Reportedly, the Phoenix Suns are going to wear their new sleeved jerseys on Friday night against the Dallas Mavericks.

The Phoenix Suns are coming off a hard fought (get it?) and much needed win over the struggling Los Angeles Lakers, while the Dallas Mavericks are reeling from allowing a big comeback win to the Clippers in which the Mavs scored 127 points but lost. Yet, otherwise, the teams are recently heading in different directions.

But the side story of tonight's game is the one year anniversary of a very dark night in the Valley of the Sun.

The opponent

After the loss to the Suns on December 21, the Mavericks were a dismal 4-9 on the road to mar an otherwise good record. The Suns had their best offensive explosion of the season (123 points) according to Hornacek ("The best we can play on offense" he said afterward).

After that, though, the Mavericks flipped their script and won 5 of 6 on the road, including wins over the Rockets, Bulls, Wolves, Wizards and Pelicans.

The Mavericks have scored 100+ points in 10 of those 13 games since the loss to the Suns, winning 7 of those 10.

Their lineup and overall rotation is a collection of players very well known to Suns fans. From former MVP Dirk Nowitzki to to former Suns Vince Carter and Shawn Marion, they also boast a collection of players Suns fans wanted in trade in past years (Brandon Wright, DeJuan Blair) and long time NBA starters (Samuel Dalembert, Jose Calderon).

The Mavericks lineup is old. Five of their regular rotation players are 32 or older (Calderon, Dalembert, Nowitzki, Marion, Carter) while the Suns don't have a single active player (not counting Okafor) over 30.

Much like the Suns, the Mavericks have a great 1-2 punch at the top of their lineup - Nowitzki and Ellis - with everyone else taking turns being the third scorer.

Important things about the Mavericks that might scare you in advance of tonight's game:

  • 2nd in league in FGs made
  • 6th in 3P% (38.1)
  • 3rd in assists per game (23.8)
  • 1st in steals per game (9.6)

Sleeves

Apparently the Suns are wearing the orange sleeved jerseys on Friday night. All I have in orange are Bledsoe (out) and Caron Butler (traded).

The Suns - Happy Anniversary

The biggest thing about this game is that it's the one year anniversary of Alvin Gentry's last game coaching the Phoenix Suns. The Suns lost to the Milwaukee Bucks at home in a terrible loss to a terrible team that left the locker room a ghost town of the walking dead.

Caught like deer in headlights

Alvin Gentry's last game as coach of Suns

The loss dropped the Suns to 13-28, the 41st game being a perfect opportunity for clear before/after picture for whoever Hunter to replace Gentry for the rest of the season. This was not only the last game coached by Gentry, but also by top assistants Dan Majerle and Elston Turner.

Interestingly, Monta Ellis was a Buck in this game and scored 24 points to help the Bucks hammer the final nail into the Suns' coffin.

After that, the Suns franchise walked the earth without a soul for a few months, but then were reborn like the Phoenix over the summer.

  • Last year at this time: 13-28 with the oldest non-playoff rotation in the NBA
  • This year: 22-16 with one of the youngest playoff rotations in the NBA

The stats


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The lineups

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Since the last game against the Suns, the Mavericks have brought Dalembert back into the rotation.

The key matchup

The biggest matchup is anyone trying to cover the unguardable Dirk Nowitzki. That dude is so tall and talented, you might as well call him STAT. Can Channing Frye or Markieff Morris effectively keep Dirk off his game? Or will the extra attention to Dirk leave the lanes open for Ellis drives (leads the league with 10 drives a night) and Marion/Wright/Dalembert/etc feasting on the boards at each end?

The prediction

I want the Suns to win this game but I think it's really a toss up. The Mavericks have played better on the road lately, but the Suns are feeling good again after a long road trip of their own.

This game will be high-scoring. Here's hoping the Suns score one more point than they do.

A look at how Goran Dragic has compensated during the last eight games the Suns have been without Eric Bledsoe.

We have seen eight consecutive games with Phoenix Suns guard Goran Dragic having to play without his running partner Eric Bledsoe.  As expected Dragic has taken on a larger role, which is shown by the jump in time on the court and his increased usage rate.

Goran's minutes have spiked to 37 per game in January from 33.5 in November and 35.8 in December.

