The fourth quarter was a time for the Suns to break away. The Lakers had just played a tough game the night before, while the Suns had the night off and were playing in front of their home crowd.

The Suns pulled out to a 9-point lead early and the watch was on for who of the three point guards - Kendall Marshall, Ish Smith and Goran Dragic - would have the best 4th period.

Dragic entered the quarter needing only 4 assists to get a triple double but the team kept driving or missing off his passes instead of finishing. Dragic should have had 10+ assists easily but just couldn't get the team to cooperate.

Kendall Marshall got himself a double-double while Wesley Johnson had 22 points on 14 shots (plus 7 free throws) for a good "homecoming" for each player.

An update on Leandro Barbosa's status for Wednesday night's game against the Lakers plus the possibility of Archie Goodwin going to the D-League.

The Suns are back at home to face the Lakers Wednesday night after a 1-4 road trip.  They held a shootaround this morning as they prepare to put an end to their three game losing steak.  Here are some notes from the media session that took place.

  • Leandro Barbosa is a game time decision for tonight's game. The shoulder injury occurred from bumping into Kenyon Martin at the beginning of overtime according to Barbosa. Head coach Jeff Hornacek thinks it's just a bruise.
  • Barbosa mentioned the two other teams that showed interest in him were the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers
  • Jeff Hornacek discussed the possibility of Archie Goodwin getting sent to D-League. Nothing is imminent, but it hasn't been ruled out if Goodwin continues not to play much with the Suns. He only played one minute against the Knicks and was a DNP-CD in the previous three games.
  • Alex Len isn't hurt. His zero minutes versus New York was a match-up based decision.

No other major news from US Airways. Everyone remember to say hi to Kendall Marshall tonight.

The Phoenix Suns have a golden opportunity to play the Harlem Globetrotters tonight against the struggling Los Angeles Generals. Err, Lakers.

After a dismal 1-4 road trip that marks only the second lull of the season, the Phoenix Suns receive a get-well card today in the form of a struggling Los Angeles Lakers team riding a 5-game losing streak in which they are losing by a margin of 17.8 points per game.

The Lakers are scoring, but they aren't defending. The Suns are kinda defending, but they can't score. Between them, they have 1 win in their last 10 games.

Whoever wins tonight will likely be apparent in the field goal percentages.

The opponent

One could call this section "Where are they now?" While former Sun Steve Nash has barely played this season due to injury, two of last year's worst-in-franchise-history Suns are in the starting lineup for the Los Angeles Lakers this season as they march toward a worst-in-decades finish in LaLa Land. Apparently, Wes Johnson and Kendall Marshall are the key to a high draft pick.

One year ago, three major players in the Suns rotation represented former backups to each of the Lakers Hall of Fame starters: Goran Dragic -- Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant -- Shannon Brown, Marcin Gortat -- Dwight Howard. A year later, only one of those six players will see the floor tonight - All Star candidate Goran Dragic. Gortat is in Washington, Howard is in Houston, Brown is out of the league and Bryant and Nash are injured.

Now, the tables have turned. Lakers starting PG Kendall Marshall used to be Suns PG Goran Dragic's backup. And Lakers starting SF Wes Johnson used to be P.J. Tucker's.

Smilin' Wes has somehow started 27 of 37 games this year while shooting a little better but producing less per minute. His per game averages are nearly the same as a year ago on 8 more minutes per contest. But he smiles, doesn't complain and tries hard each night. That counts for something.

Kendall Marshall is quite the story and I'll be one of the first to hope he gets cheered tonight when he returns to Phoenix for the first time since being traded/released just a year after being a lotto pick. Unfortunately, Marshall is more likely to be booed for association to last year's team or just simply ignored.

The 22-year old Marshall has found a resurgence in LA since being signed to a 10-day contract a couple of weeks ago. Not only has he been a good passer for the Lake Show, he has showed he can score as well. In 6 starts, Marshall is averaging 13 points, 12 assists and 5 rebounds per game. On the surface, quite excellent numbers, especially for a second-year player.

However, the Lakers have not gotten the results - losing their last five games by an average of 17.8 points a night by surrendering 117 points per game since Marshall joined the starting lineup.

Opponents against the Lakers in January are making 49% of their shots on 28 assists, along with 49 rebounds and 11.7 steals per game, making the Lakers appear to be the Washington Generals of the NBA.

Of course, the Lakers have been injured like few teams can boast this season. Not only are they missing their HoF back court, but Marshall is quite literally their 5th point guard on the season. Jordan Framar, Xavier Henry and Steve Blake are all injured as well. They even tried Jodie Meeks at PG before slotting Marshall in there.

