Win, lose, or draw the Suns have brought excitement back to their brand and a team that has grown exponentially brings plenty of flair to their playoff push.

I'm writing this after getting a chance to sleep off the Suns 113-107 loss to the Golden St. Warriors. Phoenix seemed to be in control of the game before they lost traction by giving up a pesky little 25-5 run to close the third quarter. They still made it interesting at the end (sort of) and I wasn't too upset by the blown opportunity. Even the Suns losses these days (except for that grating affair with the Jazz) are pretty fun to watch.

The Suns have 20 games left and have just backed themselves out of the top eight in the Western Conference by virtue of a Memphis Grizzlies' owned tiebreaker. Phoenix gets a chance to play meaningful basketball the rest of the season barring an implosion. Does grinding down the stretch trying to sneak into the backdoor of the playoffs sound familiar? A couple of recent iterations of this team were in a similar situation, but fell just short of the opportunity to get bludgeoned in the first round and won a late lottery pick as a consolation prize.

Call this a revisionist history, but this season feels way different. There's a big difference between growing pains and dying breaths. I'm enjoying experiencing the former.

In a span of four games Goran Dragic and Gerald Green joined a group of players that have scored 40 points in a game this season that includes Kevin Durant (10), Carmelo Anthony (5), Kevin Love (4), LeBron James (2), Blake Griffin (2), Kyrie Irving (2), Stephen Curry (2), Terrence Ross, LaMarcus Aldridge, James Harden, Arron Afflalo, Paul George, Marcus Thornton, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Rudy Gay, DeMar DeRozan, Trevor Ariza, Jodie Meeks, Al Jefferson and Dirk Nowitzki.

The dynamic duo also joins three other sets of teammates (on the Clippers, Raptors and Trail Blazers) that have accomplished the feat. The parallel between these four teams? They all have relatively young cores and appear to be on the good side of their apogees. The type of explosive and multifaceted scoring it takes to drop 40 has been conspicuously absent from the melange of mediocre (at best) talent the Suns have marched onto the court the last three seasons.

In the 2012-13 season the Suns only had a player score 30 or more points four times. The season before that it was two. This season it has already happened 13 times courtesy of Goran (8), Green (4) and Channing Frye (1). The paucity of scoring outbursts the previous two seasons was not only a conviction of the team's lack of talent, but it's overall lack of appeal. They were boring even before they were really bad.

Now the team has a threat to go for 30 on any given night. Markieff appears poised to join this group any day. I've actually been expecting him to hit the mark for some time now. To me it's quite refreshing going into games thinking, "Which Sun/s will go off tonight?" instead of, "Which scrub is poised to have a career night against us?"

This trend of standout performances comes without Eric Bledsoe, whose season high is 28, even in the discussion. With the impending return of the fourth horseman of the apocalypse (Bledsoe) the Suns have gone from a team with no true "go to" scorer to a team that can field a lineup full of guys that I (mostly) trust with the ball in late game situations.

Dragic, Green and Markieff Morris have emerged as the core of the team in Bledsoe's absence. They have become the team's de facto offensive constant, emotional sustenance and in game leadership. The trio has recently posted point totals of 79 against the Rockets, 70 against the Pelicans, 73 against the Hawks and 87 against the Thunder. That's 70 or more points in four of the last eight games.

Green has scored in double figures in 14 straight games and is averaging 23 points per game since the All-Star break. Markieff has become the stabilizing force off the bench, with consistency that has led to double digit scoring in 23 of his last 25 games. He has topped 20 in five of his last nine. Goran broke his career high for points in a game three times in the month of February.

Goran's name has been floated in MVP discussions and as a potential candidate for All-NBA teams and most improved player. Markieff should be right near the top of a very short list of candidates for the Sixth Man award. I've heard accolades float around during broadcasts and read about them as they rattled around the box of everything on various basketball sites. But what about Green? I would aver that the Suns have three of the most improved players in the league on the same roster. Do you know who you would even vote for on this team?

I can only hope that the recent games against the Rockets, Thunder and Warriors are a harbinger of how captivating a first round playoff series might be. In lots of cases a seventh or eighth seed is just an annoying formality for a top seed on their way to the second round (see this year's Eastern Conference), but I really hope the Suns can cling to one of the final playoff berths because I don't see that being the case.

