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.

Starting Line-Ups

PG - Goran Dragic v. Damain Lillard

SG - Gerald Green v. Wesley Matthews

SF - P.J. Tucker v. Nicolas Batum

PF - Channing Frye v. LaMarcus Aldridge

C - Miles Plumlee v. Robin Lopez

Potential Suns Inactives: Eric Bledsoe (Left Ankle, Gametime Decision), Alex Len (Left Ankle, Game-to-Game), and Emeka Okafor (Neck, Out Indefinitely)

Potential Blazers Inactives: C.J. McCollum (Right Foot Surgery, Out)

Key Match-Up

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:

  • 12th in points created by assist per game (Dragic is 9th, by the way)
  • 11th in assists per game (Dragic is 12th)
  • 3rd in PPG on drives to the rim (7.2)
  • 11th in team PPG on drives (8.6, while Dragic is 6th at 10.1)
  • 8th in pull-up shot PPG (7.9)
  • 4th in pull-up shot 3-pointers per game (1.0)
  • 1st in pull-up FG% per game (53.8%, among those who take 4+ pull-ups per game)

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.



Time: 7:00 pm MDT TV: FSAZ Tonight the Phoenix Suns return home from their successful southeast road trip to take on the Portland Trail Blazers for the third time in four weeks. After their opening...

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]

If a podcast gets recorded on a Tuesday night, does anyone hear it?

...2005 is not walking through that door. You will understand once you listen. Hint: It has to do with the Phoenix Suns and the Los Angeles Lakers. Go ahead, guess. Or just listen to the podcast?

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.

B-Side: Phoenix Suns Podcast Episode 46 B-Side (Kobe Bryant Extension)

(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!)

As many know, the Phoenix Suns could have as many as four first round picks in the 2014 draft, but three of them are "protected" if the other team fails to make the playoffs. Let's take a look at what happens then.

On opening night of the 2013-14 season, the Phoenix Suns' prospects in the 2014 and 2015 NBA Draft looked golden. In fact, the mother ship ranked the Suns' draft future as "by far" the brightest of all NBA teams. The Suns were projected to have their own Top 10 picks, plus up to four more in the back half of the first round.

After trading Steve Nash, Robin Lopez and Sebastian Telfair in 2012-13 for three future first round picks and three second round picks*, and then Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat for two more first rounders, the Suns are rolling in picks.

*More credit should be given to Lon Babby for his work before McDonough ever showed up. In 2013, the Suns already nabbed 19-year old Archie Goodwin and helped finalize the Eric Bledsoe trade with two of the Lakers' and Toronto picks acquired for Nash and Telfair. I think Suns fans will agree that if the Lakers had picked up Archie Goodwin with their #30 pick this year we'd all be shaking our heads at their luck once again.

That leaves four future firsts still on the table, but with heavy protections. All but the Lakers' 2015 pick and the Suns own picks are guaranteed to be outside the Top 10 of any draft for several years.

Here is a breakdown, thanks to

2014 first round draft pick from Minnesota
Minnesota's 1st round pick to Phoenix protected for selections 1-13 in 2014, 1-12 in 2015 or 1-12 in 2016; if Minnesota has not conveyed a 1st round pick to Phoenix by 2016, then Minnesota will instead convey its 2016 2nd round pick and 2017 2nd round pick to Phoenix [Minnesota-New Orleans-Phoenix, 7/27/2012]

2014 first round draft pick from Washington
Washington's 1st round pick to Phoenix protected for selections 1-12 in 2014, 1-10 in 2015, 1-10 in 2016, 1-10 in 2017, 1-10 in 2018 or 1-10 in 2019 or unprotected in 2020 [Phoenix-Washington, 10/25/2013]

2014 first round draft pick from Indiana
Indiana's 1st round pick to Phoenix protected for selections 1-14 in 2014, 1-14 in 2015, 1-14 in 2016, 1-14 in 2017, 1-14 in 2018 or 1-14 in 2019 or unprotected in 2020 [Indiana-Phoenix, 7/28/2013]

2015 first round draft pick from L.A. Lakers
L.A. Lakers' 1st round pick to Phoenix protected for selections 1-5 in 2015, 1-3 in 2016 or 1-3 in 2017 or unprotected in 2018 [L.A. Lakers-Phoenix, 7/11/2012]

The nature of protected picks is that they roll over to the next year if not conveyed in the first year. Minnesota's has already rolled over from 2013 when they didn't make the playoffs.

The good news is that only the Minny pick turns into a pumpkin if the Wolves never get better. All the others will eventually convey to Phoenix.

If Minny never sniffs the playoffs through 2016, then their #1 turns into a couple of #2s. That's not the end of the world. The Suns used a #2 to acquire Marcus Morris last year, and used another #2 to seal the Bledsoe deal this summer (pick went to Milwaukee in the three-way trade).

All of the other owed picks not only roll over, but they get better and better.

Thanks to the Lakers' re-signing Kobe Bryant to a cap-killing contract yesterday, the Laker pick should be very, very good in the coming years. It's only top-5 protected in 2015, then top-3 for two years and finally unprotected in 2018.

Both Washington and Indiana will eventually give the Suns an unprotected pick if they suck for seven straight seasons.

While the Suns just might have a year-long competitive team in 2013-14 and beyond, taking them out of the lottery, at least they've got some help from other teams in the second half of the first round in coming years.

A lot of very good players have been taken in the 10-30 range, though it takes a lot more skill and luck to find gems outside the Top 5. But also, all those first rounders and second rounders are just more assets to use to acquire that next superstar. It's time the Suns "trade up" to better talent, and all those picks are a great way to sweeten the deals.

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