It was a tale of two halves as Phoenix's offense was dazzling for the first 27 minutes and discombobulated from there on out. In the end, the Grizzlies' defense, and the Suns' infatuation with missing threes, was the difference.


The Suns were like a greyhound chasing a rabbit when the gates opened to start the game. Channing Frye, who may be single handedly responsible for global warming, got things going with a three pointer and had eight points in the first five minutes. Memphis tried to keep pace, but Phoenix gained some separation with an 8-0 run to push the lead to 25-15. Leandro Barbosa entered the game during this run, and in usual Blur fashion, showed why he earned his nickname and that he can still get to the basket practically at will. He scored back-to-back buckets for the Suns on picturesque teardrop layups.

Then a horrendous, but apropos, example of exploitation of a Suns glaring weakness reared it's execrable head. First Zach Randolph missed a shot at the rim, then Ed Davis missed one at the rim, then Davis missed another putback, then Randolph finally got it through the hole.  Three offensive rebounds on one possession leading to a score... In all, Memphis grabbed 11 offensive rebounds in the quarter. This helped Memphis cut into Phoenix's lead and slow the pace.

The quarter ended with a nice exchange (won by Memphis) in which Ed Davis posterized Alex Len with a ferocious dunk right over the rookie, but the tyro Len didn't drop his head and scored on a putback on the Suns very next offensive possession.

First Quarter Score: Suns 29, Grizzlies 25

Markieff Morris started off the second with a couple of jumpers, trying to get in the flow of the game right away leading the bench unit, but Mike Conley countered with a three pointer and followed that up with a driving layup (giving him 10 points in the early going) to tie the game at 36. As the quarter wore on the Grizzlies couldn't stop the Suns and the Suns couldn't stop Zach Randolph.  The Grizzlies' bear of a power forward scored four consecutive baskets for Memphis as they started feeding him in the post, but while this was unfurling the Suns scored on six of seven possessions to pull back into the lead.

The flow of the game was favoring the Suns as the Grizzlies straggled behind them.  Frye capped the first half scoring with a nice pump fake sidestep shot around his helpless defender which was somewhat reminiscent of Dirk Nowitzki (minus the nauseating factor).  The Suns 55 points (on 52.4% shooting) in the first half adumbrated auspiciously after stumbling to just 91 total in each of the first two games against the Grizzlies. Dragic led the way for Phoenix with 13 points and four assists. Conley had 14 points and three assists as a counterbalance.

Halftime Score: Suns 55, Grizzlies 48

Gerald Green resumed the barrage with back-to-back threes before missing on a heat check from 30 feet. Memphis was knocking shots down, too, but the Suns stretched their lead to nine on two more three pointers (one each by P.J. Tucker and Dragic).  Four threes to start the quarter pushed the Suns to 9-14 from deep for the game.  12-10 scoring in the first 3:28 of the quarter. A cataract of points that led to a Memphis timeout.

The Suns couldn't capitalize on their momentum as they managed just seven points on 3-15 shooting over the remaining 8:32 in the quarter.  Memphis ended up coming all the way back to tie the game with a 10-3 run over the last 6:07 of the period.  Can that even be called a run?  Maybe a stroll... or a crawl...  Semantics aside it was a brand new game.

Third Quarter Score: Suns 74, Grizzlies 74

Phoenix decided they would try their hand at scoring again to start the fourth with Ish Smith, Miles Plumlee and Markieff leading a charge to put the Suns back ahead 86-82. After another Memphis timeout to stem the tide, they pounded the ball back inside to James Johnson and Kosta Koufous to tie the game again. Then, in a bit of turnabout is fair play, the Suns were able to corral three offensive rebounds in the lane to get Marcus Morris to the line, where he sank two free throws.

