The rough, overachieving underdog makes it to round three against the young contender with potential. What happens now?
Back to the scene of the crime. The scene where the Phoenix Suns (7-7) began the season with an impressive and surprising victory over the Portland Trail Blazers (13-2) here at home. The Blazers are now Western Conference contenders that look like a team primed to make a run in the playoffs.
This will serve as the rubber match for the Suns and Blazers giving one team vindication.
These are two very different teams now and the Suns are a team that you have to get up for. In the season opener the Blazers did not get up for them and lacked the energy and effort required to beat teams that play with great energy. It was easier to look at the Suns as the roll over tanking team that they were once thought to be, but now things are different.
The Blazers are the third best three-point shooting team, spreading the ball around between Wesley Matthews (45 made threes), Damian Lillard (41), Nicolas Batum (35), Mo Williams (17), and Dorell Wright (12) behind the arc.
On the other had the Suns defend the three as well as any team in the league giving up only 5.4 threes a game (16.4 points) limiting teams to tough shots at the rim against their athletic shot-blockers. They chase three point shooters off the line and do a quality job closing out on shooters.
Eric Bledsoe is expected to make his return tonight, but is still listed as day-to-day for now.
(Recent) History Lesson
104-91, Suns Win
90-89, Blazers Win
The two games this year were not alike in any ways. In the first game the Suns came out with energy and ran the Blazers out of the gym behind a special performance for Miles Plumlee. Then, in the second game, the Blazers took advantage of a poor defensive rotation and won at the buzzer with the easiest game winner Lillard will ever see in his career. Again, the rubber match.
Head-to-Head (past four seasons including Playoffs)
Suns: 100.0 PPG (6 wins)
Blazers: 98.25 PPG (6 wins)
These two teams are dead even over the past four seasons reading small winning streaks as well as jabs, like this year. At full strength these two teams match-up well against each other and seem to play tough, entertaining close games as of late...
Head-to-Head (Career versus the Suns/Blazers)
LaMarcus Aldridge: 16.9 PPG 6.3 RPG 1.06 BPG 45.6 FG% (31 games)
Channing Frye: 9.2 PPG 5.9 RPG 0.7 BPG 44.0 FG% (22 games)
For his second and third years in the NBA Frye was a mentor and teacher for Aldridge before he blossomed into the star that he is today. Against the Suns, for some reason, Aldridge seems to struggle being below his career averages in nearly every statistical category against the Suns. Frye on the other hand is consistent no matter the opponent right at his career averages against the Blazers.
PG - Goran Dragic v. Damain Lillard
C - Miles Plumlee v. Robin Lopez
Potential Blazers Inactives: C.J. McCollum (Right Foot Surgery, Out)
Plumlee vs. Lopez
These two are the compliments to their more talented counterparts on the court, but they are very important to the balance and flow of the offense and defense. In the first game of the season the Suns dominated behind the great play of Plumlee and in the second game the two played to a dead heat. These two do the things that allow the athletes on the perimeter and in the paint to have freedom. Lopez, as a former Sun, always draws an emotional response from the fans in the Valley, which always makes his return fun.
Interesting Stat: Under 11 Points
The Suns have won or lost every game by 11 points or less. The first game of the season was a 13 point margin and the last game was a 15 point margin, but other than that the games have been close all the way. At home the games are even closer (7.16) points per game.
Meaningless Stat:1-9 FG (0-4 3PT)
Those were Mo Williams shooting numbers from the first game of the season. Since then he is averaging 10.1 points a game off the bench shooting 46.6% from the field and 40% from three. The opening game was an abortion on what is clearly becoming a good situation with Williams as the Blazers Sixth Man.
After missing five games with little improvement since banging shins with P.J. Tucker in practice, Eric Bledsoe will get an MRI on the shin to make sure it's not a serious injury.
We've all had injuries that heal fast, and we've all had some that don't. Sometimes, what appears to be a minor injury lingers on and on for much longer than expected.
You can safely say that Eric Bledsoe's left shin bruise fits in that latter category.
Clearly, the Suns want Eric Bledsoe back and Bledsoe wants to be back. He is the Suns' leading scorer at over 20 points per game, along with nearly seven assists, five rebounds and two steals. Plus, he personally won a couple of games for the Suns in the early going: 17 points in one fourth quarter against New Orleans, and a game winning three against Utah.
According to SportVu data, Bledsoe was one of the game's top point guards this season:
The Suns were 5-4 with Bledsoe in the starting lineup, 2-1 with Dragic lined up with him.
Since Bledsoe has been out, the Suns are 2-3 despite Goran Dragic killing it from the PG position. The Suns definitely need a secondary playmaker on the floor next to Dragic to give them options in the half court. In addition, the Suns defense has slipped in recent games, at least partially due to missing Bledsoe in the back court.
Given the initially benign nature of a "shin bruise" compared to what appeared to be tougher injuries suffered by his PG counterpart Goran Dragic this season (stitches, hard hits to the head), a skeptic might worry that Bledsoe is injury prone.
I asked ClipsNation's blogger Steve Perrin about it last week when the absence stretched to three games:
Q: "Eric Bledsoe played 40 games in year 2 and 76 in year 3 of his career in LA. Now, he's missing his 3rd game in a row for a bruised shin. Did Bledsoe ever have rep for missing more games than he should, due to injury? Or, should I not be reading anything into this?"
Steve, ClipsNation: "The short answer is no. He had meniscus surgery during the lockout, which accounts for all of his missed time in 11-12. (He tried to come back earlier but wasn't ready. But still, it's meniscus surgery, hard to claim malingering.) He missed five games with a strained calf last season. As hard as he plays, as physical as he is, I'll take 76 out of 82 games."
That's good to hear. A blemish on a star's shine is an injury history that continually takes a player out of the lineup.
Luckily, Eric Bledsoe has never shown that pattern.
If a podcast gets recorded on a Tuesday night, does anyone hear it?
We break this down into a two-parter.
On the A-Side we review the week that was in Suns basketball. The losses, the wins, and the unfortunate correlation to last season one game gave to us. We dive into the numbers with Miles Plumlee, the Suns record, and whether or not 14 games is enough to judge a team. Hint: We disagree.
A-Side: Phoenix Suns Podcast Episode 46
Then on the B-Side we add our takes and thoughts on the Kobe Bryant extension that nearly broke the internet this week. We keep it short and point the Gorilla's new gattling gun right at the Lakers for this move.
(The answer to the riddle above is yes and no. Yes people will hear it, but not on Tuesday, because it is up now... Enjoy!)