They weren't supposed to be here. But the Phoenix Suns now have their destiny in their own hands, and the NBA had better be ready for the Suns big stage.
Just two weeks ago, the Phoenix Suns were on the precipice. The team had lost its mojo a tiny bit, and doubt began to creep in.
They didn't doubt their talent or their futures. But they did begin to doubt their ability to make the playoffs in this most cinderella of seasons after having barely survived more than two months without their second-best player.
With that loss, the Suns had just finished a stretch of 13 of 18 games at home since the beginning of February, but went just 8-10 in those 18 games, capped bluntly by a 3-game losing streak.
Their leading scorer was banged up, exhausted, unable to even stand during postgame interviews. He looked like he'd been put through the ringer this season. Five times he twisted an ankle. Once he'd hit his head so hard he couldn't see straight for the rest of the game. And now there was a rib injury.
"It's like they were targeting it," he said. "Every time."
On that night, the loss to Cleveland left them as the 9th seed in a conference where only 8 teams make the playoffs.
Goran and I talked about the Suns' collective lack of playing experience, able to count only a few guys who even played roles on a successful push to the postseason. He and Channing Frye were subs for the 2010 Suns. He started for the 2012 Rockets, but they came up just short. Bledsoe was a sub for the Clippers the last three years. Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee watched the Pacers run 2013 from the deep bench.
None, not one of them, had been a big-minutes rotation player during a successful postseason push.
And it was only going to get harder. What remained on the schedule was the opposite of what they'd just flubbed. A road-heavy schedule to finish the season had 12 of their final 18 away from the friendly confines of US Airways Center, a supposed death knell for an inexperienced team.
Would this season flame out like everyone predicted?
No. At least not yet, anyway.
Bledsoe was a breath of fresh air. His energy boosted the team even in his first start and their collective mojo has grown on a nightly basis since.
The Suns are 8-1 since Bledsoe returned to the lineup, making them 19-5 in games where the Slash Brothers (along with Frye, Plumlee and Tucker) start and finish the game.
19-5, as long as Bledsoe and Dragic are there at the start and the finish.
That's the lineup the NBA should fear. That's the lineup that creates mismatches all over the floor with the Slash Brothers surrounded by shooters who can make the three-ball.
The nickname Slash Brothers began here on Bright Side as a twist on the popular nickname given to Golden State's Curry and Thompson for their jump-shooting prowess: Splash Brothers. The Suns were about to face the duo, so I penned the nickname in the game preview just to have a little fun.
"Slash" is a great descriptor for these guys because they attack the paint first, forcing the defense to respect their ability to finish at the rim, and then either score or kick it back out to a three-point shooter or their brother to restart the process. having one of them out there at a time is tough enough to defend, but two is nearly impossible. Especially since each can be the weak-side three-point shooter for the other.
The nickname has stuck, with NBA.com now using it when promoting the Suns. Short of any household names, the national media had to latch onto something to excite the fans, and this nickname is as good as any.
Anyhoo, I digress. Back to the story of the Rising Suns.
After winning 8 of 9 games, the Phoenix Suns now find themselves right back in the catbird seat in 7th place in the West. Their hold is still tenuous, but now it's no more or less tenuous than Dallas or Memphis'.
"We are just trying to get in," coach Jeff Hornacek said last night. "We are not concerned with trying to climb the ladder and get way up there. I think when you look at some of the teams up there: Golden State, Portland - it is going to be hard to catch them unless we finish off 7 and 2 or something like that where than maybe there is a chance.
"Our schedule gets harder. We are trying to win these games we have in front of us right now. We talk about just having to win our games and we won't worry about what these other teams do."
In the last nine games, the Suns face three of their targets for postseason position: Portland (home), Dallas (away) and Memphis (home). They have already split a season series with Golden State, each winning two games.
I remember the 2010 Suns, despite a 26-7 run, still had to win their last two games to improve on their 6th seed in the West. With back-to-back wins over Utah and Denver, the Suns jumped from 6th to 3rd to start the playoffs.
Will this team make the playoffs? Very likely.
Will big wins in the final week be able to vault them into 6th or even 5th place? Quite possible.
The Suns are riding high right now, full of moxie and confidence. They KNOW how to win games. They KNOW their style is nearly unbeatable. They can defend. They can rebound. And boy can they score.
"To go from one of the worst teams in the league last year," P.J. Tucker said. "To having a chance to make the playoffs, that's the hunger right there. There's no question everybody in this locker room is committed and we all have shown that we're getting better as the year goes on. I've said all year we can win, we are one of the better teams in this league."
Watch out, NBA. The Slash Brothers and their band of merry men are ready to hit the big stage!
The Philadelphia 76ers have lost 26 straight games, yet they still don't have the worst record in the league.
Hello Bright Side of the Sun. I'm Jacob. Some of you blog veterans may remember when I used to write for this site back in the day. Well, I'm back!
Things have died down a bit in my life with a couple of the closer-to-home basketball seasons coming to a close, so I'm going to make an effort to dive back into the Bright Side. I haven't been able to read or comment much, but I have manged to keep up with the Suns and I'm definitely in playoff beard mode.
I watched Wednesday's game against the Wizards, and all I can say is that it is good to have Eric Bledsoe back out there next to Goran Dragic. A couple of weeks ago playoff dreams appeared to be nothing but a pipedream after falling out of the top eight, but now the boys are right back in the fight and all the way back to seventh place after dispatching the New York Knicks.
However, this column isn't about the Suns, or the playoffs. In fact, it's meant to make you feel good about getting to watch this Suns team this season even if they miss out on the postseason. Because at least we're not Philadelphia fans.
