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.

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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.

Steph Curry's overtime heroics place the Suns back above the playoff line.

On Sunday night the Suns were embarrassed by the Los Angeles Lakers.  Even after that loss the Suns sat in 7th place in the Western Conference standings.  Monday night was an off night for the Suns but Memphis won and dropped the Suns from 7th to 9th.  Last night was another off night for our guys but a Dallas loss put them back up into 8th.

So if you're following all of that - the Suns went from 7th to 9th to 8th without playing once.  Playing in the Western Conference is simultaneously very fun and the worst.

Tuesday April 1st Key Western Conference Results:

Golden State Warriors 122 Dallas Mavericks 120 (Recap) -  This was a really, really big one for the Suns.  In potentially one of the better games of the NBA season, Golden State and Dallas traded haymakers for the first three quarters.  The Warriors led by 9 after a quarter, the Mavs outscored the Warriors by 18 in the 2nd, and the Warriors returned the favor by outscoring Dallas by 13 in the 3rd and math tells us that gives the Dubs a 4 point lead going into the 4th.  In that tight 4th frame, Dallas had a 5 point lead with just 3:24 remaining but on the back of a couple Klay Thompson threes down the stretch and a few blown game winner opportunities we headed to overtime.  In OT, Dallas jumped out to a 117-113 lead but Golden State closed the gap and set up Steph Curry for this game winner:

The loss caps Dallas' 8 game homestand which saw them go just 4-4.  They now have 4 road games in a row (@Clippers, @Lakers, @Kings, @Jazz) before facing the Spurs, Suns at home and visiting the Grizz to close the season.

Portland Trail Blazers 124 Los Angeles Lakers 112 (Recap) -  A playoff team that shows up to play the Lakers in the last couple weeks of the season and takes care of business - who knew.  Former Dallas Mavericks point guard Steve Nash briefly returned to the court last night for the Lakers and actually had the Lakers ahead for a portion of the 2nd quarter.  Then in what has become par for the course for the decaying body of the Santa Clara alum he left the game with injury on two separate occasions.  For the Blazers LaMarcus Aldridge scored 31 points on 20 shots and grabbed 15 rebounds as he led Portland to their 4th straight win.  After slogging through much of March and looking like a potential playoff casualty the Blazers have brought themselves within just 1.5 games of injury-plauged Houston for the 4th spot in the West.

Current Western Conference Standings:

TEAM W L PCT GB L10 STREAK
1.San Antonio
58 16 .784 - 10-0 WON 18
2. Oklahoma City
54 19 .740 3.5
8-2 WON 2
3. LA Clippers
53 22 .707 5.5 8-2 WON 3
4. Houston 49 24 .671 8.5 5-5 LOST 2
5. Portland
49 27 .645 10 6-4 WON 4
6. Golden State
46 28 .622 12 6-4 WON 1
7. Memphis 
44 30 .595 14 6-4 WON 1
8. SUNS
44 30 .595 14
8-2 LOST 1
-  Dallas
44 31 .587 14.5 6-4 LOST 1

Tuesday April 1st Western Conference Games of Significance:

Clippers @ Suns - Both Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford are listed as doubtful for tonight which would be an extremely large break for Phoenix.  However, if the Suns play with the listless effort that got them smashed by the Lakers F Squad on Sunday then Chris Paul and whomever else the Clippers play will be plenty.  I rarely if ever have a positive feeling about a specific game but I do on this one.  If the Suns come out and fight they really should win this game.

Grizzlies @ Timberwolves -  This game certainly isn't a gimme for a Grizzlies team that has struggled with the Jazz and Nuggets recently.  My expectation is that Memphis will trail by like 8 in the 4th quarter and come back to win by 2.  It's becoming predictable.

Warriors @ Spurs -  One night after being ecstatic that the Warriors topped Dallas we'll return to our regularly scheduled Warrior-bashing.  That said, even if San Antonio extends their win streak to 19 tonight the Full Squad's Final 6 games are v. Utah, v. Denver, @Lakers, @Portland, v. Minnesota, @Denver.  Logic would suggest they'll skate into the playoffs.


Time: 7 p.m. MST TV: FSA A review of the Sunday night loss to the Los Angeles Lakers saw the Suns look almost perturbed in running back to match up against a fast-paced team, and even in the...

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