Jared Dudley's playing like a manly man lately. Maybe he's auditioning for a spot in an Old Spice body wash commercial? Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE.

As the Suns embark upon the second game of their second back to back to back of the season, the college basketball world celebrates the first full day of the NCAA Tournament and the rest of the NBA digests the comings and goings (and *yawn* nothings from certain teams) of the trade deadline.

On the Suns last B2B2B, a disappointing loss in Oakland to the Golden State Warriors was followed by a St. Valentine's Day massacre at the hands of the Denver Nuggets, a game in which the Suns rested Steve Nash and Grant Hill. The Suns then went all in for the final game of the set, but lost at home to the Atlanta Hawks 101-99.

That stretch in mid-February was the Suns last losing streak. Starting with their February 19th stomping of the Lakers (oooh, that felt so good), the Suns have won 8 of 11, with the three losses being tight, winnable games.

Are the Suns finally turning the corner? Tonight's game against the Clippers in LA will provide another good barometer of how much progress this team has made. That's assuming the Suns don't wave the white flag by sitting Nash and Hill as they did in the second game of last month's B2B2B, which is definitely possible.

Update 6:35 AZ time: Nash and Hill won't play tonight, according to AZ Central's Paul Coro.

Paul Coro @paulcoro

Gentry confirms the #Suns will hold out Nash & Hill tonight in 2nd of back-to-back-to-back. Still debating starters.

The Clippers have not come out of the All-Star break as hot as the Suns, winning only 4 of 10 with one of the losses coming in a strange, ugly 81-78 loss in Phoenix, a game the Suns won despite shooting only 35% from the field. Channing Frye played one of the more bizarrely effective games I've ever seen, shooting 2-18 from the field but grabbing 14 rebounds and playing generally un-Frye-like stout defense on Blake Griffin, holding the rising star to 6-19 shooting.

It's hard to imagine the Suns following that blueprint to victory again but given their recent offensive explosiveness, they might not have to. In somewhat of a landmark achievement for this season's sputtering Suns, they now have all five starters averaging double figure scoring, are up to 8th in the league in pace and are in the top half of the league at 14th in PPG with 96.2.

Jared Dudley and Frye have been the keys to Suns success and the one-time bench studs, now starting, have picked up their games lately, especially Dudley. Check out JYD's basic stats per game in March:

  • 21 pts, 4 rebs vs. Utah
  • 28 pts, 9 rebs vs. Minnesota
  • 19 pts, 7 rebs vs. Memphis
  • 18 pts, 8 rebs vs. Dallas
  • 17 pts, 11 rebs vs. OKC
  • 14 pts, 6 rebs vs. Sacramento
  • 22 pts, 7 rebs vs. Clippers
  • 12 pts, 7 rebs, vs Minnesota

Total for the month so far: 18.9 PPG, 7.4 RPG on 54% overall FG shooting and 42% 3-point shooting.

That's a difference-maker right there. Dudley's looking more confident and comfortable as a starting NBA shooting guard in his first season in the role. There was never much doubt the man can shoot; his career 41% 3-point shooting rivals that of Nash. But Dudley relentlessly continues to improve his game, showing better ball handling and ability to create his own shot. It's been impressive to see and if Dudley can keep it up, that will be a huge boost to the Suns playoff chances.

Though both teams figure to struggle with energy tonight, since both played last night, it's unlikely the game follows the course of the last match up between these two teams. Griffin wasn't the only Clipper to have a poor game then. Chris Paul went for only 16 points and 5 assists while being hounded by Grant Hill, and the Clippers scored 31 points in the second and third quarters combined. Sure, there was good defense in that game, but also some terrible shooting. Don't expect to see the same tonight.

The primary deciding factor in tonight's game, though, will be what kind of production the Suns get out of their team captains and oldest players Nash and Hill. Can they go 20-30 minutes? Will Gentry bench them completely to save them for tomorrow night's game versus the Pistons? No word as of yet, but stay to tuned to Bright Side of the Sun for an update when the news breaks.