On Thursday night, the 76ers made history by losing their 26th straight game. Twenty-six. In a row. Consecutively. That is impressive. Philadelphia shocked people by coming out of the gates and winning despite running out the worst on-paper roster in the league. However, that didn't last long and - unlike with the Suns - we were all right about the 76ers.
Just look at this:
So. much. blood.
Philadelphia is 1-29 in their last 30 games. Let's break that down by the numbers so we can truly appreciate how awful the '6ers have been.
During that stretch, Philadelphia is -455. That is -15.2 PER GAME. 20 of the 30 losses were by double digits. Cut it off at 20 and it includes eight games. Raise the bar to 30, and we are left with three. Take one more step up to 40, and we have two.
Yes, the 76ers lost back-to-back games by 43 and 45 points, in case you had forgotten.
During that middle of that stretch, they lost 10 consecutive games by double digits.
Their only win? A one-point game against the 23-48 Boston Celtics.
Tanking is perhaps an overused term, but in this case that is exactly what the 76ers are doing. 22 different players have suited up for Philadelphia this season including: Lorenzo Brown, Brandon Davies, Dewayne Dedmon, James Nunnally, Henry Sims, Hollis Thompson, Jarvis Varnado, Casper Ware and Elliot Williams (all first or second year players who you've probably never heard of unless you're a big college basketball fan) and James Anderson, Darius Johnson-Odom, Eric Maynor, Darius Morris and Daniel Orton (drafted guys who haven't worked out). That doesn't even include Jason Richardson and Nerlens Noel, neither of which have actually suited up this year.
Oh, and perhaps the most damning piece of evidence is that they picked up Byron Mullens.
Their roster is a revolving door of D-League players and draft busts. I'm all for giving these guys a shot in the NBA - and some of them could very well turn out to be good finds - but this is ridiculous. Look at their recent box scores; there are only two real NBA players in their rotation (Michael Carter-Williams and Thaddeus Young - side note: I feel so bad for Thad, he deserves better).
The 76ers don't even have to bother with holding out star players with "injuries" because they don't have anybody worth sitting down. They are truly the masters of tanking.
Four months ago, many believed the Suns were on the same level as the 76ers, which is just insane in hindsight.
However, even as embarrassing as the 76ers have been, they're STILL not the worst team in the NBA. No, that distinction belongs to the Milwaukee Bucks, who were originally built to compete for a playoff spot this season (ha).
The 76ers are 15-57, yet the Bucks still have a one game lead at 14-58 in the race for the worst record. They've suffered a ton of injuries, and the roster isn't exactly loaded with talent, but I'm still not quite sure how they've managed to be this bad.
Philadelphia and Milwaukee are the two worst teams in the league, and it's not even remotely close. Milwaukee has the lead for now, but while Philadelphia has lost 26 straight, the Bucks have hit a hot streak and have picked up five wins in their last 20 games. The fight for the worst record should be just as vicious - albeit a bit more pathetic - as the race for the final playoff spots in the West.
Thankfully, Suns fans will be keeping their eyes on the latter. Praise Ryan McDonough, praise Jeff Hornacek and praise Goran Dragic and company for spurring this rise from the ashes that Phoenixes are known for. Because as much fun as it is dreaming about getting Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker or Joel Embiid in a Suns uniform, it is infinitely more fun rooting for the guys already sporting the purple and orange as they win games and look good in the process.
Goran Dragic led off the night with 18 points in the first quarter, and the Phoenix Suns beat the New York Knicks by 24 points to strengthen their hold on the 8th seed.
The first half was punctuated by a fan hitting the vaunted half-court shot to win $77,777 dollars, It got even better when he was mobbed by the Suns players at midcourt during the timeout. He was hip-checked by Gerald Green, dapped by Eric Bledsoe and patted on the back by Morris and just about every guy on the bench. Great, great scene.
After that, the Suns blew out the Knicks and it wasn't even close.
The Suns built a 22-point lead by halftime lead that felt bigger than it was, proving it by jumping up by 32 by mid-fourth, giving the Suns and their fans the kind of 'take care of business' game they really needed to have.
Dragic got yet another battle scar, needing stiches to stop the bleeding from his eye, but he came back to score another 12 points in the second half before it was a blowout.
Our old Amare Stoudemire looked studly for a while, putting up 8 and 6 in his 17 first-half minutes but the Knicks just weren't feeling it as a team.
The second half was even more of a blowout, as the Suns stretched the lead to 32 much like they'd led on Wednesday night by 25 at the same point. Clearly, the Suns would let off the gas at some point, but when? And how close would the Knicks be able to get?
On Wednesday night, the Wizards got all the way back to 3 points from 25.
The Knicks didn't show any real signs of life between the early fourth and late third, and by then it was too late to make it a game.
The Suns lead at the end of three was still 22 points despite a 13-4 Knicks run with their starters.
The Knicks run continued in the early 4th, cutting the lead to 17, but then it petered out after that as Bledsoe made a three and Dragic got three points the other way (layup-and-one).
Miles Plumlee got a double-double, Bledsoe nearly had a triple-double and Goran Dragic had 30 points before the Suns pulled away for good. While the team wasn't able to turn it back on in Washington until the final minutes, they turned this one into a laugher in the mid-fourth to make all four quarters a sound beating.
Former Suns Shannon Brown entered the game for the Knicks after the Suns pushed the lead back to 27. The Suns countered with Archie Goodwin. Both teams played their deep, deep bench to finish the game. Alex Len, Shavlik Randolph, Dionte Christmas and Ish Smith joined Archie for the final minutes.