Phoenix Suns: Pacific Division Leaders

Eric Bledsoe‘s uncomfortable head shot is a mirror image of my face when I got off a plane last night to a few text notifications that the Phoenix Suns had once again snatched victory from the jaws of tankdom. It was an awkward smile of happiness (knowing that I can only be so upset about a win) mixed in with an uneasy grimace that came with the knowledge that for the second game in a row, the Suns had missed out on an opportunity to take a one-game lead over the Philadelphia 76ers in the Tank Rankings.

I’ve written all summer about how hard this team would be to watch. But through the extremely tiny sample size of two games, the Suns have actually been one of the most entertaining teams to watch in the league. Not only has the Goran Dragic-Eric Bledsoe backcourt been playing well, but it’s pretty much more unstoppable than Pierre the Pelican will be in the nightmares of New Orleans children this year.

Dragic looked fantastic in the season opener against the Portland Trail Blazers, tallying 26 points, nine assists, six rebounds and one steal in 41 minutes. Eric Bledsoe was just as well-rounded, finishing with 22 points, seven rebounds, six assists and one steal. They did combine for seven turnovers and neither one of them could stop Damian Lillard, but Portland looked blown away by the Dragic-Bledsoe combo coming off of pick-and-rolls and getting out on the break.

Dragic struggled against the Utah Jazz last night and left early with a face contusion after a nasty collision with Markieff Morris. Bledsoe also got off to a rough start, missing 10 of his first 11 shots. But as Derrick Rose showed us in Chicago on Thursday, it’s not how you start; it’s how you finish. Bledsoe completely took over the fourth quarter, scoring the Suns’ last 14 points and drilling a gamewinning 3-pointer in Gordon Hayward‘s grill with 0.7 seconds left. As long as Bledsoe and Dragic continue to play and grow together, this backcourt could be one of the best in the entire league.

It’s not all about the guard play in Phoenix, however. Early in the week I wrote about how Miles Plumlee would start at center for the Suns at the beginning of the season. And although it sounded really bad on paper, Plumlee has been a revelation in his first two career NBA starts. In the season opener, Plumlee singlehandedly made Portland’s decision to swap J.J. Hickson for Robin Lopez to be a waste since Lopez was helpless trying to stop Plumlee from attacking. He finished with an eye-popping 18 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks while shooting 8-for-14 from the floor.

It was an impressive debut, but it very well could have been a fluke. It was only one game, after all. But then Plumlee came out and backed it up again with a 13-point, 13-rebound, three-block performance against the Jazz last night. His work effort and energy were expected, but his athleticism has been a pleasant surprise. He plays above the rim, has a decent little running hook and his post game is far better than I expected. Alex Len is the first round draft pick and he’ll get his chance to shine, but until Plumlee shows signs of not being able to produce at this level, I say let him keep his starting job.

Finally, we have to mention P.J. Tucker and the well-rounded contributions of the bench. Tucker hasn’t been anything spectacular, but he has stepped up his scoring. Tucker is averaging 15 points per game and has made four of his six 3-point attempts on the season. Add that to his always enjoyable defense and Tucker’s shaping up to be a valuable role player. As for the bench, it too has been nothing special. But all seven players that came off the bench in last night’s game against Utah scored. Dionte Christmas chipped in nine points, Gerald Green added seven, Markieff Morris had six and so on and so forth. Not bad for this roster.

As of right now, the 2013-14 Phoenix Suns are undefeated. They are outright leaders of the Pacific Division. They have a better record than the Miami Heat, the Los Angeles Clippers, the Chicago Bulls, the Brooklyn Nets and the Oklahoma City Thunder. But here’s the thing: we’re two games in. Just like I’ve been cautioning everyone about the dangers of buying into opening night, the whole first week or two of the NBA season can be misleading. The Sixers aren’t going to be atop the Atlantic Division for much longer. Likewise, the Suns won’t be undefeated forever.

Winning these two games to start the season could very well be the difference down the stretch at the very end of the year. But is it fair to be upset about winning the first two games of the season? No. There are still 80 games left for the Suns to tank, and we all know that sooner or later, reality will set in. By choice or by lack of talent, tanking will happen. And it’s for the best, since the 2014 NBA Draft class is that loaded and that deep. So enjoy the wins for now, Suns fans. They may be scarce as the year progresses.

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Tags: 2013-14 Phoenix Suns Eric Bledsoe Gamewinner Eric Bledsoe Phoenix Suns Highlights Miles Plumlee Phoenix Suns Highlights Phoenix Suns Tanking Wrong Phoenix Suns Undefeated

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