By Sean Kennedy
Picked by many to be a tanking bottom feeder in the juggernaut Western conference and still hanging onto a playoff spot despite the season-ending injury to a key player, the Phoenix Suns have to be one of the best stories in the NBA this season. Phoenix currently holds the 7th seed in the West, having played just over .500 ball since Eric Bledsoe went down and had season-ending knee surgery. The biggest reason has been the recent surge of Channing Frye, who is a tremendous story in his own right, having returned to action this year after missing a season with a life-threatening heart condition. Frye has really been on fire since the Bledsoe injury, averaging 3 threes per game and shooting 46% behind the arc during that time span. Frye is the prototypical stretch four who gives the Sixers fits on the outside, think how Ryan Anderson gashed the team earlier this season.
The other big reason the Suns have stayed afloat lately is the continued brilliant play of Goran Dragic. It’s a shame for him the West is so loaded with premier guards because Dragic’s play certainly would warrant some all-star consideration in most years. Taking on even more of the burden running the offense with Bledsoe out, he has the Suns offense clicking on all cylinders, with over a 108 team offensive rating since the injury. Dragic himself has averaged 20 points and 6.5 assists while shooting a sparkling 49% from the field. The man who learned behind Steve Nash can hurt you from any area of the floor, but is especially dangerous with his left-handed scoop shot around the basket which is near-unguardable.
The last time these two teams met over the holiday break back in December, the Suns prevailed behind a big double-double from Miles Plumlee and 20 points each from the Dragic-Bledsoe duo. Plumlee has been losing some significant playing time of late to Markieff Morris so it will be interesting to see whether that holds or if Plumlee regains his form against a Sixers team he dominated in the earlier meeting. Phoenix will be on the second night of a back-to-back, having won in Cleveland yesterday, but one set of metrics in particular bodes poorly for the Sixers’ chances. Since the Bledsoe injury, the Suns sport the 2nd-best turnover ratio in the NBA over that time span, which the Sixers rely about to generate easy baskets for themselves. Also, though, Phoenix has been forcing a fair amount of giveaways which I’m sure the Sixers will be happy to comply with. Winning the turnover battle and having a host of options to hurt the Sixers from the perimeter, it would not surprise me to see the Suns waltz into the Wells Fargo Center and earn the season sweep.