Suns have risen, but what of the Cavs?

Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe and head coach Jeff Hornacek against the San Antonio Spurs at US Airways Center.  

Mark J. Rebilas/Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Venue: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland.

TV: 6 p.m., FOX Sports Ohio (Cavaliers Live pre-game at 5:30)

Projected Starters

PHOENIX: C Miles Plumlee; PF Channing Frye; SF P.J. Tucker; SG Gerald Green; PG Goran Dragic.

CLEVELAND: C Anderson Varejao; PF Tristan Thompson; SF Luol Deng; SG C.J. Miles; PG Kyrie Irving.

Pregame Notes:

— Well, there’s no way around this: The Cavaliers and Suns are headed in opposite directions — and directions that nobody really predicted. Before the season, the Cavs were supposed to be the young, up-and-coming team challenging for a playoff spot. The Suns were supposed to be tanking for the lottery in the ever-so-difficult West. Guess what’s happened so far?

— Actually, the Cavs ARE challenging for a playoff spot. They can thank the fact they’ve been blessed with an Eastern Conference affiliation for that, too.

— But think about this: The Cavs are likely fighting for ONE spot. At the beginning of the year, I assumed that the Hawks and Raptors would be among those left out — or at best, fighting as well. But those two will likely make it. The Nets will likely make it. The Pacers and Heat are shoe-ins. The Bulls and Wizards can feel pretty good about their chances, too. That’s seven. Anything can happen, but it looks as if the Cavs will spend the second half of the season trying to beat out the Bobcats, Knicks and Pistons. I’m not so sure I like the Cavs’ chances.

— So, what’s up with the Suns? They’re a very disciplined, very smart team. They don’t do anything fancy. They pass and cut and set solid screens. First-year coach Jeff Hornacek has them playing precision basketball. They have also made the same strides as the Cavs defensively. But offensively, the Suns have overachieved, even without injured guard Eric Bledsoe, perhaps their best player.

— Hornacek said before the game he suspects Bledsoe (knee surgery) will return before the end of the season. It sounds like shortly after the All-Star break, but so far, Bledsoe and the Suns have been non-committal about a timeframe.

— This has been a tough year for the Cavs. They’ve been given a pass from the local media the past three years, but things are different now. They were expected to be better, more together. They’re still too often a mess. They’re getting grilled by local reporters more than ever. It’s still not New York, but for Cleveland, things are beginning to get intense. Lucky for the Cavs, the national media basically ignores them.

— The Cavs are also hearing it from fans on local sports radio and on Twitter. This is new to them. After LeBron James left (2010), they were sort of The Little Engine That Could. Everyone was pulling for them, and respecting the "process." Now, people want results. Or worse, just ignoring the Cavs altogether. So you had the seven-year LeBron era, where everyone was on board, followed by a three-year grace period. Read: The Cavs haven’t faced this much scrutiny in a long, long time.

— But the bottom line is the Cavs have finished dead last in the Central Division three straight years. That’s a franchise first. And there have been some doggone dire seasons around these parts. Right now, the only thing keeping them out of last is the Bucks. How’s that for a line on the resume?

— So, it’s been nothing but bad news. Here’s some good: Again, the Cavs are RIGHT THERE in the playoff race with nearly 40 games to go. Time is running out, but remains on their side. What will they do with it? Time to find out.