With Bledsoe still out, Phoenix ends Portland's win streak behind Goran Dragic's career night.
By RANDY HILLFS Arizona
PHOENIX -- As witnesses to the earlier-than-prognosticated ignition of their future, we've also noticed that two words could be trotted out to define November for the
And here they are:
There are other sufficient, two-word pairings, such as "ankle happens" or "stitches happen" or anything associated with the assorted injuries conspiring to prevent
Eric Bledsoe and
Goran Dragic from playing for Phoenix at the same time.
The prevailing malady is a bruised shin that kept Bledsoe from playing in Friday's 120-106 clouting of the Portland Trail Blazers at U.S. Airways Center.
That rousing result ended the Blazers' 11-game win streak and increased to six the Suns' streak of working without Bledsoe. They've won three of those games.
"I thought maybe he'd miss one game or two games," Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said of Bledsoe whose Friday MRI revealed nothing more than the already-diagnosed and pesky contusion. "He's gotta be able to go out there and push off, and if he can't he doesn't play."
When he doesn't play, the Suns' coaches are unable to enjoy the stereophonic playmaking capability of Bledsoe and Dragic. The rest of us are unable to judge the merits of a widely debated, double-point guard pairing and lob our two cents at how the Suns should continue building their roster.
For Hornacek, it means hoping for the best – such as 52-percent shooting against the now-13-3 Blazers -- and preparing for the worst … the worst being no Bledsoe.
"Well, it's just like any of 'em," the coach said. "If all of a sudden they come in and say they can't play, they're sick or something, you've got to be ready.
"We wish he (Bledsoe) was back, we could go back with him and Goran at the guard spots and really push the ball. Right now, we plan that he's not going to play and are surprised if he can play and just move on from there."
Friday featured a 31-point, 10-assist effort from Dragic, who had enough residual energy to bother Portland hotshot Damian Lillard into missing 7 of his first 10 shots from the field.
In three games vs. the Blazers, Dragic and Bledsoe have scored a combined 126 points on 44-of-84 shooting.
As they did in the two previous meetings, the Suns did a swell job adjusting to the Blazers' adjustments on ball screens.
"At the beginning, they stayed back and gave us some open shots," Dragic said, "but then they came up a little bit and I went around that and tried to find open guys. But after that, they started switching with the big guys."
With Portland's post players now required to try staying in front of the speedy Dragic, the Suns – who trailed, 32-21, after the opening quarter – began to feast on open looks from different ranges. The numbers include 10 of 24 (41.7 percent) from 3, a healthy 22 assists and only 10 turnovers.
"When you move the ball quickly," Hornacek reminded reporters, "you don't turn the ball over as much.
Their 40-26, second-quarter blitz including a 5-for-9 performance from beyond the 3-point line, an area the Blazers guard to the tune of a league-low 31 percent.
Channing Frye – who clocked a game-high 41 minutes -- bagged one of those from distance and made 5 of 6 shots overall in an 11-point quarter. Frye finished with a season-high 25 and added 9 rebounds.
"Guys were just finding me and shots are just going in," Frye said. "I'm just trying to be aggressive."
With the Morris twins (a combined 34 points) also rolling, Hornacek used Frye at center in a floor-spacing lineup Portland couldn't handle.
Now sitting at 8-7 with a back-to-back against the struggling Utah Jazz, the Suns continue to surprise and entertain.
But aside from how much this uprising affects their draft position, putting the Bledsoe-Dragic partnership under the microscope is the team's most compelling story. Waiting for it to unfold can be frustrating for inquiring minds.
It certainly is for Bledsoe.
"It really is," the first-year Sun said after Friday's win, "but it's good to see my teammates step up; they really did a great job tonight."
At least Phoenix has been able to avoid losing both point guards to injury at the same time. And when faced with the solo responsibility of keeping the team on course, each has done well.
Although the Suns, who lead the league in fast-break points, only had 13 in transition, the ball movement and situational recognition kept the tempo in their favor.
"I think that everyone wants to play like that," Dragic said. "It's really fun."
We're just waiting to see if even more fun can be had with Bledsoe joining him.