The game was turning into a dog fight. The effort in the arena was palpable, with both teams desperately clawing and scraping for a victory. There was some exceptional defense on display and the scoreboard stalled again.  But after the score was stuck on 88-86 for what seemed like an eternity (it was actually only 2:13) Conley made two big shots (a long jumper and a three) and Ed Davis capped a 7-0 run to put Memphis ahead 93-88. Markieff scored two more buckets for Phoenix, but the Suns couldn't catch up because they couldn't make any stops... The Grizzlies, who were 6-15 from the free throw line entering the final minutes, sealed the hard fought victory by going 8-8 from the line down the stretch.

Final Score: Grizzlies 104, Suns 99


Player of the Game:

Mike Conley was the best player on the court tonight. In a rare occurrence, Goran Dragic was easily outplayed by a rival point guard he may be fighting with for a final spot on the All-Star roster. Conley had a game high 31 points to go with seven assists and was instrumental in the pivotal moments in the fourth quarter when Memphis finally seized control of the game.  While Dragic finished with 21 (on uber efficient shooting) he only had three points in the second half until there were 28 seconds left in the game and Memphis just needed to make free throws to close out the game.


Comments of the Game:

He'll have to miss eventually....Right?!?!

- Memphis announcer on Channing Frye


Green is just dripping with confidence right now.


You get a three.

He gets a three.

Everyone gets a three.


Plum Jam.  Now I'm hungry.


Um, Horny, how's it going, uh yeah time to put Dragic back in


Big Dragic fan but Conley is getting past him like he has an EZ Pass tag.


We brought this on ourselves.

This game shouldn't have been this close.


The Good:

The first half. The flow of the game favored the Suns and their offense looked dynamic and efficient.  The Suns scored 55 points against a team that had suffocated them in two previous meetings while shooting 52.4% from the field (22-42) and 55.6% from deep (5-9).

The Suns may have lost the game, but it wasn't for lack of effort. The intensity in the second half of the game was great theater. One effort stat is that Phoenix gave up 11 offensive rebounds in the first quarter... and then only three more for the rest of the game.

The Suns only committed six turnovers in the game. More evidence that they didn't play poorly, necessarily, they just couldn't score after Memphis ramped up their strangling defense.


The Bad:

The second half. The flow of the game favored the Grizzlies and the Suns' offense looked stagnant and lost. The Suns offense was stanched and they shot 32% from the field (16-50) and 28.6% from deep (6-21). The three point shooting was especially abhorrent after a quick start in the third pushed them to 9-14 on the game. From that point forward they went 2-16 (1-15 until Dragic hit a meaningless three with less than two seconds left). Phoenix went through a stretch of 18:38 spanning the third and fourth quarters were they scored an exiguous 21 points...

Speaking of three point shots, the Suns just kept chucking them.  After going 7-29 in the first game against Memphis and 8-30 in the second game it was 11-30 tonight. Probably should have reigned the guys back in during that stretch where the Suns went 1-15 from deep and lost the game... The Suns last real chance to win the game - Green misses a three with :37 seconds to go and the team down by just four. Taking 30 three point shots against Memphis has proven to be a strategical blunder.

The Suns just simply fail on the interior game against this team. Horrible mismatch. Plumlee and the Morrii combined for 34 points (on 13-34 shooting) and 20 rebounds. Randolph, Davis and Koufous went for 38 (on 18-37 shooting) and 35. That makes three straight were they have been pummeled.  I don't know how many games it would take for Phoenix to finally win this exchange for a game, but I'm glad that I don't have to find out...


The Ugly:

I'm not complaining. Sure, it sucks that Phoenix lost, but that was a damn entertaining game in my opinion.


Final Thoughts:

The Suns took one on the chin tonight. A game they could have easily won managed to slip away in the closing minutes. The Suns are just confounded by teams of the Grizzlies ilk.  Hopefully other teams that don't habitually play that style won't be able to duplicate the blueprint that seems so successful against Phoenix.

Five games in seven nights is always a significant obstacle. Bledsoe being sidelined made it even more perilous. It wan't a stretch to surmise the Suns would have their hands full against teams like Chicago and Memphis. There is no reason for the Suns to hang their heads. Tomorrow provides a new opportunity with a game against a Pistons squad that won tonight, but had lost eight of nine prior to that.