Sure, finishing ninth would put a minor blemish on all the positives from this season, but just the selfish angle of wanting to watch primo quality basketball does it for me. Who wouldn't want to get a crack at the Thunder after watching the Suns wild 128-122 triumph. That was just plain fun to watch. Not just because the Suns won, or that I think it means the Suns could upset the Thunder in a seven game series, but because that was one hell of a well played basketball game by both teams. It was a case where both teams played well enough to win. Even the refs called a clean game.

And there was Green.

We've all seen Green enter heat check mode this season, but the OKC game gave him a chance to springboard to the national stage. Not only was Green (41 points, eight threes) matching Westbrook's production (36 points, nine rebounds, nine assists), but he was mirroring Westbrook's white hot intensity.

I'm all about that kind of back and forth. I'm a huge fan of watching players who can channel their energy into a weapon to destroy their opponents. Charles Barkley and Amar'e Stoudemire, probably my two favorite Suns, were this way. But these types of players can also struggle with this trait. Instead of playing with emotion, their emotions play with them.

Green has gone through a palingenesis in this aspect, too. At the beginning of the season he seemed more tentative, if not timorous, to just unbottle his inner rage. To be arrogant... in a good way. Arrogant - characterized by a sense of superiority. Call it swagger if you're more comfortable with that term. But I feel teams need a guy or two that is/are dripping with confidence. The kind that leads to an internal thought process such as...

"I'm better than you and I'm going to go out there and show you that I'm better than you and let you know about while I'm doing it right in front of everyone."

Green's confidence had not produced the results it was supposed to throughout his career. Maybe a situation where he just knew that he could do it, but for some reason he just couldn't do it. Well, now he's doing it and it's allowing him to play with unrestrained emotion. Let's face it, it's hard to play with passion when you're not playing up to your ability. Instead, it manifests as frustration.

There's a certain green monster (the Hulk) that tends to break out into fits of blind, ass-stomping rage when people piss him off. He's been known to say, "You won't like me when I'm angry."

Well, I like our green monster when he's angry.  He's been converting that choleric streak into high level production. And when that scowl comes across Green's face these days it seems more likely that he's about to go nuclear on team X than that he's lambasting himself over a mistake he just made.

And to me, Green, maybe more so than any other player, epitomizes the Suns' reversal of fortune. He runs the break. He dunks like a man possessed. He can light it up at the flip of a switch. He is exciting to watch. He came out of nowhere. He's having fun. He's playing team basketball.

So while the Suns take on the Clippers tonight I'll obviously be hoping for a win, but I'll also be waiting to see who goes off tonight. Maybe Kieff will go for 30 and 10... And going into it I'll be expecting to watch a great game of basketball.

Which is a world away from just hoping to not get embarrassed like last season.

The Phoenix Suns are now tied with the surging Memphis Grizzlies for 8th place in the Western Conference, but are behind them by dint of tiebreakers. That doesn't make this game against the Los Angeles Clippers a must-win, but it certainly feels like it.

No rest for the weary as the Phoenix Suns take their talents to Los Angeles a mere 24 hours after losing a tough one to the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, 113-107. Phoenix was in the driver's seat against the Dubs until a third quarter catastrophe sent them careening off the road to victory and into 9th place in the west. The Phoenix Suns are now tied with the surging Memphis Grizzlies for 8th place in the Western Conference, but are behind them by dint of tiebreakers. That doesn't make this game against the Los Angeles Clippers a must-win, but it certainly feels like it.

Barring a big surprise, Eric Bledsoe is still one day away from making his sure to be triumphant return. Without him, the Suns have demonstrated they are capable of playing elite basketball, but not night-in and night-out. This is unfortunate as they face yet another top flight Western Conference team on the second night of a back-to-back.

The Opponent - Los Angeles Clippers

Hey, didn't we just play these guys? A week ago, the Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Suns behind - oh dear, I hope this isn't a trend - a tremendous third quarter surge in which they outscored Phoenix 37-18. Games ebb and flow, but Phoenix needs to contain these 20-point collapses after halftime if they want to remain in the playoff picture. Of course, Los Angeles needed an almost perfect game from Matt Barnes who scored 28 points (19 above his season average) and was simply unconscious in the 3rd quarter where he scored 18 of those points.

