It's been a rough patch for the Phoenix Suns, losers of 3 straight and 5 of 7 since the calendar turned to 2014. But how do they stack up agains the rest of their division and conference foes?

It's been a rough patch for the Phoenix Suns, losers of 3 straight and 5 of 7 since the calendar turned to 2014. But how do they stack up agains the rest of their division and conference foes?

Pacific Division

Los Angeles Clippers (26-13, 1st Pacific, 4th Conference) - The Clippers are 3-1 since losing starting point guard Chris Paul to a shoulder injury on January 3, and 5-1 on the new year. Darren Collison has filled in like a champ for Paul, averaging 18 points and 6 assists since the injury. Their latest victory was a 36 point beatdown of the Injury-riddled Los Angeles Lakers. Collison will need to continue to perform at a high level if they want to hold off the...

Golden State Warriors (25-14, 2nd Pacific, 6th Conference) - The Dubs are rolling hard, winning 11 of their last 12 and 5 of 6 to kick off 2014. While the Splash Brothers might be the stars of the show, Andre Iguodala scored 22 in their most recent victory over the Boston Celtics. The Dubs are doing it with defense. With the third best defensive rating in the league, they're knocking on door of the Pacific Division lead.

Phoenix Suns (21-16, 3rd Pacific, 8th Conference) - Before Eric Bledsoe's injury, the Suns were flirting with being a Pacific Division contender. Without him, they're fighting for their 8th seeded lives. You know the story: 2-5 in January with 3 of those losses coming in the last 3 games, including an ugly one to the Knicks. I dare anyone to watch that game again. On the bright side, at least the Suns are doing better than the...

Los Angeles Lakers (14-24, 4th Pacific, 14th Conference) - This season has been an unmitigated disaster in Lakerland. A plague of injuries has descended on the Lakers. All 3 point guards that started the season with the Lakers are out with injuries. They dressed just 9 players for their most recent lost, in which they gave up 120 points to the Cleveland Cavaliers. They're 1-4 in 2014 and have dropped 11 of their last 12. But, hey! Kendall Marshall is putting up 13 points (on 44.8% FG and 41.4% 3FG) and 12 assists as a starter, so they've got that going for them.

Sacramento Kings (13-23, 5th Pacific, 15 Conference) - You've got to feel for Sacramento fans and Mayor Kevin Johnson. They moved mountains to keep the Kings in Sactown and they are rewarded with the 2nd worst team in the conference. Things are looking up though. The team is .500 in January and had won 3 in a row before getting drubbed by the Pacers, 116-92, last night. It's all about the future for this young squad and they've got a bright future (but probably not this season) with Isiah Thomas and DeMarcus Cousins leading the way.

The Rest of the West

At the top of the conference, the Spurs keep Spurring. Crack all the old jokes you want, the Spurs are laughing their way to a 5 game winning streak and the best record in the West. The Portland Trailblazers are nipping at their heels, trailing by only a game and a half. But one has to wonder if the upstart Blazers have what it takes to not get assimilated by the Borg-like Spurs. The other presumptive favorite, the Oklahoma City Thunder, are biding their time until their star point guard returns from a knee injury (sound familiar?). January has been unkind to OKC, who are 3-4 this month. Nevertheless, the Thunder are hanging tough and only a half-game behind the Blazers in the west.

Perhaps more germane to the Suns' interests are the travails of the teams trailing them in the standings. After ringing in the New Year with their 8th loss in a row, the Nuggets seem to have finally figured things out, winning 5 of their last 6 to surge in to the 9th seed, 2 games behind Phoenix. Their continued success could imperil the Suns' playoff hopes, especially if the Suns continue to sink in the standings. And with the Minnesota Timberwolves seemingly unable to follow up a win with a win, the door is wide open for the Memphis Grizzlies to make a move. While Marc Gasol had a modest 12 points and 4 rebounds in his return, the Grizz were still able to knock off the Thunder in his first game back from a knee injury.

The sharks are circling the 8 seed and right now there's blood in the water, Bright Siders. Do you think the Suns can tread water long enough to rise above them? Or will a resurgent Nuggets team and newly whole Grizzlies squad commence with the feeding frenzy?

The potential end of DragonBlade came too quick... Was unexpected... And has been tough for everyone to swallow.

