Pulse of the NBA

1:28 PM, Feb 5, 2014   |    comments
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(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 he's done.

"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 game."

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 matchup.

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 Thunder.

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 Clippers.

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