Bledsoe's return to Suns raises stakes for John Wall

Bledsoe's return to Suns raises stakes for John Wall
March 26, 2014, 9:00 am
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Washington Wizards point guard John Wall (2) and Los Angeles Clippers point guard Eric Bledsoe (12) battle for the ball in the second quarter at Verizon Center. The Wizards won 98-90.

(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Eric Bledsoe is back in the starting lineup, and the Phoenix Suns are 6-2 with him since he returned to the lineup from a right knee surgery two weeks ago. 

They'd gone 17-16 without the combo guard, who played with Wizards point guard John Wall at the University of Kentucky. 

The Suns (42-29) have gotten healthier and better. The Wizards (36-34) are struggling to regain their footing now that they've lost five of their last eight games.

“It’s been big,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said, according to the Arizona Republic, of his team staying afloat in Bledsoe's absence and Gerald Green taking his place. “I think that was the big question once Eric went out: What were we going to be like? We’ve been right at .500 or a game above, and that’s been huge. It’s kept us in the playoff race. … Him coming back at this point, at least we have a chance.”

For the Wizards, the focal point must be containment and keeping Goran Dragic and Bledsoe out of the paint. Both can play on and off the ball. 

"That and fast-break points," Wall said after Tuesday's practice. "They're definitely going to push the ball in the open court, space out, they put shooters around those two guys and one guy takes a break, the other guy runs pick-and-rolls. You stop him, and the next guy takes a break. That's the main thing. Play with the same type of energy that we played with when we played them in Phoenix. 

That was a 101-95 win for the Wizards, minus Bledsoe who is in his first year with Phoenix after being traded by the Los Angeles Clippers before the season. 

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"He was on pace to be the most improved player of the year," Wall said. "For him getting out the shadow, being behind me at Kentucky and being behind Chris Paul. It was time for him to get his opportunity to show what he can do in this league. He did it in the playoffs when he was with the Clippers."

Even with Bledsoe back in the lineup they're giving up 101 points per game. But a team that wasn't on anyone's radar to make the playoffs have a confidence that the Wizards seem to lack more often than not. 

“These guys expect to win every game,” Hornacek said. “They’re mad when they lose. Sometimes, you’re playing on an opponent’s court and lose to one of the best teams in the league, and these guys all believe they should win. They have great confidence that they can battle with anybody.”