Blowing 17 point leads is not nearly as fun as most would think.

I'm Amy Santiago Scott Howard and I've got something to say.  As I feel that the English language cannot fully capture the depth and complexity of my thoughts I'll simply say that last night's Suns/Clippers game was cartoony thumbs down and made many of us feel face with Xs for the eyes.  But really folks this is no reason for all of us to start losing our minds.

The last two games have been admittedly rough, the Suns lost in two completely different ways - both painful in their own special way - and now again sit on the outside of the playoff race.  Because you know, tiebreakers.  Also there are just 7 games left in the season and you may have heard the Suns schedule is about as difficult as Case #52ABX-32QJ.  So why you ask am I so upbeat this morning?  These games are fun.

The Suns might not be in the playoffs yet, hell odds would suggest they won't make the playoffs at all but make no mistake, these last 7 games are playoff basketball games.  In these last 7 games we'll get the opportunity to learn more about this group of players than we have all season.  It will be a test of their mettle that the majority of the players on the roster have never faced before and if they want to extend their season more than a few of these guys is going to have to take their game up a couple notches.

If the Suns make the playoffs it will be because they earned it - if they don't it will be because they didn't.  So quiet your mouth sirens and enjoy the ride.  Eyes closed, head first, can't lose.

Wednesday April 2nd Key Western Conference Results:

Los Angeles Clippers 112 Phoenix Suns 108 (Recap) -  With 1:31 to go in the 3rd quarter the Suns led the Clippers by a score of 91-74 and had the ball.  Here's how their next 12 possessions went:

  • Eric Bledsoe turnover (throws the ball right to Chris Paul). 
  • Markieff Morris missed jumper.
  • Marcus Morris passes up an open corner three to dribble around and take a contested 17 footer he misses.
  • Gerald Green has his end of quarter 3 pointer blocked.
  • Gerald Green makes 1 of 2 free throws.
  • Markieff Morris attempts a hook shot for some reason.
  • Marcus Morris travels in the corner.
  • Gerald Green misses a three.
  • Marcus Morris misses a jumper.
  • Goran Dragic is blocked by Jared Dudley (in real life), ball bounces out to Channing Frye who hits a three as the shot clock is running down.
  • Eric Bledsoe misses an early in the shot clock 3 three. 
  • Miles Plumlee tries another hook shot. 

That was about 5 minutes of basketball.  In that period the Suns shot 1/10, turned the ball over twice, and saw their lead go from 17 to 6.  It wasn't that they missed - it's how they missed and the shots they took.  Ugly, unorganized offense rarely works.

Other stuff happened and you can read about it in Dave's recap (here's a link) but for me that 5 minute period was the game.

Minnesota Timberwolves 102 Memphis Grizzlies 88 (Recap) -  Just before the Suns tipped off their game with the Clippers, the T'Wolves were closing out a very helpful rout of the Grizzlies.  What a different time that was.  Kevin Love led the way for Minnesota with a 24 point, 16 rebound, and 10 assist triple double and settled nicely into the role of spoiler.  Memphis got a combined 11 points on 4 of 23 shooting from Mike Conley and Zach Randolph which qualifies as a recipe for a Grizzly loss.  Shabazz Muhammad had 8 points for Minnesota - which really I'm shoehorning in here because I still can't believe Shabazz Muhammad basically single-handily took a game from the Suns in late February.

San Antonio Spurs 111 Golden State Warriors 90 (Recap) - Maybe the Warriors were tired from playing an overtime game with the Mavericks the night before or maybe the Spurs are really just this dominant and this good.  Or maybe it's both.  As much as I make fun of the Full Squaders they were without Lee, Bogut, AND Iguodala.  That along with Steph Curry shooting 5/15 and Jermaine O'Neal playing just 4 minutes while he obtained an exuberance upgrade resulted in the Warriors getting smoked and the Spurs win streak ballooning to 19.  San Antonio hasn't lost a freaking game since February 21st against the Suns.

Current Western Conference Standings:

TEAM W L PCT GB L10 STREAK
1.San Antonio
59 16 .787 - 10-0 WON 19
2. Oklahoma City
54 19 .740 4
8-2 WON 2
3. LA Clippers
54 22 .707 5.5 8-2 WON 4
4. Houston 49 25 .662 9.5 5-5 LOST 3
5. Portland
49 27 .645 10.5 6-4 WON 4
6. Golden State
46 29 .613 13 5-5 LOST 1
7. Dallas
44 31 .587 15 6-4 LOST 1
8. Memphis
44 31 .587 15
6-4 LOST 1
- SUNS
44 31 .587 15 7-3 LOST 2

Thursday April 3rd Western Conference Games of Significance:

Mavericks @ Clippers  - Is anyone else just assuming Blake Griffin rests tonight and the Mavs cruise to a victory?  I can't be the only one.  My suggestion for your night is to spend it having a cheap dinner, watching basketball, and boning down.  Can I say bone down in this post?  I guess they said it on network television so I'm probably good to go.  Anyway.  My enemy is now my friend, go Clippers.