Pau Gasol has been up and down this season as he declines with wear and tear, but put up 20 and 12 last night while nursing a toe injury.

The Suns

The Suns, of course, are struggling right now. While the Lakers have a 5-game losing streak, the Suns are only one game better (1-4). The league's worst passing team for the entire season is coming off a road trip in which they made only 39.5% of their shots.

I wrote before the road trip that Markieff Morris was the key to the Suns hopes.

More often than not, there's one player in every team's rotation that indicates wins vs losses because of their inconsistency. In the Phoenix Suns case, that player has so far been backup power forward Markieff Morris.

Well, he laid an egg out there. A 12/6 player off the bench all season, and once the Western Conference Player of the Week, Markieff probably wished the road trip never happened. He halved his season numbers, putting up only 6 points and 3 rebounds a game, missing 32 of 45 shots.

The difference between winning and losing is quite tenuous for this team. There's no 'roll the ball out there and win' with a lineup boasting no All-Stars. If any one player goes through a lull, the whole team will.

Of course, it also hurts that Gerald Green forgot his jumper in Phoenix, as did the rest of the team. Hopefully, they will find those shooting strokes back in the Valley.

What did go right for the Suns was Leandro Barbosa. After shooting terribly in his first few games, he was the catalyst for the 4th quarter comeback against the Knicks on Monday night, putting up 21 points, though he may have injured something because he sat out the overtime.

The stats

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The lineups

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The key matchup

The key matchup is Suns castoff Kendall Marshall against Suns darling Goran Dragic. After being drafted 13th overall just last year as a 20 year old pass-first point guard, Marshall saw the Suns sign Goran Dragic, draft combo guard Archie Goodwin, and trade for Eric Bledsoe and Ish Smith to play ahead of him in the rotation.

Now Marshall gets a chance to show Phoenicians why he was a lotto pick. While still being paid $2 million this season (by Washington, since the trade), Marshall is running a high-octane offense the way he always envisioned when he came into the league. He always said he didn't have to change his shot (he still shoots from the hip, literally) and didn't need elite athleticism to succeed in the NBA. All he needed was his smarts and passing. In LA, he's proving that's true, as long as you're okay with losing games due to low shooting percentages (shooting 40% over last 5 games) and poor defense.

Goran Dragic, on the other hand, has also improved his game and is trying to make his first All-Star game this year, a 20 point scorer in the absence of Eric Bledsoe, along with 7 assists per game.

The prediction

The safest prediction is that Leandro Barbosa will get the longest, loudest ovation of the night. Hopefully, the Suns have put together a welcome back montage for fans to cheer over.

Regarding the game, Daniel Buerge of LakerNation.com and I exchanged some thoughts:

Why the Lakers will win

Dave King: Why, Kendall Marshall of course. If anyone has a reason to prove to the Suns they can play basketball it's Kendall Marshall. He went through 3 coaches in the span of 10 months and couldn't get a foothold with any of them. Most recently, he couldn't get rookie coach Jeff Hornacek's trust and lost his third-PG spot to Ish Smith who can't shoot either. That the Suns were clearly going as young as possible this season and still didn't have room for a 22 year old PG is a troubling sign. Ish won his coach over with speed, fire and humility that seemed to be lacking from Marshall. Still, Marshall had his supporters who focused on his ability to set up teammates for good shots while ignoring Marshall's inability to make defenses focus on him or play his own defense on the other end. I was one of those supporters until he "lost" his third coach in just over a year. If the Lakers win on Wednesday night, it's because Kendall Marshall showed he's a really, really good NBA point guard.

Daniel Buerge, LakerNation.com: The Lakers will win if they can limit turnovers. The team has been turning it over at an astonishing 15.4 turnovers per game, which is 27th in the league. Their turnovers lead to transition opportunities for the other teams, and that kills the Lakers defensively. If they turn it over, they're dead. If they control the ball, they have a chance.

Why the Suns will win

DK: The Suns will be itching for a win of any kind, and will likely play as if their lives depended on it. The road is a terrible place for an inexperienced team to regain its footing, so a home game after a two-week roadie against a defensively-struggling rival is a great place to start. Still, the Suns will have to play their very best basketball to win the game.

