The presence of Chris Paul made the talented Eric Bledsoe
expendable in the Clippers’ backcourt, though a deal to ship him
out of Los Angeles wasn’t without its obstacles.
The Phoenix Suns are certainly glad it didn’t fall apart.
The Suns have been the NBA’s biggest surprise thus far largely
thanks to Bledsoe, who returns to Staples Center to face his former
team for the first time Monday night in a showdown between the
Pacific Division’s top two teams.
Bledsoe went to the Clippers in a 2010 draft-day trade after
being taken by Oklahoma City, and he showed flashes of stardom as
an occasional starter as a rookie and the last two seasons as
But when Paul agreed to a five-year, $107 million extension and
the team looking for shooters after Doc Rivers was brought aboard,
Los Angeles (21-11) dealt Bledsoe to Phoenix in a three-team deal
while landing J.J. Redick and former Sun Jared Dudley.
The trade almost didn’t go through, as it was reported that
Clippers owner Donald Sterling, long a fan of Bledsoe, nearly
vetoed the deal. But Sterling changed his mind, the trade went
through and the Suns (18-11) have turned into a surprise
Phoenix has won nine of 11 after Saturday’s 115-101 victory over
Philadelphia, and Bledsoe is leading the way for a Suns team that
leads the league with 19.1 fast-break points per game. He’s
averaging 18.4 points, 5.9 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals –
one of just four players in the league to hit those marks.
Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and Paul are the others.
“Man, I’m excited,” Paul said of facing his former teammate. “I
text Bled all the time, even now during the season when I’m
watching him play on League Pass. … It’s gonna be fun. Bled is
unbelievable right now. He’s better now than he was last year,
playing with a lot of confidence, so we’re gonna compete.”
Paul is playing at an incredible high level of late. After
totaling 60 points, 27 assists and eight steals in back-to-back
losses at Golden State and Portland, he finished an assist shy of a
triple-double and had five steals in Saturday’s 98-90 win over
All he wanted to talk about after the victory, though, was Blake
Griffin. The Clippers’ power forward had 40 points and 10 rebounds
against the Jazz and has averaged 30.2 points on 55.0 percent
shooting in his last five games.
”I looked at the stat sheet after the game and I said, `Wow, he
had 40.’ I think his confidence right now is pretty high, and
rightfully so,” Paul said. ”It’s great to see how he’s dominated
games, whether he’s taking jump shots, posting up or going to the
free throw line. It’s fun to watch. I wouldn’t know how to guard
Griffin was held to a total of 21 points and 13 boards in the
Clippers’ last two games against the Suns last season, including a
93-88 loss in Phoenix on Jan. 24 that Paul missed with a bruised
Goran Dragic took advantage of Paul’s absence, going for a
game-high 24 points and eight assists, and along with Bledsoe this
season, has been an instrumental part of Phoenix’s success. The
Suns are 7-2 when Dragic, who’s averaging 18.1 points, scores 20 or
Like Paul, Dragic wanted to talk about one of his big men after
Saturday’s win. Miles Plumlee had a career-high 22 points and 13
rebounds two games after going for 17 and 20 in a victory over the
“He’s a pretty skilled big guy. He protects our rim, and he’s a
great rebounder,” Dragic said. “Without him, we’re struggling. He’s
a huge part of this team. If he plays like this every game, it will
be tough to beat us.”