After two 40-point performances from two different Phoenix Suns’ players in the last week, the team earned victories in three games out of its four-game home stand, including a win Thursday night against the Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City Thunder.
Starting point guard Goran Dragic had one of those 40-point games against the New Orleans Pelicans last Friday night, when he was a game-time decision before tip-off and on the receiving end of “M-V-P” chants during the final seconds of the game. The career night for Dragic was just a small sample of what he has accomplished this season as a whole, averaging over 20 points and 6 assists per game over the course of the season.
The Slovenia native has increased his scoring averages in each of the past four seasons — all with Phoenix except for a brief stint in Houston during the 2011-12 campaign. Dragic credits the changed mentality of the team for the turnaround from a 25-win season last year.
“I think our main difference this year is that we don’t care if we are up 20 or down 16, we just try to be focused every minute and we know what we are capable of doing,” Dragic told Burns & Gambo of Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “A couple times we were down a lot of points and we came back. I think the team has the character of that even if we are down 20 points, we still believe in ourselves and we can still win those games.
“That game last night was something special because it was against one of the best teams in the NBA.”
The Oklahoma City Thunder currently own the top seed in the Western Conference, making them a possible first-round playoff matchup for the Suns if they sneak into the playoffs.
The urgency to make the postseason can be felt in the way the Suns have been playing, putting up an average of 111 points over the past eight home games.
The team has not been relying on a specific scorer throughout the season, but has been reaping the benefits of a consistent and healthy lineup despite Eric Bledsoe’s two-month absence. Dragic averages a team-high of 34.7 minutes per contest, but says that the unpredictability of the teams’ scorers on a nightly basis is what gives them success.
“We need everybody,” Dragic said. “I think we’re only going to be a successful team if everybody plays hard. Some nights I’m going to have a good game, some nights it’s going to be Gerald, Eric or Channing. That’s the beauty of this game, that you don’t know who is going to explode that game and drop 40 points.”
Teammate Eric Bledsoe is expected to return to the court sometime next week after being sidelined due to surgery he had done on his meniscus. The challenge that the team faces now is incorporating Bledsoe back into the offense he was once playing a major role in. Averaging nearly identical statistics, Dragic says bringing back Bledsoe won’t hurt the team’s chemistry.
“We already share minutes on the court together,” Dragic said. “When he comes back, I think we’re going to be a lot more dangerous and put less pressure on Gerald and me. Of course, to have two ball handlers on the court at the same time will be much tougher for our opponents.
“We already know what Eric is capable of. I don’t think we are going to have problems with that.”