DB: Phoenix will win if they're able to get out in transition. That's a result of the Lakers' turnovers, obviously, but it goes beyond that. Transition options for Phoenix also likely means a lot of missed shots from Los Angeles, especially missed outside shots. So if Phoenix is out and running it means the Lakers are either giving up the rock or missing shots - two recipes for losing.

Hit up LakerNation.com for all your Laker coverage, and follow Daniel on twitter: https://twitter.com/danielbuergeLA during the game for the Laker side of things.

It's been a rough patch for the Phoenix Suns, losers of 3 straight and 5 of 7 since the calendar turned to 2014. But how do they stack up agains the rest of their division and conference foes?

It's been a rough patch for the Phoenix Suns, losers of 3 straight and 5 of 7 since the calendar turned to 2014. But how do they stack up agains the rest of their division and conference foes?

Pacific Division

Los Angeles Clippers (26-13, 1st Pacific, 4th Conference) - The Clippers are 3-1 since losing starting point guard Chris Paul to a shoulder injury on January 3, and 5-1 on the new year. Darren Collison has filled in like a champ for Paul, averaging 18 points and 6 assists since the injury. Their latest victory was a 36 point beatdown of the Injury-riddled Los Angeles Lakers. Collison will need to continue to perform at a high level if they want to hold off the...

Golden State Warriors (25-14, 2nd Pacific, 6th Conference) - The Dubs are rolling hard, winning 11 of their last 12 and 5 of 6 to kick off 2014. While the Splash Brothers might be the stars of the show, Andre Iguodala scored 22 in their most recent victory over the Boston Celtics. The Dubs are doing it with defense. With the third best defensive rating in the league, they're knocking on door of the Pacific Division lead.

Phoenix Suns (21-16, 3rd Pacific, 8th Conference) - Before Eric Bledsoe's injury, the Suns were flirting with being a Pacific Division contender. Without him, they're fighting for their 8th seeded lives. You know the story: 2-5 in January with 3 of those losses coming in the last 3 games, including an ugly one to the Knicks. I dare anyone to watch that game again. On the bright side, at least the Suns are doing better than the...

Los Angeles Lakers (14-24, 4th Pacific, 14th Conference) - This season has been an unmitigated disaster in Lakerland. A plague of injuries has descended on the Lakers. All 3 point guards that started the season with the Lakers are out with injuries. They dressed just 9 players for their most recent lost, in which they gave up 120 points to the Cleveland Cavaliers. They're 1-4 in 2014 and have dropped 11 of their last 12. But, hey! Kendall Marshall is putting up 13 points (on 44.8% FG and 41.4% 3FG) and 12 assists as a starter, so they've got that going for them.

Sacramento Kings (13-23, 5th Pacific, 15 Conference) - You've got to feel for Sacramento fans and Mayor Kevin Johnson. They moved mountains to keep the Kings in Sactown and they are rewarded with the 2nd worst team in the conference. Things are looking up though. The team is .500 in January and had won 3 in a row before getting drubbed by the Pacers, 116-92, last night. It's all about the future for this young squad and they've got a bright future (but probably not this season) with Isiah Thomas and DeMarcus Cousins leading the way.

The Rest of the West

At the top of the conference, the Spurs keep Spurring. Crack all the old jokes you want, the Spurs are laughing their way to a 5 game winning streak and the best record in the West. The Portland Trailblazers are nipping at their heels, trailing by only a game and a half. But one has to wonder if the upstart Blazers have what it takes to not get assimilated by the Borg-like Spurs. The other presumptive favorite, the Oklahoma City Thunder, are biding their time until their star point guard returns from a knee injury (sound familiar?). January has been unkind to OKC, who are 3-4 this month. Nevertheless, the Thunder are hanging tough and only a half-game behind the Blazers in the west.

Perhaps more germane to the Suns' interests are the travails of the teams trailing them in the standings. After ringing in the New Year with their 8th loss in a row, the Nuggets seem to have finally figured things out, winning 5 of their last 6 to surge in to the 9th seed, 2 games behind Phoenix. Their continued success could imperil the Suns' playoff hopes, especially if the Suns continue to sink in the standings. And with the Minnesota Timberwolves seemingly unable to follow up a win with a win, the door is wide open for the Memphis Grizzlies to make a move. While Marc Gasol had a modest 12 points and 4 rebounds in his return, the Grizz were still able to knock off the Thunder in his first game back from a knee injury.

The sharks are circling the 8 seed and right now there's blood in the water, Bright Siders. Do you think the Suns can tread water long enough to rise above them? Or will a resurgent Nuggets team and newly whole Grizzlies squad commence with the feeding frenzy?

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