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In place of Eric Bledsoe, Suns’ Mike James thrives in first career start

Phoenix Suns guard Mike James (55) drives as Sacramento Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein, left and Sacramento Kings guard George Hill, right, during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Oct. 23, 2017, in Phoenix. The Suns won 117-115. (AP Photo/Matt York)

The Phoenix Suns were not going to have Eric Bledsoe available against the Sacramento Kings Monday after he was sent home by the team.

That left the question of who would start in his place: Mike James or Tyler Ulis.

James, a 27-year-old rookie, was playing ahead of Ulis off the bench in the team’s last two games as the backup point guard. Ulis, however, had started 15 games in place of Bledsoe last season in his rookie year, playing well given the circumstances.

The answer pregame was James, and he ran with the opportunity.

James finished with 18 points and seven assists, and his effort played a large part in the Suns picking up their first win of the season over the Kings by a score of 117-115.

With Bledsoe out of the lineup, the Suns would keep their offense running through third-year guard Devin Booker early, but James made sure to keep the pace high and the offense moving when he had the chance to do so.

He spoke on that being his goal after the game.

“I think we just needed to work on pushing the pace and moving the ball a little bit more and at the beginning of the game I just tried to do that,” James said. “(Sharing) the ball a lot.”

James did just that, playing unselfish basketball and picking his spots, taking only 10 shots and converting on eight of them.

While he is technically a rookie, interim head coach Jay Triano brought up the amount of experience James has from playing overseas.

“The one thing Mike has is experience playing basketball,” Triano said after the game. “Crazy environments — playing in that Greek league is no joke.”

James hit some huge shots down the stretch, including a gorgeous step-back three-pointer to give the Suns an 11-point lead with just over three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

The Kings would make it a close game in the closing moments, but James would get the biggest bucket of the night.

With the score tied at 112 and 34 seconds left, James got the ball with the shot clock running down on a dead possession. He had to make a play, and he did, nailing a difficult high-arching left-handed finish over Kings big man Willie Cauley-Stein to give the Suns a two-point lead.

That go-ahead bucket was the difference for the Suns, as they traded trips to the foul line until the final buzzer sounded for the home win.

To his credit, Ulis also played well off the bench as well. He finished with 11 points, two rebounds, three assists and a steal.

While the team will miss Bledsoe’s overall play over the course of his absence, James and Ulis both showed there will still be some competent play at point guard, and even some great play at times, like they showed during Monday night’s win.

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