The latest All-Star voting returns are in. The starting five is as good as locked in, but who deserves to be named reserves?

We are two weeks away from the 2014 NBA All-Star Game starters being announced, three weeks from learning the reserves and five weeks from All-Star weekend itself.

On Wednesday, the latest returns for All-Star voting were released. In a complete and total shock, the two best players in the league - LeBron James and Kevin Durant - led all vote-getters.

Those two are locks to start the game. They will be joined in New Orleans by eight other starters and 14 reserves. Which players are going to take those spots? Let's take a closer look.

Eastern Conference

As I said, LeBron James is leading the East - and the entire NBA - in voting. Paul George and Carmelo Anthony are running away with the second and third frontcourt spots. Those three will be starting in the East.

In the backcourt, it's pretty clear cut as well with Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving way ahead of third place Derrick Rose (who is out for the season anyway).

Irving-Wade-George-James-Anthony. That is your starting five in the East and it doesn't really matter how any of them are playing.

That leaves three frontcourt, two backcourt and two wild card spots. Looking over rosters, my shortlist for reserves in the East includes Roy Hibbert, Chris Bosh, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Paul Millsap, Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, Al Jefferson, Nikola Vucevic, Thaddeus Young, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Lance StephensonJeff Teague, John Wall, Brandon Jennings, Kemba Walker, Arron Afflalo, and Michael Carter-Williams.


Josh Smith: 15 points, seven rebounds and 40 percent shooting. No. Greg Monroe (15 points, nine rebounds, 50 percent shooting) and Andre Drummond (13 points, 13 rebounds, 60 percent shooting) are playing well, but Smith's (and Brandon Jennings') chuckiness plus the team's poor record hurts their case.

Vucevic is having a nice season (13 and 11) but Orlando is awful. Al Jefferson is himself, putting up 17 and 10, but Charlotte isn't very good either. Thaddeus Young is putting up 18 and seven but he might not even still be in the Eastern Conference by the All-Star break.

That leaves five players from my list.

Chris Bosh is putting up solid numbers on very good shooting percentages and he's only playing 30 minutes per game (per 36 he is at 19 and eight). Chris Bosh is an All-Star yet again.

Roy Hibbert and Joakim Noah are both doing what they always do. Hibbert is the anchor of the best defense in the NBA, while Noah is putting up a double-double in addition to dishing out almost four assists per game. Both of these guys are All-Stars.

So the three frontcourt reserves are Chris Bosh, Roy Hibbert and Joakim Noah. We'll take another look at Luol Deng and Paul Millsap when we get to the wildcards.


Can we just give the Eastern reserve guard spots to the West please? No Rose, no Rondo, Deron Williams is a shell of himself... So who makes it?

Kemba Walker, Brandon Jennings and Michael Carter-Williams are all putting up big numbers, but their teams are awful and their efficiency numbers are almost as bad.

That leaves six players on the list.

Jeff Teague is putting up great numbers, but his advanced stats and efficiency numbers are more in line with the guys I already eliminated than the others below.

Lance Stephenson is having a great year for the Pacers and he's doing a lot of things. 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists is a pretty nice stat-line. He belongs in the discussion, but I don't think he's an All-Star.

John Wall is perhaps the last of the freakishly athletic point guards that is still healthy now that Eric Bledsoe has followed Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook into the injury list. This kind of exhibition is made for him. After a slow start, Wall has picked it up and is putting up 19 points and nine assists per game and has his Wizards fighting for a home playoff series. He's an All-Star.

Kyle Lowry's name has been tossed around in trade speculation, but he's having a terrific season and has been even better since Rudy Gay was shipped out. His teammate DeMar DeRozan has been pretty darn good as well, averaging 21 points per game. If only one of these guys were to make it, I'd probably lean Lowry as he does more things for his team. And if you hadn't noticed, the Raptors have been pretty good lately with him leading the charge.