Bad news is bad news... No matter how you sell it. Last week the Phoenix Suns (now 21-16) got probably the worst possible news for the season with the loss of Eric Bledsoe to a right meniscus tear. A similar injury to the one that caused Derrick Rose to miss seasons and Russell Westbrook to miss a collective 20 games and counting. But Bledsoe took the quick-return path that should have him back on the court in 6 weeks but might shorten his career in the end.

This is not good news for the upstart Suns who were the talk of the NBA with their impressive 19-11 before he went down.

Enough doom and gloom (from me), let's get to what matters. The staff takes on this injury news, here we go.

Twenty-Sixth Topic: What is the future of Eric Bledsoe?

1. Breaking the Ice: Reaction to the news of Eric Bledsoe being injured, having surgery, and potentially missing the rest of the season...

Jim Coughenour: Complete and utter despair. I could write a lot on this so I'll try to be succinct. It's his second injury to that knee - is he injury prone? His contract situation is more nebulous - with questions lingering is he worth four years and $58.5 million? What does this tell us about his value and the value of the rest of the team? How much of the positive vibe has dissipated with this injury, compounded by the team's less than stellar play in Bledsoe's absence, and how much more will erode if the team misses the playoffs? That's a lot of questions redirected back at you, Kris, but after this inimical injury I have started questioning everything...

Dave King: At first, I thought the Suns would be able to tread water without Bledsoe, but it seems they completely lost their mojo on that road trip. Sure they played hard every game, but forgot how to shoot the ball. Does Bledsoe make you shoot better? No. But shooting is all about confidence, and the Suns just don't seem to have it. Bledsoe seems to have taken that mojo with him.

Mike Lisboa: It's a heartbreaker for sure and a real test for a young roster that was just starting to hit its stride.  If Bledsoe comes back after the All-Star Break, then I think the Suns will definitely be in the hunt for a playoff spot.  If not, ugh.  They're back in the too good to tank, too bad to matter spot in the lottery.

Sreekar Jasthi: It's a big gut punch for a team that had become the pleasant surprise of the NBA season. This team thrives on Dragic ans Bledsoe's shot creation and to lose one of them is a significant hit. There could be some potential long-term implications as well, with this being the second tear to Bledsoe's right meniscus. However, the injury could have been far worse and Bled's recovery is in the magical hands of the Suns' exceptional medical staff, so it's not all doom and gloom.

Sean Sullivan:  It's tough, no two ways about it.  I knew it would be a struggle for the Suns without him,but I underestimated just how mediocre at everything they would suddenly become.  This isn't to say they can't figure out how to be successful without him for a while.  It will also probably take some time once he comes back to re-acclimate him into the won;t be an instant fix.  It's all about chemistry...all the more reason I think the Suns will figure this thing out eventually.

2. What is the immediate impact of Bledsoe's injury to the Suns?

DK: Immediately, the Suns have lost their confidence, which was bred from a steady diet of forced turnover and fast break finishes. Without the 20 points a game on fast breaks, the Suns have to execute in the half court. They clearly are not comfortable in that setting.

ML:  Thus far, it's been an inability to push the pace and score in the paint.  Ish Smith can do a lot of things, but unfortunately driving and scoring are not among them.  Here's hoping Leandro Barbosa can regain his old NBA form and give the Suns a much-needed attacker in the lane.

SJ: I think we've seen what the immediate impact has been on this brutal road trip. Without Bledsoe, this offense relies far too much on Goran Dragic and as brilliant as he's been this year, the Suns need someone else to demand defensive attention and create shots for others. Bledsoe's loss also hurts the defense, as those replacing his minutes are all worse on-ball defenders than him.

SS:  Scoring, fast-breaks, defense, steals, and even some rebounding it appears. Nobody on the roster will replace Bledsoe...but they have enough options to mitigate his absence if they figure things out and play as a team.  They haven't done that yet.  It's been all Goran, all the time.

JC: Fast break scoring has been down and I think they miss his fourth quarter presence. It's a drop off in a lot of ways going from Bledsoe's production to more Ish Smith and Leandro Barbosa (although hopefully he's regaining his form after last night). It's still hard to quantify exactly what his loss means, though. Is it because Bledsoe is gone that Green went 7-33 from the field in the last two games Phoenix lost by a combined four points. How about Markieff Morris averaging 5.6 points while going 13-45 from the field on the road trip. Mix in the facet that the Suns played a couple teams that are bad mismatches and I think we need to see them play a few games at home before we make definitive statements.

