Jan 22, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Goran Dragic (right) controls the ball against Indiana Pacers forward Paul George in the second half at US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Pacers 124-100. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Phoenix Suns: Down But Not Out

When the Phoenix Suns surged to one of the best records in the NBA to start the season, it seemed like a fluke that would later prove to be unsustainable. Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic were nice players, sure, but how long could role players like Markieff Morris, Miles Plumlee and Gerald Green really be expected to produce at a high level? If Wednesday night’s win over the Indiana Pacers is any indication, the theme of the Suns’ 2013-14 season remains the same: You cannot overlook this team.

The Suns are not the Portland Trail Blazers, who were supposed to compete for a playoff spot but not expected to be near the top of the Western Conference standings halfway through the year. With a 24-17 record, Phoenix is still clinging to the seventh spot in the West (with a little help from the Toronto Raptors, who beat the Dallas Mavericks last night). As long as Eric Bledsoe remains on the sidelines, this team won’t be winning a first-round playoff series. But a win over the team with the best record in the NBA is one way to make a statement about what opponents can expect should the Suns hold on to a playoff spot.

In a dominant 124-100 win, the Suns sent the Pacers to just their eighth loss on the season. It was the most points Phoenix scored all season and it was the most the Pacers have given up this year. Indiana’s stout defense that was only giving up 88.3 points per game surrendered 96 points after three quarters. Gerald Green led the way against his old team with 23 points and shot 3-of-5 from downtown. Goran Dragic followed up with 21 points on an uber-efficient 8-of-10 shooting night. Markieff Morris added 20 points off the bench and Phoenix had six players finish in double-digit scoring.

In other words, those same role players who weren’t expected to keep producing at a high level … are still producing at a high level. G-Air-ld has the green light as a starter, the Morris twins are a force off the bench, Leandro Barbosa adds more backcourt depth, Channing Frye’s return has been highly under-appreciated and Miles Plumlee continues to surprise with his athleticism and intelligence.

Of course, any Phoenix Suns discussion begins with the Dragon, who is averaging 22 points, 6.1 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.3 steals while shooting 51 percent from the floor and 43 percent from 3-point range. If Chris Paul and/or Russell Westbrook return soon they’ll likely earn an All-Star spot, but Dragic’s play in January has been superb and more than deserving of a reserve spot on the All-Star team.

Every team has a bad night every now and then, but Phoenix’s offense was so good it made matadors look like great defenders in comparison to Indiana’s defense. After the Pacers did a great job closing out on 3-point shooters against the Golden State Warriors Monday night, the Suns knocked 11 triples and shot 68.8 percent from downtown. Indiana also struggled with taking care of the ball as the Suns turned 20 turnovers into 27 points. Phoenix also scored 28 points on the fast break.

Both teams shot better than 50 percent from the field, so it’s not like defense was a premium in Wednesday night’s game. But the Suns dictated the tempo of the game at home and surprised yet another team with a sucker punch. Opponents were just starting to take this team seriously when Bledsoe went down. After that, the Suns started to fall off and it was back to the same old story. Even after this statement win, teams may not take the Suns seriously. But anyone who underestimates Jeff Hornacek‘s squad will have their hands full because this team is no fluke, even with Bledsoe temporarily sidelined.

The Suns have now won two games in a row and are averaging 120.5 points per game in that span. They have one more game at home against the Washington Wizards on Friday before embarking on a four-game road trip that includes the Cleveland Cavaliers, Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks and a rematch with the Pacers. The last time the Suns went on a road trip, they posted an ugly 1-4 record. But as they proved last night, Phoenix has the talent, intelligence and heart to beat anybody on any given night. And if they can stay afloat until Bledsoe returns, the Suns could be the first-round playoff matchup nobody wants.

Tags: Gerald Green Goran Dragic Phoenix Suns

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