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Eric Bledsoe’s return spearheading Phoenix Suns’ playoff push

PHOENIX — They all said it.

From the front office to the coaches to the players, the message was the same: The best Feb. 20 trade deadline move the Suns could make would be the move of welcoming back point guard Eric Bledsoe.

And though they had to wait another three weeks before his actual return to the court, the Suns’ decision to stand pat is looking better and better with each passing victory.

Since Bledsoe’s return on March 12, the Suns are 10-4, including their two most recent wins, beating Portland and Oklahoma City to grab hold of the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.

“With him and Goran in the game I think teams got to pick and choose what they do,” forward P.J. Tucker said after practice on Tuesday. “Our fast break, the way we get out in the open court, the way him and Goran can get it and penetrate and then open it up for me and Channing (Frye) and the rest of the guys to be able to get wide open shots and be able to finish on the fast break is huge.

“That different dynamic that he brings has just changed the whole thing up.”

Bledsoe missed 33 games dealing with a right knee injury that ultimately required surgery on Jan. 10 and eight-and-half weeks of rehabilitation.

The Suns went 17-16 in his absence.

“The team did a great job of maintaining while I was down,” he said.

Since his return, Bledsoe is averaging 17.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists in 31.7 minutes per game — numbers nearly identical to how he was performing before he got hurt (18.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and 5.8 assists in 33.5 minutes).

“Right now it’s all about getting a win. I’m not focused on whether my game was where it was when I went down and where it is right now. I’m just focused on getting a win going to New Orleans,” he said.

The Suns (46-31) visit New Orleans (32-45) Wednesday.

Numbers aside, Bledsoe’s mere presence back on the court has done wonders for the team, specifically for fellow point guard Goran Dragic.

“It’s much easier. I don’t spend as much energy as before,” Dragic said smiling.

Added head coach Jeff Hornacek, “It’s helpful because we were asking Goran to do a lot of stuff and I think he was getting worn down. With Eric out there taking some of that load off him, he can feel fresh and use his activity. We can pick on the mismatches, whoever we think has an advantage at that spot. It’s been able to maybe give him a little more energy which the way Goran plays — he lays it out there all the time so that helps.”

With a healthy Bledsoe and fresher Dragic, the Suns, 22-9 when the two start, are closing in on their first playoff appearance in four years.

“It’s much easier playing with him than without him,” Dragic said of his backcourt mate. “He’s a big part of this team.”