PHOENIX — It wasn’t the Michael Jordan flu game or Willis Reed walking out through the tunnel on one good leg, but Phoenix Suns star guard Goran Dragic carried his team on his back as “MVP” chants ran through US Airways Center on Friday night.
Phoenix ended a three-game losing streak with a 116-104 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans behind a career-high 40 points from the almost-All-Star guard. It was the third time this month Dragic tallied a career high, besting the 35 he lit up the Rockets for on Feb. 23 and the 34 he dropped on the Warriors on Feb. 8.
Dragic used his entire arsenal Friday — three-pointers, pull-up, mid-range jumpers and spectacular drives to the basket to go along with 11 trips to the free throw line.
It was a much-needed victory for the Suns, who were coming off losses to the Jazz, Timberwolves and Rockets. Their half-game lead over the Grizzlies extended back to 1.5 after Memphis fell to Oklahoma City on Friday.
The small lineup of Markieff and Marcus Morris up front with Dragic, Gerald Green and Ish Smith was the group that got it done for the Suns. They played the final nine minutes of the fourth quarter together and outscored the Pelicans 28-13.
Phoenix got off 23 three-point attempts and connected on 10 of them against the typically stingy Pelicans’ three-point defense. New Orleans came in allowing only 15.8 attempts from deep per game.
Despite locking down for parts of the second half, the Suns’ defense is still not where it needs to be. Phoenix allowed New Orleans to shoot 53.8 percent from the field, and over its last four games, the team has a defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 111.4, which would be worst in the NBA by just over four points.
STAT OF THE GAME
Dragic became the first Suns player to score 40 points in a game since Amar’e Stoudemire did it in 2010. It was the eighth time this season Phoenix’s point guard has surpassed the 30-point mark.
HE SAID IT
“It was great,” said Dragic about hearing the MVP chants late in the fourth quarter. “I never imagined they would cheer that for me. I heard that when I was here with Steve (Nash) and they were cheering that for Steve. It is a great feeling, especially with those last four free throws when the whole crowd stood up and cheered. It is something special in my career that I will remember my whole life. Great memories.”
– Archie Goodwin played quiet nine minutes and Leandro Barbosa did not see the floor despite being available for the game.
– The Suns’ bench combined to score 43 points, including 33 from the Morris brothers.
The Suns have a shootaround on Saturday before hosting the struggling Atlanta Hawks on Sunday. Atlanta has dropped 10 of 11 and is holding on to the eighth seed in the lowly East. Tipoff is at 6:00 p.m. and can be heard on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.