However, as Suns' fans are well aware, if you live by the Barnes, you die by the Barnes. And he will continue to figure prominently for Los Angeles with both J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley sidelined with back injuries. Despite that, it's still all about the big three: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Griffin is on the verge of collecting his 3000th rebound (he's at 2997) which would make him the 3rd player in NBA history to notch 6,000 points, 3,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists while averaging over 50% shooting before the end of his 4th season. The other two players? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Charles Barkley.

Unlike the Suns, the Clippers have won 7 in a row going into tonight's game versus the Suns. However, like the Suns every game is important to their playoff seeding. LA is only 3 games out of first place in the West and is currently in 4th place. Every game they win could be another round of the playoffs played at Staples Center. And homecourt advantage could play a crucial role in their quest to de-throne the Lakers as Hollywood's basketball royalty. We can expect them to have every intention of making tonight their 8th win in a row.

The Phoenix Suns

The Suns' purple road unis should go nicely with the orange life vests they've been sporting. Phoenix continues to tread water, going 5-5 in their last 10 games, and their legs must be getting tired. Gerald Green played 42 minutes and Goran Dragi? 37 in last night's loss to Golden State. They'll need every bit of energy they can muster to keep up with the Clippers, the 6th fastest team in the NBA.

Phoenix would like to find some offensive mojo against the Clippers this time out. In the last meeting, P.J. Tucker lead the Suns in scoring with 18 points. We all love P.J., but if he's the main source of the Suns' offense, that's rarely a good thing. The silver lining to that cloud is that it's unlikely for the rest of the starters to repeat their dreadful 34% shooting performance. Goran Dragi?, Gerald Green or a mystery champion will need to step up if the Suns have any hope of hanging with the Clippers.

Offense isn't the only struggle for Phoenix. The Suns are playing historically bad defense. Per Paul Coro, these past 6 games are the first time since 1986 that Phoenix has allowed 6 consecutive opponents to shoot 50% or more from the field. At 107.8 points per game (1st in the NBA) and 47.8% shooting (5th in the NBA), the Clippers' offense doesn't need any more help putting the ball in the bucket from a porous D.

The Stats


The Lineups


Miles Plumlee came off the bench for Phoenix last night for the first time this season as he recuperates from a knee injury. Eric Bledsoe is not expected to play tonight nor is Leandro Barbosa, though in his post-game coverage, Paul Coro also reported that Jeff Hornacek has said "It's up to [Bledsoe]" when he returns, though Wednesday versus Cleveland remains the target date.

The Clippers seem to have caught some of their Staples Center co-tenant's injury bug. While J.J. Redick is out (back), Jamal Crawford is day to day with a calf injury and Jared Dudley is a game-time decision after leaving the last match-up with Phoenix on March 4 with back spasms.

Key Match-up

The Suns struggling defense versus the Clippers raging offense - Phoenix has gotten away with outscoring the Atlanta Hawks and Oklahoma City Thunder in recent victories. That method simply won't work against the most potent offense in the NBA. This would be the perfect game for defensive whiz Mike Longabardi and the Suns to rediscover their stingy early season form.

Beyond that, there are a raft of fun individual match-ups. Goran Dragi? and Chris Paul checking one another should bring out the best in both point guards. Gerald Green should get the best of Darren Collison, and god willing, P.J. Tucker should outduel or at least match Matt Barnes. With the 1-3 positions fairly evenly matched, it could be a battle of the bigs to determine the outcome of this one. Phoenix is sure to give Blake Griffin several different looks defensively, but DeAndre Jordan could be the wild card if Plumlee's minutes continue to be limited and foul-prone rookie Alex Len gets the lion's share of the minutes at center.

The Prediction

This is a tough draw the night after a heated road battle with the Warriors. Given the minutes Phoenix's starters played in Oakland last night and their defensive struggles, all signs point to a Clippers victory, probably something similar to their last match-up, but higher scoring. I'll call it 112-107, Los Angeles, but as always, I hope I'm wrong.

A disappearing act in the third quarter bit the Suns in a 113-107 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Sunday, but missed opportunities became the theme of the day. Having the offense operating well...

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The Suns fall on the road to the Warriors, 113-107, to bring the season series to a tie.

The Phoenix Suns were handed a 113-107 road loss by the Golden State Warriors. The season matchup between the two teams ends in a tie, 2-2. The Warriors remain in 6th while the Suns drop to 8th in the West, thanks in part the Dallas Mavericks' victory over the Indiana Pacers today.