Few people have probably realized it as he's wasting away in obscurity down in Orlando, but Aaron Afflalo has been unbelievable this year. He's posting a 20-4-4 stat line on 47 percent from the field and 42 percent from deep. There's a possibility Orlando trades him before the All-Star break, but if he's still in the Eastern Conference he deserves to make the All-Star team. Orlando may be awful, but that definitely isn't his fault and I don't think this is just a case of putting up big numbers on a bad team.

I'm going with John Wall and Aaron Afflalo as my back-up guards.


This is where it gets tough. Two spots left, and there are three guys I think deserve to make it.

Deng is having a 19-7-4 season in addition to the work he does defensively. However, he just got traded to Cleveland and we will have to see how he adjusts to his new team. If his numbers fall off or he can't stay healthy, I'd leave him off my team. However, if he's able to help that Cleveland team start to win, it would be hard not to send him to New Orleans.

As I wrote above, Lowry is leading the resurgent Raptors to within a game of third place in the East. His advanced stats are ridiculous (his offensive rating is 120!). As I also wrote above, Lowry is their best player ahead of DeRozan so he is out of the running.

The Raptors are a game out of third place, but the Atlanta Hawks are currently in third and Paul Millsap has been a big reason for that. Now that Al Horford (who would have made this team if he were healthy) is out for the season, Millsap has had to step up alongside Teague as the team's go-to guys.

I did a bit of crowdsourcing on Twitter, and every response I got was for Lowry and Millsap. Therefore, those two get the final two spots on my All-Star team. Deng is first injury alternate.

My Team

There you have it. My Eastern Conference All-Star team.

G: Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Kyle Lowry

G: Dwyane Wade, Arron Afflalo

F: Paul George, Paul Millsap

F: LeBron James, Chris Bosh

F: Carmelo Anthony, Roy Hibbert, Joakim Noah

How does it look? Did I miss the mark on some players? Did I snub someone more deserving? Let me know.

Stay tuned for part two next week to see how Goran Dragic stacks up in the more talented and wild, wild Western Conference.

The Grizzlies have had the Suns number this season. Now it's time for the Suns to get their number (103). Can the Suns force Memphis into a fast and frenetic tempo, or is Phoenix headed for another grisly fate?

When: Friday January 10, 2014, 6:00 PM local time (8:00 EST)

Where: FedExForum, Memphis, Tennessee

Watch/Listen: TV: Fox Sports AZ Radio: 620 KTAR


Last Meeting:

The Suns lost at home 99-91 to Memphis just eight days ago (January 2nd) in a bruising game where the Grizzlies controlled the style and pace. The Suns were actually ahead going into the fourth quarter (73-69) by virtue of outscoring the Grizz 32-16 in the third (including an 18-0 run), but quickly surrendered the lead and went down by six. Goran Dragic hit a three to cut the lead to three (84-81), but Jerryd Bayless, who scored 11 in the fourth, incited a 10-3 run with a jumper and concluded it with a three pointer. The Suns never closed to less than seven in the final four minutes.

Zach Randolph (20 points, 15 rebounds) and Ed Davis (16 points, 11 rebounds) combined to torment the Suns in the interior game. Dragic had a career high 33 points to go with seven assists, but his valorous effort was squandered in the defeat. Check out the full recap here if you're a masochist.

Memphis leads the season series 2-0. The Grizzlies won the first game between the teams this season 110-91 at the FedExForum. Phoenix leads the all-time head-to-head series 48-21.


Team Bios:

Memphis Grizzlies: 15-19

Points per game: 96.1 (22)     Points allowed: 97.4 (6)

ORtg: 105.8 (14)     DRtg: 107.2 (20)

Full team statistics.