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
Blake Griffin 41 36.6 8.5 16.1 53.1 0.0 0.2 14.3 4.1 7.4 55.4 3.3 7.8 11.1 3.0 2.5 0.8 0.8 3.1 21.2
Chris Paul 36 36.3 7.3 14.7 49.2 1.4 3.4 41.1 4.0 4.7 85.8 0.7 2.9 3.5 8.3 2.2 2.3 0.1 2.3 19.9
Chauncey Billups 20 30.3 4.2 11.4 36.4 2.4 6.3 38.4 4.3 4.8 89.5 0.2 2.3 2.5 4.0 1.9 0.5 0.2 2.0 15.0
Mo Williams 38 29.3 5.4 12.3 43.7 1.9 4.7 39.7 1.6 1.8 88.4 0.5 1.6 2.1 3.3 1.7 1.1 0.2 2.0 14.3
Caron Butler 39 31.4 4.6 11.5 40.3 1.5 4.3 35.5 1.8 2.3 79.1 0.7 3.1 3.8 1.4 1.3 0.9 0.2 2.2 12.6
Randy Foye 41 23.7 3.3 8.5 38.9 1.5 4.1 36.1 1.0 1.2 82.4 0.3 1.6 1.9 2.2 1.2 0.7 0.4 2.0 9.1
DeAndre Jordan 41 27.1 3.1 4.9 63.4 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.0 2.2 47.8 3.2 5.5 8.7 0.3 1.0 0.5 2.3 3.1 7.3
Kenyon Martin 17 21.8 2.4 5.5 42.6 0.0 0.3 0.0 0.5 1.2 40.0 0.8 3.2 4.0 0.5 0.9 0.8 0.7 2.7 5.2
Bobby Simmons 10 20.8 1.4 4.5 31.1 1.2 3.0 40.0 0.1 0.1 100.0 0.8 2.3 3.1 0.4 0.5 0.7 0.1 2.7 4.1
Trey Thompkins 14 6.6 1.1 3.3 34.8 0.1 0.7 20.0 0.4 0.5 71.4 0.3 1.3 1.6 0.2 0.3 0.2 0.2 0.6 2.8
Ryan Gomes 30 13.9 1.0 3.1 33.3 0.1 0.9 14.3 0.3 0.4 72.7 0.5 1.5 2.0 0.4 0.5 0.5 0.0 1.1 2.5
Eric Bledsoe 16 7.8 0.8 2.1 38.2 0.2 0.4 42.9 0.6 0.8 69.2 0.4 0.6 1.0 1.0 0.6 0.7 0.3 1.5 2.4
Reggie Evans 36 16.0 0.7 1.4 48.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.7 1.4 51.0 2.0 3.7 5.7 0.4 0.9 0.5 0.1 2.3 2.0
Brian Cook 16 7.6 0.7 3.1 22.4 0.3 1.7 18.5 0.3 0.3 100.0 0.3 1.2 1.4 0.1 0.3 0.1 0.3 1.6 1.9
Travis Leslie 8 4.8 0.6 1.6 38.5 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.3 0.6 40.0 0.6 0.4 1.0 0.5 0.3 0.1 0.3 0.4 1.5

More on the Game

Clips Nation Preview

Paul Coro's Orange Slices

Seth's Q&A with Clips Nation

As expected, the trade deadline came and went without any any deals consummated by the Phoenix Suns following a surprisingly quiet trade season in the Valley. Although the Suns have shouted to...

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Very few deadline trades actually spell the difference between winning and losing. You have to harken all the way back to 2004 to find a deal that resulted in a championship run (Rasheed Wallace to the Pistons).

But there is always plenty of fireworks. Unfortunately, they tend to flame out way too early. From the Suns' point of view: how about Dragic for Brooks last year? And from the national point of view, how'd that "Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks" trade work out?

From all accounts, it looks like the Suns will sit this deadline out.

"We're working the phones constantly just to make sure that we've left no stone un-turned. But if you asked me for a prediction, I'd say there's nothing even remotely close to doing right now so it would have to be something that kind of fell out of the sky in the final 12 or 24 hours."

And in summation he surmised, "I would anticipate that we would not do anything."

But then hedged his bets (just in case), "But I suppose it's possible something could come together quickly."

Will Lopez be traded for some kind of 2012-13 asset? Will the Suns acquire a bench scoring talent to help their playoff push?

No surprises here:

NBA Trade Rumors 2012: Steve Nash Will Not Be Dealt At Trade Deadline, According To Report - SB Nation Arizona
It's time to celebrate, Phoenix Suns fans, because veteran All-Star point guard Steve Nash will not be traded before the 3 p.m. ET trade deadline on Thursday, according to a source.

Updates on the action from around the NBA after the jump:

UPDATE 1: Barbosa to Pacers

Indy Cornrows - For Indiana Pacers Fans
According to a pair of tweets from respected NBA writers, the Indiana Pacers are making a trade for Toronto Raptors speedy point guard Leandro Barbosa.

