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NBA Beat: Boost from Eric Bledsoe could push Suns into the playoffs

After leading the Suns in scoring last season with 17.0 points per game, Eric Bledsoe is off to a strong start this season, averaging a team-high 20.8 points. He’s introduced before an an NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in Phoenix.
After leading the Suns in scoring last season with 17.0 points per game, Eric Bledsoe is off to a strong start this season, averaging a team-high 20.8 points. He’s introduced before an an NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in Phoenix. The Associated Press

So is this a new Eric Bledsoe?

That’s what his coach sees. And a new Bledsoe might be enough to get the Phoenix Suns into the playoffs.

“I think Eric came in this year with a different mentality,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “He knows that for us to get to another level, he’s got to bring it every game we’re out there. That includes the start of the game, loosening up and getting into the flow, being an aggressor.”

He’s a competitor, he wants to win every game, and he knows to try to do that, he’ll lay it all out there.

Suns coach Jeff Hornacek on point guard Eric Bledsoe

The 6-foot-1, 190-pound point guard has been plagued by injuries much of his career. . In 2010, he was a first-round draft pick of the Oklahoma City Thunder, which traded his rights to the Los Angeles Clippers. As a rookie, Bledsoe appeared in 81 games, starting 25. The next season, the Clippers acquired Chris Paul, relegating Bledsoe to a backup role. But Bledsoe missed nearly four months because of surgery for a torn meniscus in his right knee.

The trade to Phoenix before the 2013-14 season gave Bledsoe the chance to start, but he missed two months after another operation on his right meniscus.

Hornacek believes Bledsoe broke through last season. He was healthy, starting 81 games, and led the Suns with averages of 17.0 points and 6.1 assists to go with a career-high 5.2 rebounds per game.

This season, Bledsoe is off to a strong start, averaging 20.8 points.

Bledsoe appears to have taken a more aggressive approach defensively, too. He begins games trying to throw the opposing guard off balance by using his strength and athleticism while anticipating passing lanes to force turnovers.

“He’s at an age (25) where you’ve learned your lessons growing up, and being in the league he just knows that’s how he’s got to play now,” Hornacek said. “He’s a competitor, he wants to win every game, and he knows to try to do that, he’ll lay it all out there.”

After missing the playoffs in the 2013-14 season despite a 48-34 record, the Suns finished 39-43 last season. Bolstered defensively by newcomer Tyson Chandler and what seems to be a more harmonious backcourt, the Suns might have enough to snag at least the eighth playoff spot in the West.

“We got a deep team,” Bledsoe said. “ … We just got to stay the course and play together.”

The Suns began last season with an attack led by three point guards: Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas. Dragic was unhappy with the setup, and Thomas was the leading scorer early on.

20.8 Eric Bledsoe’s scoring average this season

Phoenix traded Dragic to the Miami Heat and Thomas to the Boston Celtics, clearing the way for the acquisition of another point guard, Brandon Knight from the Milwaukee Bucks, to pair with Bledsoe.

Bledsoe and Knight appear to have a chemistry the Suns lacked early last season. This season, the Suns are 3-3, including 3-1 when Bledsoe and Knight combine for at least 36 points.

If they keep up the production, Bledsoe and the Suns could find themselves in a new position at the end of the regular season – preparing for the postseason.

Trending up

In a development that seems unfair to the rest of the NBA, Stephen Curry might be even better this season. Entering Saturday, the reigning MVP was shooting 51.4 percent – from three-point range – to lead the defending champion Golden State Warriors to a 6-0 start. Curry was averaging 35.5 points, a stat that might have been even higher if the Warriors weren’t blowing out teams.

At this rate, get ready to give Curry another MVP trophy.

Trending down

Championship talk from the Brooklyn Nets’ ownership subsided long ago, but no one could have expected the team to start 0-6 with the worst point differential in the league. The Nets might have been worse than their first five opponents, but a home loss to the previously winless Los Angeles Lakers was the latest defeat.

A roster featuring Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson and Thaddeus Young might not be a title contender, but it should be better than this.

Last words

“I have a calling, man. Everything I do is for the people I love. I was just brought up that way.”

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James to Cleveland.com on his new approach to his appearance, including less baggy game attire, to set a more professional example.

Jason Jones: @mr_jasonjones, read more about the team at sacbee.com/kings.

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