Well, the Suns won't have to worry about getting razed by Jerryd Bayless in tonight's game. He has taken his repugnance skills to Boston. Coming back to Memphis in the exchange is Courtney Lee, who is shooting 44% from three point range on the season. Lee scored 12 points in his first game as a Grizzly, but the team fell to the San Antonio Spurs in an excruciating overtime loss by a score of 110-108. Memphis had appeared to be in for a drubbing, but made a vehement charge to come back from a 91-75 deficit with 4:58 left to force the extra session. Ultimately, though, a Manu Ginobili layup with 1.8 seconds in overtime was the death knell. Mike Conley scored 30 points in the loss.

Memphis is trying to weather a protracted and tempestuous stretch without All-NBA center Marc Gasol, who has been out since November 22nd with a knee sprain. Gasol is back to light court work, with a return to game action in the near future likely. Mike Conley (17.6 points, 6.3 assists) and Zach Randolph (17.1 points, 10.3 rebounds) have done their best to hold down the fort. Overall, the Grizz are 8-13 without Gasol in the lineup (8-14 including the game he was injured).

Memphis is still playing the same grinding, methodical pace they did last season, but their defensive rating has plummeted from second in the league last season all the way to 20th this season. Kind of an easy way to illustrate Gasol's impact. Memphis is still rebounding well this campaign, as they stand third overall in total team rebounding %.


Phoenix Suns: 21-13

Points per game: 103.2 (9)     Points allowed: 100.3 (14)

ORtg: 107.7 (10)     DRtg: 104.7 (12)

Full team statistics.

The luster of an exciting game winner by Gerald (trampoline) Green was sullied by reports less than 24 hours later that Eric Bledsoe would require surgery on his right knee due to a meniscus tear. Bledsoe had successful surgery on the knee today and there is hope he might return at some point in the second half of the season. As high as Green got off the ground on that jumper this terrible news would be better represented by an entity of a more chthonic variety. Some people have embraced a defeatist and disconsolate attitude, claiming that the Suns will miss the playoffs or maybe just squeak in... or worse, end up 13th or 14th in the no man's land of the lottery. Expectations have been tempered and doubt has escalated... Remember how that worked out at the beginning of the season?

Goran is still beasting, averaging 23.8 points and six assists in the four games since Bledsoe's injury, as he continues to build a solid All-Star resumé. Channing Frye has also been exceptional over this span and has hit 16 of 32 three pointers. Green appears (to me) more engaged in a starting role and has averaged 15.5 points per game during this stretch. Unfortunately, the Morrii have only put up an average of 15.3 points combined over this same period.

While Phoenix's 104-103 win over Minnesota didn't seem well played as a whole there were still some standout performances. Goran Dragic had game highs in points (26) and assists (9) while also puling down six rebounds. Maybe most impressive was Frye, though, who scored 22 points (hitting five threes) while his rebarbative defense confounded Kevin Love into shooting just 4-20 from the field. Not a lot of us were expecting Channing to win that one-on-one matchup. Meanwhile, Green resurrected a fairly pedestrian game with that dagger from the corner. Leandro Barbosa also made his (return) debut and had three points, three assists and three rebounds in 13 minutes. The team is surely hoping he can become acclimated and contribute to a weakened backcourt.


What To Watch For:

Tempo - The Suns have been deluded into playing Memphis style basketball in the previous two games. They've been discomfited by a Grizzlies defense that hasn't been all that stalwart overall. In each of the two games the Suns managed just 91 points, over 12 points below their season average. Gonna have to do better than that.

Interior Presence - In the last game the teams played the trio of Randolph, Ed Davis and Kosta Koufos combined for 46 points and 35 rebounds.  Miles Plumlee and the Morrii managed just a measly 20 points and 18 rebounds. These disparate performances helped contribute to Memphis outrebounding Phoenix 59-40, including +6 on offensive rebounds. Gonna have to do better than that.

From Way Downtown - After a calamitous 7-29 performance from three point range back on December 3rd in Memphis the Suns went 8-30 from deep in their curtain call last Thursday. Gonna have to do better than that.