UPDATE 2: Dwight staying in Orlando

Dwight Howard Waives Early Termination Option, Commits to Orlando Magic for Another Season - Orlando Pinstriped Post
Dwight Howard temporarily postponed speculation about his NBA future Thursday when he agreed to waive the Early Termination Option in his contract, ensuring he will remain with the Orlando Magic for at least one more season and keeping him from becoming a free agent until July 1st, 2013. Chris Broussard reported on ESPN's SportsCenter and via tweet that he received a text message from Howard saying he signed the waiver.

UPDATE 3: Deron Williams staying in New Jersey

Nets Signal Not Trading Williams, Moving Beyond Howard Deal - NetsDaily
the Nets are letting teams know that Deron Williams is NOT available, reports Marc Stein. Adrian Wojnarowski and Ric Bucher are saying the same thing, with both suggesting the Nets are going to be very active in trying to find players to build around Williams. One name suggested by Woj: Jamal Crawford

UPDATE 4: Gerald Wallace to Nets? (looks like the Blazers are keeping Batum)

NBA Trade Rumors: Portland Trail Blazers Reportedly 'Close' To Dealing Gerald Wallace To New Jersey Nets - SBNation.com
The Portland Trail Blazers' Gerald Wallace hasn't been the subject of very many NBA trade rumors, but according to Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Blazers and New Jersey Nets are "close" to a deal involving the 29-year-old, one-time All-Star forward:

Update 5: Sessions to the Lakers, Luke Walton to the Cavs

NBA Trade Deadline: Ramon Sessions and Christian Eyenga Traded To Lakers - Fear The Sword
According to a report by ESPN's Brian Windhorst, the Cleveland Cavaliers have traded backup point guard Ramon Sessions to the Los Angeles Lakers. In return, the Cavaliers will receive "a future draft pick." The total deal is that the Cavaliers will trade Sessions and Christian Eyenga to the Lakers for Luke Walton and the first round pick. Luke Walton makes $5.7 million this year and $6.1 million next year.

UPDATE 6: Blazers tanking

Reports: Blazers / Nets Reach Agreement On Gerald Wallace Trade? - Blazer's Edge
Multiple reports on Thursday indicate that the Portland Trail Blazers and New Jersey Nets will execute a trade that sends Blazers forward Gerald Wallae to the Nets for center Mehmet Okur, forward Shawne Williams and a 2012 first round draft pick.

UPDATE 7: Camby to Rockets, tanking more

NBA Trade Deadline: Rockets Get Marcus Camby From Blazers For Thabeet And Flynn - The Dream Shake
According to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, Jonny Flynn and Hasheem Thabeet are heading to the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for Marcus Camby.

UPDATE 8: R-Jeff for S-Jax, Spurs save money

NBA Trade Deadline: Warriors Moving Stephen Jackson For Richard Jefferson In Swap With Spurs - Golden State Of Mind
Stephen Jackson's return to the Bay Area may be cut short as NBA trade rumors have him going back to the Spurs for Richard Jefferson.

UPDATE 9: Houston gets another 1st round pick for Jordan Hill and the pleasure of Derek Fisher's company

Rockets Trade Jordan Hill To Lakers For Derek Fisher And Draft Pick - The Dream Shake
The Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets completed a surprising deal as the NBA trade deadline ended, with the Lakers sending longtime point guard Derek Fisher and a 2012 first-round pick to the Houston Rockets for third-year big man Jordan Hill. The first-round pick is the one originally owned by the Dallas Mavericks.

UPDATE 10: Blazers fire Nate McMillan, Portland freed from The Oppressive Thumb

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reports that the Portland Trail Blazers have fired coach Nate McMillan.

UPDATE 11: Clips get SG Nick Young b/c they needed a SG and didn't need Brian Cook

Breaking News: Clippers Acquire Nick Young for Brian Cook, pick - Clips Nation
As part of a three team trade, the Los Angeles Clippers have acquired shooting guard Nick Young from the Washington Wizards for little-used forward Brian Cook and a draft pick.

UPDATE 12: Nuggets swap Nene for Javale McGee...ballsy move

Denver Nuggets trade Nene Hilario to Wizards for JaVale McGee - Denver Stiffs
In a move that is sure to frighten, terrify, mystify, perplex and downright confuse most Stiffs, the Denver Nuggets have traded Nene Hilario to the Washington Wizards for Javale McGee and Ronny Turiaf while the Wizards send Nick Young to the Los Angeles Clippers.

That would appear to be all the deals for the day...

A couple of weeks ago before the Suns beat the Clippers we exchanged questions and answers with Steve from the great Clips Nation. The Suns won that game so it seemed like a really bad idea not to repeat the process. I'm not saying I am superstitious but if something works you keep going back to it.