PHOENIX — Doc Rivers had a fight even before he arrived to U.S. Airways Center on Wednesday. He battled traffic from the Diamondbacks game next door en route to the game and was late to his...

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PHOENIX – During the game on Wednesday night Chris Paul didn’t get under Goran Dragic’s skin, but he sure got under his jersey. And when it was all said and done, the Los Angeles Clippers...

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The Phoenix Suns just couldn't keep the lead, and the Los Angeles Clippers closed out a late win on the road against a Suns team desperate for the win. Chris Paul made the right plays at the right times to seal a Clipper comeback from 17 points down.

The Phoenix Suns had a 17-point lead late in the third quarter, but were outscored 38-17 after that to lose the game and drop back into 9th place in the West.

Chris Paul made a long, long, long three-pointer with the shot clock running out to give the Clippers a 2-point lead with less than two minutes to play.

After that, the Suns just couldn't recover. The refs had to check out-of-bounds calls three times in the final minutes, ruling all of them to the Clippers. The Suns just couldn't close it out.

Bledsoe had a chance to tie in the final minute, but couldn't get the shot off and then had it bounce off him on the way out of bounds.

Chris Paul was Chris Paul in this game. Mr MVP candidate. His 20 points, 9 rebounds and three steals led the Clippers through a tough game on the road against the Phoenix Suns who really wanted to win.

Paul and Darren Collison had three steals apiece, just highlighting a Suns problem all night with getting control of the game.

The Suns had a great third quarter run to take a 17-point lead, but then the Clippers clawed back while the Suns played like they just hoped the Clippers would give in.

But the Clippers didn't. They chipped away and chipped away until finally taking the lead on Dudley free throws and then a long, long Chris Paul three pointer with time running out.

But the Suns lost the game by losing their free spirit when the second unit came in, and they couldn't get it back.

It didn't help that Goran Dragic was 2-11 for the game, 0-5 on threes. Without him making shots, the Suns couldn't keep up.

------------------

Unlike Sunday night, the Phoenix Suns came out on fire on Wednesday against the Los Angeles Clippers. Well, at least their energy was really high.

The Suns committed fouls (6 in 7 minutes of play) and missed open threes, but still led 16-13 after six minutes. The big question was whether the Suns could keep their energy level high all night, not just the opening minutes before the adrenalin wore off.

Eric Bledsoe scored 5 quick points but committed 2 quick fouls as well and took a seat on the bench. He was joined by Channing Frye soon after the Suns had surrendered their lead. And then Gerald Green committed two quick fouls in Eric Bledsoe's wake.

The Suns just couldn't figure out how to play aggressive without fouling, but then again the Clippers are second in the league in fouls drawn.

The Suns got into a funk, allowing the Clippers to go on a 7-0 run with ugly ball, before pulling back to 26-25 after one.

That is, until Miles Plumlee fouled Chris Paul on a MADE THREE POINTER with no time left on the clock.

What was a 1-point deficit became a 5-point deficit just like that. The Clippers were led by (of course) Matt Barnes with 11 points in 12 minutes of play.

The Clippers opened the second quarter the same way they opened the game, by drawing fouls and getting to the line. The Suns played stupid basketball, but stayed in the game thanks to jumper after jumper from Marcus (12) and Markieff (4) to score 16 of Suns first 18 second quarter points.

The game got chippy when the starters came back, with fouls being called on nearly every possession on each end of the court. The teams traded leads the whole time as well.

The Suns had a 2-point lead at halftime despite giving up 5 points in the final 1.6 seconds combined of the two quarters. Not 1.6 seconds in the each quarter. 1.6 seconds total.

In the first half, Gerald Green (14), Marcus Morris (16) and Markieff Morris (8) carried the Suns to the 62-60 lead on 14-21 shooting.

The Clipper came out with an edge in the second half, really trying to physically take control of the game. But that just woke up the Suns, especially Channing Frye who dropped his first two threes in 3 games. Those 3s sandwiched a Miles Plumlee and-one on a hook shot.