His USG Rate in the first two months was 23.7 and through eight games this month is 25.5.

"My body is not the same," said Dragic after practice on Thursday.  "I feel tired a little bit, but I try to do whatever it takes to recover my body.  When it's the game even if I'm tired I try to not think about because I think that's mentally a lot and if you think about it you're not going to perform well."

Throughout the course of NBA games players find different situations where they are able to pace themselves.  Warriors guard Stephen Curry will go into a corner on possessions and let Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson or David Lee run the offense.  Dragic ‘s ability to take advantage of those pockets of time has dwindled.

"It's a little bit tougher because I'm the only guy handling the ball," said the Suns hopeful All Star guard.  "We got LB now and he can do a little bit of this stuff, but he's hurt. With Eric sometimes he plays pick and roll, sometimes I play pick and roll, and its much easier because I'm not getting tired so much. Off the ball I'm just spotting up and he's hitting me -- if I'm open I'm gonna shoot it and if I'm not I'm gonna penetrate."

To illustrate the point Dragic made, he has hit 15 corner threes on the season, seven of those have come off Bledsoe assists.  Bledsoe has also assisted on 31% of Dragic's 29 assisted buckets in the restricted area.

The biggest difference for Dragic thus far has been how teams are defending him in the pick and roll.

"I would say in pick and rolls everyone is getting inside the lane more," said Dragic.  "There's not a lot of space to have an open lane for lay ups or to try and find open shooters.  It's a different situation, but somehow we can manage it."

Here's a comparison of where Dragic was taking shots before and after the Bledsoe injury:

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Goran is taking 5% more shots in the restricted area, but his in the paint attempts have dropped off by 11%. Along with the restricted area those attempts have been redistributed to the mid range and above the break 3s.

Dragic's three-point shooting has been a big reason the Suns offense has been able to stay at the level it has during this difficult time.  Despite the increase in attempts he's knocking down 45.9% from behind the arc and 46.7% of the 30 above the break attempts.

14 of those 30 attempts were with Dragic as the ball handler in the PnR. Here are three screen shots showing how defenses are closing off the lane and forcing him to pull up instead of attack the rim:

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Jerryd Bayless went under the screen and Jon Leuer showed. James Johnson is content leaving Ish Smith and Mike Miller is prepared to rotate down to Markieff Morris, as Zach Randolph's responsibility is to close off the lane.

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Dragic tried to turn the corner around a Miles Plumlee screen and he didn't have a chance. Chicago's entire defense collapsed on him with Noah switching off and Mike Dunleavy leaving the wing to help out.  D.J. Augustin puts himself in a position to be able to rotate to the wing or back to the corner along with another body to support in case Dragic pulls a magical move and splits the two defenders.  This is the type of team defense you expect from a Tom Thibodeau coached squad.

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Josh Smith has two feet in the paint just below the foul line and Drummond has one foot in the paint near the restricted area. Even if Dragic is able to penetrate the first line of defense there's no way for him to get a good look anywhere near the rim.

This leads to contested three point shots.  Luckily for the Suns, Dragic is good enough to knock down these type of looks and keep the offense afloat.

If his three-point percentage takes a dip, Phoenix could be looking at even more offensive struggles than the one point drop they've seen to its offensive rating during this eight-game stretch.

The Phoenix Suns are the league's second most inexperienced NBA team, so 1-4 road trips can be expected. But the Suns veteran leaders - Gerald Green, Channing Frye and Goran Dragic - are keeping the team on an even keel.

Last night's win over the struggling Los Angeles Lakers was a great way to relieve the stress of 1-4 road trip capped by losing the last three games by a combined total of 12 points.

"We needed this one," Channing Frye said after the win. "It was a tough trip but we're home now. It's a good time to get that grit back in our game."

It helps that the Lakers have decided against defending their opponents, allowing an average of more than 120 points per game to their last six opponents.

The Suns scored 121 - just two points shy of their season high (123) against Friday's opponent the Dallas Mavericks. The Suns made 49 field goals (only 4 were three pointers) in 100 attempts (only 19 were three-point attempts) - both the makes and attempts were season highs.

This after the Suns shot just 41% on a dismal 5-game road trip, with more than 30% of those attempts being clanked threes.

"We started attacking the rim," Frye said. "We need to be aggressive. And get out and run."