For What it's Worth:

Remember 103?  When I broached this subject before the season Hornacek was optimistic that the team could hit, or surpass, that scoring mark in the upcoming campaign. Some scoffed at this notion. Right now they're at 103.2 per game.  The significance of 103 lately... The Suns have won 11 straight games when they've scored at least 103 points.

The Suns are 5-5 when playing with Dragic and without Bledsoe. The Suns are 2-1 when playing with Bledsoe and without Dragic. Three games isn't a very big sample size. If Dragic had missed one more game and they lost it would have been 2-2. .500 ball. If the Suns win tonight they will be one game over .500 without Bledsoe... just like they are without Dragic. I'm just not ready to concede that the team is better sans Dragic than it is without Bledsoe. Remember, when Dragic was out for three games Markieff Morris was downright filthy in garnering Player of the Week honors. In the two losses to the Kings he combined for five points and three rebounds... Just something to ruminate over.


The Final Word(s):

A win tonight would be Brobdingnagian to help the team build confidence in the wake of Bledsoe's injury update and the indefinite timeline for his return. Memphis has given the Suns fits, but the Detroit Pistons (tomorrow's opponent) have lost eight of their last nine and will also be on a back-to-back since they play at Philadelphia tonight. How good would a three game road win streak feel going into that Knicks, who have won four of five and dispatched the Heat last night, game on Monday?

Eric Bledsoe had arthroscopic surgery on his torn meniscus today, and the Phoenix Suns are optimistic he will return to action this season.

The surgery on Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe's knee was successful today.

The surgery was performed in Phoenix by renowned Suns team doctor and knee surgeon Thomas Carter. Bledsoe will immediately begin a recovery and rehabilitation program and will pursue a possible return to action during the second half of this NBA season.

The key on the surgery for Bledsoe was a likelihood that he could play again this season.

While no details of the surgery were shared, a source close to the team expressed optimism to me that Bledsoe will indeed return in the second half of the season.

More details will follow, but for now his agent Rich Paul has not shared any details on the surgery either.

Lost amid the Eric Bledsoe hoopla: For the fourth consecutive year, Phoenix Suns point guard Goran Dragic is exceeding expectations and raising the ceiling of his career. He is now knocking on the door of an All-Star berth.

Over the past five years, Phoenix Suns fans have witnessed the growth of a true NBA talent from his infancy to the verge of an All-Star berth.

Lost amid the Eric Bledsoe hoopla, the Phoenix Suns still have their heart and soul running the point guard position. After this season, as he witnesses players dropping like flies around him, we may have to give Goran Dragic a new nickname: The Iron Dragon.

Five years ago, the Suns had a "deer in the headlights" 22-year old rookie named Goran Dragic playing ineffective spot minutes behind All-Star Steve Nash. For context, that's three yrs older than Archie Goodwin and two years older than Alex Len are right now. Dragic couldn't dribble the basketball out of a paper bag, couldn't shoot well, and couldn't finish at the rim. And as the point guard, he couldn't generate many points for the team, couldn't use his off hand for anything, shot just 39% from the field and had nearly as many turnovers as assists.

But he flashed some moxie despite the Opie looks. When a player (Jamaal Tinsley, I believe) passed the ball between Dragic's legs, Goran returned the favor on the next play. When a Kings player stole the ball in open court from Dragic, the Slovenian ran him down to take the ball back. There were flashes, but they were few and far between. A noted columnist from ESPN famously (infamously?) wrote that "Goran Tragic* is the worst player in the NBA".

*could this nickname be the source of career-long mispronunciation of Drah-gitch's name?

A year later, during the 2009-10 season, Dragic improved. He became a viable backup to Nash, and even carried the team through occasional stretches of brilliance during their 28-7 late season run to the playoffs. And when the playoffs came - Dragic's one and only playoff experience to date - he was a darling of the nation. To this day, his most memorable national moment was that fourth Q against San Antonio. You know the one.

In the span of one season, our little Slovenian's nickname changed from "Tragic" to "The Dragon".