Of course, Frye's outburst came right after I tweeted that it was obvious he's dragging with 75 games in four months, after a year off without even working out while recovering from the enlargement of the heart.

The Suns kept pulling away after that. The Clippers lost their composure while the Suns just got stronger and stronger.

P.J. Tucker started doing P.J. Tucker things with a couple of putback offensive rebounds. The Suns at one point outscored the Clippers 29-14 in the third.

The Clippers cut the 17-point Suns lead to 7 two minutes into the fourth quarter.

And then to 3 with 6 minutes to go.

And then the Clippers at the line to take the lead with 2:38 to go.

What was a 17-point lead and nearly a giveup by Clippers turned into a game all over again.

A deep dive into how Eric Bledsoe's style of play switched up going from a role player off the bench to one of the faces of a franchise.

One of the toughest aspects of being an NBA player is the adjustment from being a role player off the bench to taking a leading role in a starting lineup.

This is a process Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe has gone through and as expected his game has undergone some changes.  It's isn't possible for a player to perform the same way in 20 minutes a night as he would in 32.  The majority of the alterations in Eric's game were to be able to withstand that 12-minute increase and larger nightly burden.

"I'm a little bit more patient than I was coming off the bench," said Bledsoe after Wednesday's shootaround.  "I had to do everything in one stretch and now I can pick my spots."

The first and most obvious modification for Bledsoe was his shot selection.  According to basketball-reference.com the former Kentucky star's average shot distance this season is 12.7 compared to 10.7 in 2012-2013.

This chart breaks down the difference in the location of Bledsoe's shots:

Snip20140402_10_medium

The biggest difference showcased is the 9% drop in shots in the restricted area and 16% increase in above the break threes.

In addition to changing where he's attempting shots, Bledsoe's game has become more risk averse.

Coming into this season what made him such a unique player was the potential for the spectacular on a regular basis, but that has gone away as he's grown into, for lack a better term, a more "traditional" (hate saying that) piece.  This is exemplified by the drop in dunks, steals, blocks and offensive rebounds.

"Some of that is we don't want him to crash the boards," stated Phoenix head coach Jeff Hornacek.  "He's got to be one of our defensive guys back there.  We say every once in a while if you see a wide open one go for it, but you got to be a little more selective.  Same thing defensively, him scrambling around looking for steals, sometimes the gamble pays off, sometimes it doesn't.  I think early in the season he was just gambling for all kinds of steals and got us into trouble.  Recently since he's come back, he's been very smart about when to go for something and when not to, and he's made some big plays that way."

This is exemplified through the numbers shown here:

Snip20140402_11_medium

The fall off in these categories doesn't mean the energy he exerted is going to waste.  Bledsoe has started to concentrate in other areas of greater importance.

"That's something that naturally happened," said Bledsoe referring to how his style of play has evolved.  "Those dropped, but other things picked up.  I pretty much just go out there and play every game like it's my last."

And the two categories where Bledsoe has put more of his focus are drawing fouls and hitting the defensive boards.

Snip20140402_12_medium

Bledsoe's free throw rate is the highest on Suns out of any player that gets regular rotation minutes helping them rank 11th in the league for free throw attempts per field goal attempts according to basketball-reference.com.

On the other hand, Phoenix is a below average defensive rebounding team (22nd in NBA) despite Rajon Rondo, Michael Carter-Williams and Russell Westbrook being the only point guard with a higher defensive rebounding % than Bledsoe.

Bledsoe's contributions in these areas are of much greater value to the Suns than him using up energy chasing steals, offensive rebounds and blocks.

Finally, one of the biggest adjustments for a player going through a transition like Bledsoe is how to pace yourself through games and from an even bigger perspective a season.

Using the SportVU data we can glean from a small sample size Bledsoe grasps he couldn't go as hard as he did with his increased responsibilities this season (even though that contradicts quote from him above I'm guessing he doesn't want to say he isn't going 100% full blast all the time).

In the 35 games Bledsoe has played in 13-14, according to the SportVU data his average speed is 4.0 miles per hour and he travels 3.24 miles per 48 minutes.

In the 20 games available from last year's SportVU data, (Clippers didn't have the technology and they only played 20 games in arenas with it) his average speed was 4.2 miles per hour and he traveled 3.33 miles per 48 minutes.

While that might not seem significant, if the pattern shows to hold through a larger sample size it exemplifies Bledsoe understands how to fine-tune his game to be more successful in the long term with a heavier workload.

Bledsoe's willingness to put aside the highlight reel plays to be a more solid contributor may not be as much fun to watch for fans, but is essential to the success of the Suns team.

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