3. What is the long-term impact?

DK: If long term is this season, then it could cost the Goran Dragic a chance at the playoffs for only the second time this year. If long-term is next season and beyond, then the impact is very little. An season-long injury clouds the contract picture, but the Suns will sign Bledsoe anyway. And, given the injury, the Suns are even more likely to keep Dragic. Win!

ML: I think it's minimal.  The Suns have made it clear that Bledsoe is a part of the long-term plan in Phoenix.  If he comes back from the injury this season, I think he gets whatever deal he would have gotten if he had remained healthy.  If not, maybe the Suns are wary of giving him something approaching a max deal.  Perhaps the Suns spend a little more on a back-up point guard or shooting guard in the off-season than maybe they had planned.

SJ: This remains to be seen, as none of us are really capable of accurately predicting the trajectory of Bledsoe's recovery. However, many players have returned to full form after a meniscus tear - Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, etc - and I would expect Bledsoe to return at some point this season, to receive a max offer sheet from another team in July, and the Suns to most likely match it. As for the team's success this season, holding onto a playoff spot until Bledsoe returns will be a tall task and I really don't know how that will play out, as I haven't been able to accurately gauge this team all year.

SS:  This is the question.  If it takes us from a fourth seed to a seventh seed when it's all said and done, we may have to play a tougher opponent and without home court advantage in the first round...Or we could potentially be taken out of the playoffs altogether....destined for another late lottery pick.  That's the shorter long-term, I guess.  Long-long term?  Nothing.  This doesn't change our plans to retain Bledsoe at any cost after the season, a partially removed meniscus isn't the end of a player's career by any means and shouldn't really have any effect once he's healthy, and he has already shown what a game-changer he can be for the Suns.  Oh yeah, and we still have McDonough.  The future is still bright!

JC: Does missing the playoffs count as long term? That certainly looks like a possibility at this point. The Suns hold on the eighth spot suddenly appears tenuous and Marc Gasol just went through a full practice yesterday.  If he returns ahead of Bledsoe, which appears quite likely, Memphis suddenly becomes a very real adversary for the last couple playoff spots. I don't know what the track record down the line is for players who have two knee surgeries by the age of 24... It worries me. I was already hesitant giving $14 million a year to a player who I felt was borderline worth it (I dont think it would be a bargain contract anymore), but now there are health concerns above that.

4. Who is the most important perimeter player for the Suns now between Gerald Green, Ish Smith, Leandro Barbosa, Archie Goodwin, and Dionte Christmas?

ML: Leandro Barbosa.  Assuming the Suns keep him for the rest of the season, which I think is more likely given Bledsoe's injury, he'll need to step up both behind the arc and in the paint.  He's a career 39.1% three point shooter and a capable ball handler who fits nicely with the Suns' offense.

SJ: I think it's Gerald Green. Even after his abysmal shooting night against the Knicks, he will be the starter in the back-court alongside Dragic and the team will need him to have good scoring performances more often than not. As great as Barbosa was against New York, we have to keep in mind that he literally JUST returned to the NBA and is best suited to be a sparkplug off the bench in Bledsoe's return. I'm not ready to sell low on Green after the worst performance of his season.

SS:  If Barbosa can keep playing the way he did last night.  He is, without a doubt.  If Gerald Green can eventually find the broad side of the barn he was shooting at last night, he can also be a huge impact player for the Suns as well.  I have a feeling our next best guard besides Dragic will change nightly until Bledsoe returns.

JC: The Blur. Green has his minutes regardless. GG might have more overall impact, but that's kind of like a sunk cost. He's already entrenched and he either will or he won't produce. Barbosa suddenly comes in to play (potentially) the lion's share of Bledsoe's minutes. The better Leandro can be the more of Bledsoe's production he can make up for.

DK: Certainly Barbosa. He finally got his scoring touch last night (21 points) and the Suns need that every single night from him. For some reason, he missed the last few minutes and overtime - and it really showed as the Suns just couldn't score while Dragic was being blanketed by Shumpert. Sad that Green and Frye couldn't make them pay for going small.