Here's my answers to his questions. His answers to my questions are below.

Q. When last we spoke (emailed), you were OK with Randy Foye at shooting guard. With a little more time and an 8-10 record since Billups was felled by a blow to the only weak spot on his body, are you still OK?

Yeah, I've taken quite a lot of heat for maintaining that the Billups injury was not going to be that terrible for the Clippers. But 15-7 with Billups and 8-10 without him is pretty telling, isn't it?

Still, correlation is not causation, and I'm hard-pressed to comprehend why Billups injury has caused Caron Butler's productivity to fall off a cliff. Butler averaged 13.5 points while making 43% of his shots in those first 22 games. He's around 10 on 35% shooting since then, and has been much worse than that the last 10. How is that related to Billups' injury? Answer: it's not.

Here are the splits for Billups and Foye this season as starters (they started a few games together while Paul was hurt). Billups gets to the line more. And that's about the extent of the statistical difference.

Billups 20 30.4 4.2-11.4 .364 2.4-6.3 .384 4.3-4.8 .895 0.2 2.3 2.5 4.0 0.2 0.5 2.0 1.9 15.0
Foye 24 29.7 4.1-10.8 .378 2.0-5.4 .369 1.1-1.3 .844 0.3 1.9 2.3 2.9 0.6 0.9 2.2 1.5 11.3

I'm not saying it's had no impact. It's obviously had an impact, as we knew it would. But there's little or no data to justify the claim that the Clippers recent poor play is a direct result of the loss of Billups' production. You have to resort to intangibles and leadership and things like that, which are clearly factors as well, but not quantifiable.

Personally, I think the Clippers' current issues go way beyond Chauncey Billups.

Q. Tell me how I should feel about Eric Bledsoe?

Eric Bledsoe is an intriguing prospect, there's no question about that. He doesn't have quite the astonishing athleticism of a Russell Westbrook, but I would still put him in the athletic freak category (or at least he was pre-knee surgery -- it's starting to come back but is not all there just yet).

At barely more that six feet tall, he has averaged 1.4 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes in his two seasons in the league -- a number that ranks him with Dwyane Wade and Westbrook among the best rebounding guards in the league. He had blocked shots on LeBron James AND on a J.R. Smith dunk last season. And then there's this picture. Did I mention he's just a smidge over six foot? The kid is athletic.

This season he seems to be carving himself a niche as a game-changing defender. Against San Antonio on February 18 the Clippers were down 15 and went on a 17-0 run with Bledsoe defending Tony Parker. On Sunday, Bledsoe's lock down defense on Monta Ellis fueled a 28-7 run when the Clippers were down 21. (Don't ask how those games turned out, I don't want to talk about it.) He's not much of a shooter and is still learning to play point guard at the NBA level, but as OKC found out with Westbrook, players with that kind of athleticism can be difference-makers if you are patient and let them develop.

Three years from now he could be an All-Star -- or he could be out of the league because he never really learned how to play. The truth is probably somewhere in between -- he will probably always be able to find a spot on a roster if only for his defense.

Q. How's K-Mart looked and performed for the Clips since his triumphant return to the NBA?

I was never a fan of Kenyon Martin, but I'm a fan of the Clippers so of course I sublimate that prior dislike now that he's wearing the uniform I like. Cognitive dissonance? What cognitive dissonance? Honestly, the most impressive thing about K-Mart is his defense. He's a terrific defender, both on the post and on the perimeter (and I did recognize that in him even when he played for Denver).

In the pick-and-roll, he has the ability to stay in front of point guards even when he gets switched onto them. He's also very good at either showing or trapping -- basically, he pick-and-roll defense is a major improvement over either DeAndre Jordan or Blake Griffin.

He's not much of an offensive player. I mean, he's better than Jordan or Reggie Evans, but that's not saying much. He went through a stretch a week ago where he made a bunch of his line-drive flip jumpers, but that doesn't mean it's a good shot -- it's not. I also could really do without the technical fouls. He picked up one in the fourth quarter of the game in Minnesota that the Clippers lost by one. Ouch.

Overall, K-Mart's been a massive upgrade for the Clippers' front court since he signed, but that's not saying a lot. Reggie Evans and Brian Cook were the first two bigs off the bench before K-Mart arrived, so of course he was an upgrade.

Q. Can you PLEASE guarantee me that despite the recent slide that the Clips will beat the Lakers in the playoffs?

Would that I could. A Lakers-Clippers playoff meeting would be fascinating for so many reasons. I think the Clippers are the better team, and I expect them to turn things around and win the Pacific Division yet, but I dread the Lakers in a playoff matchup.