Of himself he said, "I can't just be out there being a stupid non-making jump shooter." Frye scored 20 points in the game, making 8 of 14 shots inside the arc, to go along with 2 steals, an assist, 8 rebounds, and a block.

Shooting guard Gerald Green recovered from a crazy bad shooting night in New York to score a season high 28 points on only 18 shots, with a 5 of those shots being three-point attempts.

"I wasn't settling for my jumper tonight," Green said. "Coach didn't tell me not to shoot the ball, but I just tried not to take as many threes."

Green still stews over the Monday night loss to New York, where the Suns forced overtime and eventually lost by two points. In that game, Green played 42 minutes, but missed 14 of 16 attempts.

"I feel like I let my teammates down in New York," he said. "Even if I would have been 4-16, we'd win the game. That's a horrible, horrible shooting day. I probably shouldn't have played that much (42 minutes), maybe we would have won. But I just tried to do everything I could to help my teammates."

But his coach didn't lose an ounce of confidence in Green. It's a testament to Hornacek's trust in Green that he still played so many minutes despite missing badly on nearly every shot he took. Pregame, Hornacek told reporters he's been in Green's ear to keep shooting. Green responded by making 12 of 18 shots, with 10 of those makes inside of 15 feet from the basket. It helped that he often got switched onto former Sun Kendall Marshall, making post ups an easy proposition.

"It feels great to have somebody with the confidence in me enough to continue to try to make plays," Green said of his caoch. "Especially after all I've been through."

Green has played for 7 different NBA teams in 8 NBA seasons, and wasn't even signed during two season (2008-2010) as he bounced around Europe and the NBA D-league.

"Me and Coach Hornacek have a great relationship," he continued. "We are always talking on and off the court. His wife and my girl are constantly talking. I think that started off the court, us building a relationship. I'm trying to do everything he asks me to do."

Green knows a good opportunity when he sees it, and he's been a model teammate since the day he arrived in the trade with Miles Plumlee for Luis Scola.

Hornacek said in the preseason that he loved Green's attitude, not caring about his minutes or his starts - just caring about being a good teammate and doing whatever the coach needs.

"If he asks me to run through a brick wall," Green said. "I'm going to run through it. He's given me an opportunity I've never gotten before, so I don't want to do anything to let him down."

It's players like Green that help the Suns stay grounded during good and bad times. A young, inexperienced team is going to have ups and downs all season long. It's what they do with those ups and downs that will shape the season, and the franchise as a whole.

The Suns leaders this year are Goran Dragic (28), P.J. Tucker (28), Channing Frye (30) and Gerald Green (28). They are the veterans, and their attitude is rubbing off on the younger players.

When rookie Alex Len committed a hard foul on Nick Young, the entire team came to Len's defense when Young came up swinging. By contrast, three of the Lakers stayed clear of the action, leaving Young to feel like he was being ganged up on with no one in his corner. Rookie Ryan Kelly was at least in the area. Under the basket, he had Suns fans behind him and a wall of Suns in front of him - Marcus Morris, Markief Morris and Goran Dragic along with Len.

"You mess with one of us, it's all of us," Green said. "Everybody (including him) wanted to get off the bench but we didn't want to get fined. Big shout out to the rookie Len, I don't think it was intentional. Hopefully the NBA doesn't do anything but if they do I'll take care of it."

By "take care of it", he means he intends to pay Len's fine. His agent will probably remind him today that Len makes more money than Green this season. But to Green, it's more about the principle than the cash.

Green backs his teammate. As do the rest of the guys. Young later said he regrets the whole thing, but felt cornered by the Suns wall with no one on his side defending him.

"I got caught up in the moment like anyone would," Young said. "It was a tough foul. What I’m mad about is it was one on five I felt like and if somebody would have gotten in the middle it wouldn’t have escalated that much. It is what it is; it’s basketball."

Newest Laker Kendall Marshall, seen standing at mid-court with hands on hips, later said he didn't step in because he didn't want to get T'd up, and that he didn't support Young's overreaction. Young and Len were ejected, while Marcus Morris got a T for pushing Young away from Len.

This collective Suns attitude is how the league's second most inexperienced team has only had two losing streaks of 3+ games all season and went six weeks between losing streaks of even two games.

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.

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