5. Over/Under 0.5 games played in a Phoenix Suns uniform for Eric Bledsoe.

SJ: Over. This season isn't over.

SS:  Over.  Book it.

JC: I'll say under just to be a contrarian. After his (most recent) surgery the press release basically said to ask his agent any questions about the procedure. It would be hilarious if people are told to ask his agent about his timeline for returning to action down the road. Something has felt off to me about Eric's body language since he came here - not sure if that means anything except that I possibility have issues with not feeling loved. If for some reason Bledsoe becomes a misfit for McMiracle's puzzle I can easily see him moving him. I think McMiracle sees all the players he brought in as valuable members of the team... and completely movable assets.

DK: If you're talking the rest of the season, then I'll take the over. If nothing else, he shows up in the last week to prove he can still run to the contract-signing table.

ML: For the rest of the season?  Over.  This is the Bright Side of the Sun after all.

BONUS: If the team starts losing, misses the playoffs, gets back into the Top 10 of the lottery, and lands a quality pick... Is that a worthy ending to this narrative?

SS:  I think that ship has sailed.  At the worst we might end up with a 10th overall pick, but I don't really see that happening either.  I think the Suns will get better without Bledsoe, and when he returns after the All-Star break, we will be ready to resume that playoff push.

JC: Depends. If things start to unravel and the Suns end up 9th or 10th in the lottery (can't imagine them falling any further than that) and move up to the top three it would be great. It illustrates that Ryan was mostly successful in building a solid foundation in the middle of a swamp and things went awry because of injuries and not being quite ready in an ultra competitive Western Conference.  But that is a rather improbable scenario. What seems more likely is that the Suns manage to hang around .500 and just miss the playoffs (this is probably worst case) or they shake this off and still make it to the postseason, hopefully/probably with Bledsoe's help. But who knows what kind of conversation McMiracle is having on his smart phone right now...

DK: Uh no. Since tasting the wins, it's hard to imagine a season-long tank job from here on out. Frankly, the Suns will play better and win some games. Going .500 is not crazy talk for the rest of the season. That's pretty close to a playoff spot.

ML:  I think it's a pyrrhic victory.  This was always a rebuilding season, even with the early success of the Suns.  With Bledsoe, this team isn't quite a contender yet.  However, there is definitely a lost opportunity for this squad to see what elite competition is all about with a trip to the playoffs to prepare them for their contending years.  It's a nice consolation prize, but I would rather see this team reach its potential together to give a better picture of what needs to happen in the off-season.

SJ: I guess? It would hurt to see this team lose that much after all the early success, but I guess it'd be better to lose big than to tread water. However, I don't think there's any way the Suns can lose enough games at this point to get a top ten pick.

Bright Siders, what do you think?

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That game was ugly.  The Suns offense was ugly.  The Knicks defense was ugly.  The pace was ugly (and brutally slow). The officiating was ugly.  Everything on the court was ugly.  Except Goran Dragi? in the first half and Leandro Barbosa in the second.  Those guys were nails.  Everyone else?  Ugly.

16 of 56 - The shooting numbers of Suns not named Goran Dragic or Leandro Barbosa

5 of 28 - The shooting numbers of Suns named Gerald Green and Channing Frye

35.5% - The Suns' field goal percentage WITH the valiant efforts of Dragi? and Barbosa

0 of 7 - The Suns' field goal makes and attempts in overtime

55 - The total number of personal fouls called in 53 minutes of playing time

2 hours, 55 minutes - The length of time we all endured watching this ugliness.

All that ugliness and yet the Suns still only lost by 2 points.  There's your Bright Side, Suns fans.  Despite the Suns playing 3 on 5 for most of the game, they were nearly good enough to steal one from the Knicks in Madison Square Garden.  Your players of the game were Goran Dragic (28 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists), Leandro Barbosa (21 points), and P.J. Tucker (6 points, 6 boards and admirable defense on Carmelo Anthony who got 28 points on 9-22 shooting).  Read on for a breakdown of the recent unpleasantness.

