(SportsNetwork.com) - The Phoenix Suns have been one of the biggest surprises
in the league this season. Most NBA observers had them pegged for the lottery,
but the Suns are not only very much in the playoff hunt, they're still within
striking distance of the first place Los Angeles Clippers in the Pacific
Division, finding themselves 3 1/2 games off the pace.
A lot of credit has to go to their rookie coach Jeff Hornacek, who has quickly
gained the respect of his players, who aren't shy about complimenting the job
"We're a really young team," said point guard Goran Dragic . "Nobody expects
us to play fundamental basketball, sharing the ball all the time. The best
thing is all the players have a great relationship with the coaching staff. We
really believe in Jeff. Jeff is unbelievable, he played in this league for
many years and was one of the best shooting guards. He knows how to play this
After rallying from a 21-point deficit to win a game in Denver in December,
shooting guard Gerald Green praised Hornacek for keeping such a level head
despite the big hole they had dug themselves.
"I gotta give coach the credit," said Green following the big rally. "He never
panicked, he never yelled at us. He kept with it. He told us to stick with the
plan, just to keep at it, it's going to work."
What Hornacek and the Suns have accomplished so far is really impressive, but
even more so considering they've been able to continue play well after losing
Eric Bledsoe to a torn meniscus in late December, although it took a little
time to adjust to his absence.
The Suns dropped five of their first seven games without their fourth-year
point guard, but quickly turned it around by winning eight of their next
eleven, including a pair of wins over the Indiana Pacers.
The play of Bledsoe's backcourt mate, Dragic, has been a big reason why the
Suns have continued to play winning basketball.
Dragic, who was upset at his All-Star snub, was already having a career year
before Bledsoe went down, but he's really elevated his game since then.
He's averaging 22.6 points since Bledsoe has been sidelined, while shooting
53.6 percent from the floor and 46.4 percent from the 3-point range.
Prior to Bledsoe's injury Dragic was averaging 18.4 points, and was shooting
48.5 percent from the field and 34.1 percent from downtown.
While the Suns are managing quite well without Bledsoe, the same couldn't be
said of the Memphis Grizzlies when they lost starting center Marc Gasol.
The Griz were 10-14 while last season's Defensive Player of the Year was
sidelined with a sprained knee ligament. Since his return to the lineup,
Memphis is 9-2, which includes victories over the Oklahoma City Thunder and
Portland Trail Blazers, and back-to-back wins over the Houston Rockets.
In the two wins over the Rockets, Gasol kept Dwight Howard in check, limiting
the 8-time All-Star center to 10 points in the first game and 11 in the second
The Grizzlies have also gotten a boost from the addition of Courtney Lee, who
was acquired from the Boston Celtics in early January shortly after starting
shooting guard Tony Allen went down with a small fracture to his left hand.
Memphis is 11-3 since the trade, with Lee averaging 13.5 points in just under
32 minutes a game, and shooting 53.1 percent from the field, 40 percent from
3-point range, and 90.2 percent from the line.
"Courtney's been a big addition for us," said point guard Mike Conley. "He
adds some scoring, he adds some defense, athleticism. He has a high basketball
IQ and he's been able to pick up things fairly quickly."
"I think that's what's helped us these last couple of weeks." Conley also
added, "Courtney was a huge, huge piece. People overlook him. But it's key
that he's able to stretch the court for us. With me, him, Mike Miller out
there, it gives Zach and Marc more space. Having a lot of guys that could
space the court, we didn't have that going on before. And he can definitely
lock up defensively."
The offseason addition of Andre Iguodala hasn't had a major impact on the
Golden State Warriors, and his presence seems to have stunted the development
of Harrison Barnes. The second-year small forward has particularly struggled
since Iguodala returned to the lineup in mid-December after suffering a right
hamstring injury. Since that time, Barnes is averaging 6.9 points and shooting
31.6 percent from the field in nearly 25 minutes per game, and had three games
in which he went scoreless.
The Brooklyn Nets are ranked 29th in rebounding, so I still don't get why
Jason Kidd has basically had Reggie Evans glued to the bench this season.
Evans was the sixth leading rebounder in the NBA last season, averaging 11.6
boards while playing just under 25 minutes a game. The Nets rebounding reached
a new low last Friday, when they had a record-low 17 rebounds in a loss to the
It looks like the Clippers have soured quickly on Jared Dudley, who was
acquired with J.J. Redick as part of a three-team trade last summer. Reports
say they're looking to deal Dudley, who lost his starting small forward spot
to Matt Barnes recently. Dudley, who spent the previous four seasons with the
Suns, is averaging just 7.9 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists for the
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