After a dismal start to the 2010-11 season and a bad trade to Houston, the Dragon got his first chance to run a team in the final weeks of the season when Kyle Lowry got hurt. He #killedit to the tune of a triple-double capper, but Houston came up just short of the playoffs.

I thought Dragic had reached his ceiling - a good backup point guard who could flash brilliance on occasion, but never become a full-time starter.

I was wrong.

In 2012, Dragic's 4th NBA season, he got an even bigger chance for Houston when Lowry missed most of the second half to injury. In 28 starts, Dragic averaged 18 points and 8.4 assists in 36 minutes per game. He nearly single-handedly carried the short-handed Rockets to the playoffs, starting the last 26 games of that season and missing the playoffs in the final week.

As Dragic hit free agency, I once again thought he'd reached a new, but distinct, ceiling - a quality starting point guard who had probably played a tiny bit over his head in Houston. He still wasn't a consistent shooter or great set-up passer like his former mentor, Nash. I also thought Dragic's balls-out style might not last a full season of wear and tear. In terms of league rankings, Dragic was maybe the 15th best point guard in the league. Not great. Not bad either.

Again, I was wrong.

He lasted the whole season as the starter in Phoenix and became the epitome of what Suns fans wanted from their team - consistent effort, all game long, and a winning attitude. Dragic put up strong numbers considering the lack of talent around him, even setting a career high in all major categories.

And for the fourth year in a row, Dragic was even better in the second half of the season. He averaged 16.1 points and 9.5 assists per game in 26 post-ASG starts, up from 14 and 6.3 before the break. And this was under Hunter and amid a youth movement.

Again, I thought Goran had hit his ceiling. How much better can you be than 16 and 9? When the Suns acquired Eric Bledsoe in the offseason, I figured that Dragic would get more space to operate, but would handle the ball less and overall cap out at his numbers - 15 points and 5 assists or so a night, while Bledsoe stole the spotlight.

Now, in his sixth NBA season, Goran Dragic is once again reaching for a new ceiling. He is now knocking on the doorstep of an All-Star berth, thanks only to the chance that a number of better players will miss the game to injury, such as Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook.

In 29 first-half starts, Dragic has blown away his prior numbers. He's putting up a career high 19 points per game along with 6 assists, despite sharing time with Bledsoe as expected. The extra 4.5 points per game over last year may not seem like much, but it's the difference between go-to scorer and supporting player.

And we haven't even hit the second half of the season!

To recap, Goran Dragic has been better every single year of his career in the second half of the season. Check out the splits. Despite playing for his country every summer, "The Dragon" gains power as the season wears on.

Can the Suns survive without Eric Bledsoe for a time? If you read articles and fan reaction, the clear answer is no. Without Bledsoe, the Suns will "Bled" out, they say.

But I say different.

I say that the Suns will continue to rise on the fire breathed by The Dragon. His career trajectory is still rising, despite the ceilings I have imposed on his career.

The kid who arrived in the NBA as a deer-in-the-headlights PG despite already being 22 years old may now be busting down the door of an All-Star berth in his sixth NBA season.

Eric Bledsoe will be missed. But if Leandro Barbosa, Gerald Green, Channing Frye and P.J. Tucker can continue to space the floor by making a solid chunk of their three-pointers, and if Barbosa and Ish Smith can handle some of the PG load while Dragic gets a breather, there's every reason to think Dragic can carry this team to the playoffs. A mere .500 record from now on will get the Suns 45 wins, which should be good enough to make it.

Dragic has experienced the postseason only once in his career. In three of the other four seasons, he's come up just short in the final week.

He gets better in the second half, every single season. Despite missing Bledsoe, he's still surrounded by better talent than he's had since 2010. He's got a coach channeling his own former playing days - days that included an All-Star berth - into the Slovenian guard built just like he was in both temper and talent.

This Suns team is fueled by Fire, not Bled.

Goran Dragic will continue to improve. He just needs the rest of the team to deliver the way they have all season.

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