The first quarter started promisingly enough with the Suns looking sharp on offense, but a little content on defense.  The Suns traded baskets with the Knicks to the tune of a 10-7 lead for the first few minutes of the quarter.  Dragi? and Frye even hit back-to-back 3-pointers in what looked to be the start of a hot shoting night... and then the wheels fell off.  The Suns failed to score a field goal for the next six minutes while the Knicks scored 15 points unanswered to take a 12 point lead.  Goran Dragi? stopped the bleeding with a 3-pointer but the damage was done. Despite the Dragon's efforts (12 first quarter points) to match Carmelo Anthony (13 first quarter points) point for point, the Suns trailed 28-21 at the end of one.  Compounding the Suns' first quarter problems, P.J. Tucker (2 fouls) and Marcus Morris (3 fouls), were not getting the benefit of any doubts trying to guard Carmelo.

The second quarter got off to a rocky start with Markieff Morris getting whistled for a travel and then drawing a technical foul while arguing the call.  Two and a half chippy minutes later, Kieff drew his second technical foul for, how do I put this... menacingly brushing past J.R. Smith?  On the one hand it was a silly move by Markieff with a T already in the bank, but Smith escalated things by essentially shoving Markieff's hand away from him.  Whether intentional or not, the move worked and Markieff was tossed 3 minutes into the second quarter.

The Knicks extended the lead to 14 at the 8:48 mark of the second quarter when the Suns answered with a 7-0 run keyed by a Channing Frye(!) three and a Gerald Green(!) layup.  But momentum swung back the Knicks way and it looked like they were getting ready to blow things open on a Kenyon Martin fast break dunk.  But Martin argued the non-call on the dunk and received a technical foul for his troubles.  (To be fair to K-Mart, I think it was the only sequence of the game in which a foul wasn't called, so there's that.)  Again, the Suns responded with a 7-0 run to make it 40-36 on a sweet Dragi? turnaround with 5:12 remaining in the half.  Unfortunately, they wouldn't score again for the next 3 and half minutes and the Knicks' lead ballooned to 14 again before a Plumlee hook shot ended the run.  Goran Dragi? scored his 18th, 19th, and 20th points on an ice-cold 3-pointer to end the half with the Suns trailing 52-43.

The Suns came out swinging in the third quarter and rattled off a 9-2 run to knot things up at 54 on a high-flying putback by Plumlee with 9:00 remaining in the quarter.  But yet again, the Suns couldn't maintain any momentum and went scoreless for the next 5:16.  Fortunately, they were going scoreless against the Knicks, who only managed to put up 9 points in that timeframe.  The Suns and Knicks were content to trade buckets for the remainder of the period and the Knicks led 75-68 at the end of three.

My fourth quarter notes read as follows: Dat Blur.  Leandro Barbosa came alive at just the right time for the Suns.  For 3 quarters, the Suns' offense consisted of Goran Dragi? and a handful of Plumlee and Tucker tip-ins.  No one else could hit water falling out of a boat.  Leandro scored the Suns' first 8 points of the quarter to keep the Suns' hopes alive.  It was apparent that the Dragon was running low on fire, yet perhaps inspired by a rejuvenated Blur, he scored on back-to-back layups with 5:50 to go in the game to put the Suns up 84-83.  The Suns managed to extend the lead to 5 on a Barbosa jumper, but then, as was their habit throughout the game, gave it all back and then some over the course of the final 4 minutes of the quarter.  Yet when all hope appeared to be lost, Kenyon Martin fouled Barbosa to put him on the line with 1.2 seconds left in the game.  The Blur was clutch and sent this miserable game to overtime.

I don't know what to tell you about overtime.  The Suns missed everything?  Sure.  The Suns missed EVERYTHING.  3-pointers, bunnies in the lane, mid-range jumpers.  They went 0 for 7 from the field and got their only 4 points from the line, where they Channing Frye still managed to miss 2 shots.

Honestly, it felt like the Knicks should have been up by 25 at times when they only managed to get up by 8.  After getting dusted on the boards early, the Suns nearly evened the rebounding edge, finishing a mere 4 boards behind the Knicks while collecting an impressive 17 offensive rebounds. Those 17 offensive rebounds translated into the Suns getting 12 additional field goal attempts.  And the Knicks still managed 2 more makes than the Suns despite that deficit.