First Half

Phoenix got off to a fast start, with Goran Dragic, Gerald Green and PJ Tucker leading the way. The Suns shot 60% from the field and 50% from three in the first quarter to take a 29-22 lead into the second. Goran Dragic registerd 6 points and 4 assists, while PJ Tucker pulled down 5 rebounds to go with his 5 points.

Alex Len as also very active early in his third straight start, as he drew a foul on a dunk attempt (split the free throws) and had a great block that led to a fastbreak score for Phoenix. He definitely made his presence felt on the defensive end as he contested several other shots with his length and energy. He's flashing more and more of his potential each game, folks.

The pace picked up even more in the second quarter, as the Suns struggled to defend the Warriors. Luckily, they were mostly able to keep up with Golden State on the offensive end, as they scored 32 points in the quarter to counter the Warriors' 34. The Warriors got within a point near the end of the half, but Goran Dragic hit two straight threes (the second one with 0.5 seconds left) to give the Suns a 5 point lead heading into the locker room, 61-56.

At the end of the first half, Dragic had 14 points and 6 assists, while Curry tallied 9 points and 3 assists. Gerald Green also had a great half with 14 points. David Lee was the leading scorer for Golden State with 12.

Second Half

The Warriors came out firing in the third quarter, quickly erasing the Suns' 5 point lead and even going on a run to take a  9 point lead midway through the period. The Suns defense continued to give up open looks from three and Klay Thompson made them pay. Thompson, who had just 5 points at halftime, caught fire and scored 11 in 7 minutes to fuel a 13-2 run. Making things even worse for Phoenix was their struggle to score in the third half.

At the end of the third, Golden State led 94-78. The Suns gave up 38 points on 73% shooting to the Warriors in the third, while shooting just 31% themselves.

The Suns were able to chip into the Warriors' lead slowly but surely in the fourth, with Markieff Morris and Goran Dragic being aggressive on the offensive end. Phoenix eventually tightened up their defense a bit and cut away at the deficit to make it a 6 point game with just under 4 minutes left. The Suns even had the ball down 4 with 15 seconds left, but Goran Dragic stepped on the out of bounds line and gave the ball back to Golden State. Steve Blake missed two free throws (right after Andre Iguodala missed two) but the Suns couldn't capitalize, as Marcus Morris airballed a tough three. The Warriors held on and ended the night with a 113-107 victory.

This was always going to be a tough road game for the Suns against a healthy Warriors team. The game was essentially lost in the third quarter, which was the Warriors' highest scoring quarter of the season. The defense really needs a boost. Fortunately, Eric Bledsoe is returning in the next couple days.

It's going to be a tight race to the postseason.

The Suns visit the Warriors for the final game between the two Pacific Division teams.

The Phoenix Suns (36-25) pay a visit to the Golden State Warriors (39-24) for what could prove to be a very important game for each team's playoff positioning. A win tonight for Phoenix would bring them to a tie with the Golden State in the loss column and also give them the tiebreaker for the season, which could prove instrumental if both teams end the season with the same record.

The Warriors are playing well as of late, winning 8 of their last 10 and currently riding a 3 game winning streak. They currently have their #FullSquad together and are hoping to hit their stride as they regular season nears its end. The Suns, meanwhile, are winners of 6 of their last 10 and are coming off a huge home victory against the OKC Thunder, as they look to carry that momentum into a road victory tonight. Eric Bledsoe is returning on Wednesday, which will definitely help the Suns' regain some of their own #FullSquad swagger.

Who: Phoenix Suns @ Golden State Warriors

What: Round 4 of 4 between two Pacific Division teams vying for postseason berths.

When: 6pm PST/9pm EST (6pm AZ time)

Where: Oracle Arena, Oakland, CA

Why: Playoffs! Dragic vs. Curry! Pacific Division foes!

Recap of Rounds 1-3

Round 1: Suns (106-102 at home as the Slash Bros. prevail over the Splash Bros.)

