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No longer an experiment, Phoenix Suns’ three-point-guard lineup becomes effective strategy

PHOENIX — Asked in training camp about the potential of pairing Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic with newcomer Isaiah Thomas to form a three-point-guard lineup, head coach Jeff Hornacek hesitated before responding.

“Probably not very often,” he said back in October, as the team trained in Flagstaff. “Maybe if we’re down for some reason big we might throw it out there to try it, but, yeah, you probably won’t see too much of that.”

The idea, while intriguing, especially with three ball handlers on the floor at the same time, appeared to be problematic.

The issue: size.

Bledsoe is 6-foot-1, Dragic 6-foot-3 and Thomas 5-foot-9; meaning more often than not, should those three be on the court together, the opposition is going to have the height advantage, which would likely lead to more post-ups by opposing guards.

“We’re probably the smallest backcourt in the league, but I think we’ve got the biggest hearts,” Bledsoe said.

Two months into the season, the three-point-guard lineup has been featured 13 times for a total of 72 minutes, with more than half of their shared court time coming during the current four-game winning streak.

“It’s just the way it worked these games,” Hornacek said.

The results speak volumes — supporting the team’s offseason strategy of upgrading the backcourt, which had already been a position of strength.

Playing Bledsoe, Dragic and Thomas together has not just helped the Suns overcome deficits, but has helped maintain and increase leads.

The trio is a plus-14, shooting 48 percent.

“We’re playing well,” Dragic said. “We’re surprising a lot of teams.”

In the just completed 3-0 road trip, the three-point-guard lineup was used to close out victories against Charlotte, New York and Washington. Bledsoe, Dragic and Thomas helped the Suns overcome a 13-point fourth quarter deficit to beat the Hornets by five, while they bettered fourth quarter leads in wins over the Knicks and Wizards.

In the home win against Dallas Wednesday, Hornacek turned to his three point guards in the second quarter with the Suns trailing 39-35. Over the next 5:23, the Suns outscored the Mavericks 19-6 with Bledsoe, Dragic and Thomas accounting for 13 of the 19 points, giving the team the lead at halftime and an advantage they would not relinquish.

All three players finished in double figures with Dragic leading the way with 25 points, the fifth time he’s led the team in scoring in his last 11 games.

“You can’t ask for a better game,” said Bledsoe, who recorded his second career triple-double and his second this month with 16 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists on Tuesday. “This is probably by far one of the funniest games I’ve played in.”

While playing three point guards has its advantages, Hornacek, who has also shortened his rotation during this run, is quick to note the smaller lineup can’t and won’t be successful unless it’s successful on defense.

“If we go with the three-guard lineup and the guards are playing defense like they did and our bigs are active and PJ (Tucker) and Markieff (Morris) are active defensively, then we got a chance,” he said. “But if our guards aren’t playing the defense that they’re capable of playing, then the three-guard lineup is not going to work either.”

Dragic agreed.

“If you get stops and you get the ball, then it’s a lot easier to play on offense because we’re so dominant to push the ball and we can penetrate,” he said.

When all three point guards are healthy the Suns are 13-7. They are 16-14 overall.

“Everybody wants to win and we’ll do anything to win. That’s sacrificing…for the team,” Bledsoe said. “We’ve done a great job of that.”

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