Bledsoe playing his best as Kobe-less Lakers come to town

Eric Bledsoe has been a starter since arriving in Phoenix, but most of the first two years were spent in a sidekick role alongside Goran Dragic.

With Dragic long gone after a February trade, Bledsoe’s first full season as Phoenix’s longest-tenured guard is already shaping up to be a career year, and keeping it going Monday night against the visiting Los Angeles Lakers might not take much. The game can be seen on FOX Sports Arizona, beginning at 6:30 p.m.

After scoring 30 in Saturday’s 105-81 home win over Denver, Bledsoe is averaging 23.2 points per game for the Suns (5-4) — up from 17.3 in his previous two seasons in Phoenix. He’s also gone from 13.1 shots per game on 45.8 percent shooting in those years to 16.8 and 49.7 this season.

"I’m just playing, having fun and playing with my teammates and being aggressive," said Bledsoe, who’s averaging 28.0 points and shooting 68.2 percent in his last three games. "It’s definitely with a better flow. Everybody is getting easy looks, creating for others as well. We’re just playing team basketball at the end of the day."

He’s shooting 40.0 percent from 3-point range, and the team has followed suit with a 45.5 mark in the last five games. The Suns have won their last two, and Bledsoe’s latest effort came in 30 minutes without taking the floor in the fourth quarter.

"When he comes down and comes at you and pulls up for that jump shot, now these guys are going to have to come pick him up a little higher and he’s just going to drive right by them," coach Jeff Hornacek said of Bledsoe. "So he’s just playing great right now."

The Suns have won eight in a row at home over the Lakers and swept the four-game series last season while averaging 115.5 points and shooting 50.0 percent.

Los Angeles (2-8) will be trying to win consecutive games for the first time since a three-game winning streak to end February, but it’ll have to come in a back-to-back set after Sunday’s 97-85 home win over Detroit.

Kobe Bryant and Jordan Clarkson each had 17 points, but Bryant continued to struggle with his shot. The 37-year-old was 6 of 19 from the field and is hitting 33.6 percent for the season, but he also had nine assists and eight rebounds.

Clarkson has averaged 19.0 points and shot 50.0 percent in his last two games. The guard is taking a step forward in the team’s offense this season, averaging 15.1 points and 13.3 shots while connecting on 46.7 percent.

They may need more from him since Bryant is not expected to play Monday night after logging a season-high 36 minutes Sunday.

"We’ve got to get this win here at home," Bryant said. "(But) right now, I’m barely standing up. My back and my legs, it’s killing me. I go home, and I’m looking forward to that ice bath and the stretch, and a full day of recovery tomorrow.

"I’m not looking forward to walking to the car. Seriously."

While the Lakers continue to struggle offensively — they’ve averaged 92.2 points over the last five games — they’ve been able to hang around by allowing 39.5 percent shooting.

The Lakers are 2-11 in the second half of back-to-back games since their last two-game sweep.