The Clippers roster has a glaring weakness regarding backcourt size -- basically, they have no one to defend Kobe Bryant. Billups was probably the best option they had, and now they're down to Randy Foye -- or put Caron Butler on Kobe and leave Foye on Metta World Peace. No matter how you slice it, it ain't good.

Then there's Andrew Bynum. If DeAndre Jordan gets into foul trouble, the Clippers have absolutely no one to guard Bynum. Reggie Evans actually did a decent job earlier this season, but I don't think that's a reliable solution. Finally, the length of Pau Gasol has given Blake Griffin fits in the past. So there are some real matchup problems for the Clippers against the Lakers.

Of course, the Clippers present the Lakers with issues as well. Chris Paul has a long and proud history of torching the Lakers in the playoffs, and he certainly would have much more help around him with this Clippers team than he did in New Orleans last season. The Lakers simply can't defend small, quick guards, and the Clippers have not just Paul but also Mo Williams who would give them fits. So on the court it would be a question of which team does a better job of maximizing their advantages while minimizing their exposure.

In the stands, it would be difficult as well. There are simply more Lakers fans in town, and they'll snap up all the extra tickets and even get some from Clippers season ticket holders looking to turn a profit on a high demand ticket. The crowd for a Clippers home game against the Lakers is usually about 60-40 Clippers fans, and I would expect that to be the same in the playoffs, if not worse. It's no good when, during your home game, 40% of the crowd is booing you or chanting "M-V-P" for a guy on the other team.

It would be a fun series, don't get me wrong, and a Clippers playoff win would fast track the process of gaining a better foothold in town, but it could also go very, very badly for the Clippers.

Winning is fun.  Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE.

The Phoenix Suns once again overcame a double digit deficit against the Utah Jazz to pull out a big 120-111 victory Wednesday night.

In the first, the Suns turned the ball over three straight times as the Jazz reeled off 8 straight points. But Phoenix turned on the offense with 17-5 run to close the half including 8 by Jared Dudley and Channing Frye. Gortat and Frye combined for 28 points, 11 rebounds, and 2 blocked shots while Utah's Jefferson and Milsap combined for 15 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 steals.

In the 3rd stanza, the Jazz slowly began to fade. Both Devin Harris and Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin were T'd up while Channing Frye and Jared Dudley began to find their offensive game. The Suns went on a12-4 run to start the quarter. With 5 minutes and change left and the Suns up by 11, Jared Dudley went on a brief tear, hitting 3 3-pointers and 2 free throws. But Jamal Tinsley (formerly of the NBA then the D-Leaague and then the NBA again) hit a near half court 3 to end the quarter. The momentum briefly changed in the early 4th with the Jazz outscoring the Suns 12-2. With 7.21 left Shannon Brown hit a layup then a free throw, but erased the latter with a technical foul. The Suns tightened up defensively allowing the Jazz to get no closer than 5 points for the duration.

NBA Utah Jazz Vs Phoenix Suns Highlights (March 14, 2012) Game Recap (via NBAorbit)

Worth Bulleting

  • Channing Frye came up big tonight offensively. This season he has been inconsistent, but the Suns have proven they can win without his shot falling as he has dialed up his defensive efforts. Frye has found a way to stay on the court and help his squad on both ends of the floor. Against the Jazz, Frye did a nice job battling Paul Milsap and logged 4 blocked shots to go with his other strong numbers.
  • Jared Dudley stated that he was attempting to let the game come to him. It is clear he means it. Dudley didn't score a point until the waning moments of the 2nd quarter. The Suns have enough offensive weapons to stay in games while Dudley "warms up."
  • Grant Hill did what he normally does. Quietly shuts down the opposition's most explosive player while draining mid-range jumpers. Hill finished with 7 boards, 3 assists and a blocked shot to boot. Josh Howard...3-12 and a fat -18.
  • And while we're giving shout outs, how about Aaron Nelson and all of his people. Enough said, right? No jinxes.

Don't enjoy this too long. The Suns play the second night of three games in three nights in LA versus the Clippers tonight. THEN...Here is how the schedule plays out :

Home Vs. Pistons
Home Vs. Rockets

Not really any gimmes in that group, but then again, no game is a gimme. Eerily, this season is beginning to remind me of the 2010 second half run the Suns went on to close out the season. Note I said beginning. There's a lot of work to be done, but this beats the crap out of sitting around and waiting for the draft.

Are You Ready to Accept Jared Dudley Into Your Heart as a Legitimate 2 Guard for the Suns

  110 votes | Results

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