Round 2: Warriors (Warriors rout Phoenix 115-86 in the Suns' biggest loss of the season)

Round 3: Suns (Goran Dragic's 34 points on 13 shots power Phoenix to a 122-109 at home)

The Opponent

FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
Stephen Curry 60 36.9 8.2 17.8 46.1 3.3 8.0 41.3 3.9 4.5 86.7 0.6 3.8 4.5 8.7 3.9 1.6 0.2 2.7 23.6
David Lee 58 33.6 7.5 14.5 51.7 0.0 0.0 0.0 3.6 4.6 78.7 2.9 6.7 9.6 2.2 2.2 0.7 0.4 2.9 18.6
Klay Thompson 63 36.1 6.7 15.4 43.2 2.7 6.6 40.2 1.8 2.2 80.7 0.5 2.5 3.0 2.3 1.7 1.0 0.5 2.8 17.8
Jordan Crawford 62 25.4 4.1 10.0 41.1 1.1 3.5 30.7 2.2 2.5 87.0 0.4 2.1 2.5 4.3 1.9 0.7 0.1 1.6 11.5
Harrison Barnes 59 28.4 3.6 8.9 40.5 0.9 2.3 39.7 1.8 2.4 74.3 0.8 3.2 4.0 1.4 1.1 0.8 0.2 2.2 9.9
Andre Iguodala 51 32.9 3.5 7.6 46.6 1.0 2.9 34.5 1.3 2.1 63.2 0.8 3.9 4.7 4.3 1.7 1.6 0.3 1.7 9.4
Steve Blake 36 29.9 2.9 7.6 37.7 1.7 4.4 39.2 0.8 1.0 80.6 0.3 3.0 3.3 6.6 2.1 1.1 0.1 1.8 8.3
Jermaine O`Neal 29 20.8 2.8 5.6 50.9 0.0 0.0 0.0 2.2 3.0 73.9 1.9 3.5 5.4 0.4 1.2 0.4 1.0 2.5 7.9
Andrew Bogut 55 26.9 3.7 5.9 63.3 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.4 1.1 34.4 2.9 7.5 10.3 1.6 1.6 0.8 1.9 3.1 7.8
Marreese Speights 62 11.5 2.1 5.1 42.2 0.1 0.4 29.6 1.5 1.7 84.1 1.2 2.1 3.3 0.4 0.7 0.1 0.4 1.7 5.9
Draymond Green 63 20.3 2.0 5.2 38.4 0.6 1.9 30.3 1.0 1.5 62.5 1.0 3.6 4.6 1.7 1.0 1.2 0.8 2.6 5.5
Nemanja Nedovic 21 6.3 0.4 1.7 22.9 0.1 0.8 18.8 0.2 0.3 83.3 0.1 0.6 0.7 0.6 0.6 0.0 0.0 0.6 1.1
Ognjen Kuzmic 17 3.4 0.2 0.6 27.3 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.2 0.4 42.9 0.4 0.4 0.7 0.1 0.6 0.1 0.2 0.7 0.5

Key Matchups

Goran Dragic vs. Steph Curry

Per Game Stats:

Advanced Stats:

Both players' shooting percentages are phenomenal, but the fact that Dragic's TS% and eFG% are even higher than Curry's shows what a tremendous season he's having. It's really a shame that only one of these guys was an All-Star this year.

Gerald Green vs. Klay Thompson

Gerald Green is coming off a scintillating performance against the Thunder, when he scored a career-high 41 points. Both of these players are streaky volume shooters so it'll be interesting to see who will have the hot hand tonight.

Miles Plumlee/Alex Len vs. Andrew Bogut

There's no official word yet on whether Plumlee will be available for the game tonight. If he's not, Alex Len will likely get his third straight start and will have his work cut out for him against the imposing Andrew Bogut, one of the league's premier defensive centers. The Suns' big men will have to battle Bogut hard on the boards.

The Morris Twins vs. the Warriors Bench

Both Morris brothers were great against the Thunder on Thursday night and the Suns could surely use similar performances tonight. The Warriors' bench hasn't been very good this season, but their play has been much better lately. The twins will have to provide some scoring off the bench and outduel the likes of Draymond Green, Jermaine O'Neal, and Jordan Crawford.

Ish Smith vs. Steve Blake

With Eric Bledose still out until Wednesday night, Ish Smith will be the primary backup for Dragic and will need to play well against the Warriors' newest player, the very capable Steve Blake. Smith should be able to use his speed and quickness to make Blake work on the defensive end.


Note: I'll be at Oracle Arena covering this game and I'm hoping to get a chance to speak with a few of the Suns players to get some quotes. Be sure to follow me (@sreekyshooter) and Bright Side of the Sun (@BrightSideSun) on Twitter to keep up with live coverage.

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