If there is an actual bright side here, it's that despite shooting as if they were blindfolded, these Suns never quit.  They were in it until the very last second.  Goran Dragi? is every bit as good as Suns fans have been saying he is, but without Eric Bledsoe, someone else needs to step up on offense in a timely fashion.  He was clearly out of gas in the second half.  Miles Plumlee did yeoman's work down low finishing with 12 points, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks and 3 steals.  This loss sadly rests squarely on the shoulders of Channing Frye and Gerald Green who were ice cold in the worst sense of the word.  This was one that got away as the Knicks managed to control the pace, but let the Suns hang around enough to make it winnable.

On to the next one, Bright Siders.  Here's hoping the Suns can take out their frustrations on the Lakers Wednesday night in Phoenix.

An in depth look at what the Suns are to expect when they face the Knicks Monday night. The contest isn't what was expected a short time ago.

An 82-game NBA schedule is a complicated journey. While over the course of the season the better teams will win more than they lose there is a reason even the best teams typically lose at least a ¼ of their games.

Injuries, peaks and lows, and timing with schedule all have an impact on individual games. If the Knicks and Suns Monday night meeting at Madison Square Garden took place two weeks ago it would have been a completely different game. New York was struggling and the Suns were thriving. Not only was Phoenix playing better than New York, but the team's strengths matched up well with the weaknesses of the opponent.

Fast breaks to attack NY's poor transition defense and a deadly two-headed pick and roll combo with Goran Dragic/Eric Bledsoe initiating the offense had the potential to lead to a victory by a significant margin. It was setting up to be a blood bath.

Monday, January 13th has arrived and the game isn't what it looked like it would be two short weeks ago.

Here are five things to watch for in tonight's game from New York's perspective:

1. Since the New Year has hit the Knicks have won five out of six, including victories against the Spurs and Heat. The one loss came against the Rockets, a game they probably should have won.

On the season, NY has an offensive rating of 102.2 and defensive rating of 104, which come in at 17th and 22nd in the NBA, respectively. During the month of January, those numbers have improved dramatically. The Knicks ORtg comes in at 107.5 and a DRtg of 100.3. If those were extrapolated through the entire season NY would have the fourth best offense and eighth best defense.

2. The Knicks defense has mainly improved because opponents have struggled shooting threes against them. During this six game stretch teams have shot 31.5% from three in 23 attempts compared to the 36.3% on 22.8 attempts on the season. Some of this is luck and missing open shots, part is the Knicks defense is a little more sound. They are defending the pick and roll smarter, fighting through screens instead of switching and the rotations are cleaner as a whole. There are still lapses to take advantage of.

3. The Suns need to create easy baskets out of Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani's off ball defense. Players have tendencies to try to attack both in post ups and isos, but that's not the smart way to go at their weaknesses. Simply running your normal sets and putting them in situations where they have to guard in space will cause more problems and break the Knicks defensive scheme.

4. The one constant this season has been the fantastic play of Carmelo Anthony. Melo is hitting the boards better than he has his entire career along with carrying New York's offense on his back. While still at times prone to settling into old habits, he's making smart passes out double teams creating good shots for his teammates and been automatic in catch and shoot situations. Since December 1st Melo is hitting 46.3% of his three pointers. His shooting percentages in their entirety look like this -- 47.3%/46.3%/86.3% (FG%/3P%/FT%)

5. Finally, the biggest reason for the Knicks turn around is the rise of Anthony's supporting cast. Iman Shumpert decided to join this NBA season and has knocked down 19 of his last 34 attempts from behind the arc. The above-mentioned Bargnani and STAT have gone from being huge negatives to positive contributors. Ray Felton's return to the offense allowed the Knicks to get back to their pick and roll attack that was so successful the previous season. Backup, unknown point guard Toure Murry has brought defense and energy to the second unit. Kenyon Martin filled in tremendously for Tyson Chandler and when healthy Chandler was rounding into top-notch form. J.R. Smith even found his shot in New York's last win against the 76ers. Instead of Melo playing well and every other player being garbage, everything is starting click. The Knicks look like an actual NBA level basketball team, one the Suns are running into 6 games too late.

Ed note: This marks the Bright Side debut of new writer Bryan Gibberman. Suns fans should recognize Bryan from his work on local radio, SB Nation Arizona, and in recent years. Now, we get a piece of Bryan as well. Bryan will provide features as well as write regular Practice Reports throughout the season when the Suns are in town. Welcome Bryan!

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