Preview: Phoenix Suns (36-27) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (24-40)

Time: 7 p.m. MST


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“Yes. He is in.”

Those were the words from Suns coach Jeff Hornacek today, answering the question before it was even asked to him after shootaround.

Eric Bledsoe will return off the bench for tonight’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. He has missed the last 33 games since having to undergo knee surgery for a torn meniscus. To say he is excited to return may be an understatement.

“I am excited to get back out there with my teammates and be a part of a playoff race,” Bledsoe said. “Emotions are real high and I am just excited.”

He is so excited he came to the arena earlier than usual today. Cleveland Cavaliers coach Mike Brown thinks his return could be a difference maker in the Western Conference playoff race.

“He is athletic, strong, explosive and brings a different dimension to the team with all the tools I mentioned that you had not seen before without him,” Brown said. “He can definitely change the course of the team by himself to make them that much better.”

The Suns are 16-8 with Bledsoe in the lineup this season and a very mediocre 20-19 without him. Tonight begins a six game stretch against Eastern Conference teams that Hornack thinks is crucial for having any chance at making a playoff run.

“Definitely this is a huge six games,” Hornacek said. “They are games we can lose, but if we want to be a playoff team they are games we have to win.

“Simple as that. If we want to make that push and try to get in this is a good stretch for us to try and prove that.”

Facing a Cavaliers squad that has lost four games in a row may be the perfect team to get Bledsoe’s feet wet again and get a victory. Here are some things to look out for in tonight’s game.

How does Bledsoe look?

This is obviously one of the big things to look out for tonight. As mentioned above, Bledsoe will come off the bench and his minutes will be dictated by the flow of the game and how his conditioning holds up. His explosiveness from before his injury is not expected to be an issue, and if it is Bledsoe decided not to share out that detail.

“We will see tonight,” Bledsoe smilingly said. ” You can tell and judge that, I am just glad to play.”

New starting lineup look

The new starting lineup does not feature the addition of Bledsoe. Instead, we will see Marcus Morris starting in place of the suspended P.J. Tucker. Morris has played very well as of late, scoring in double digits in the past six past games and shooting above 50% in all but one of them. Hornacek feels like he has earned the chance to start.

“He has done a good job, so he is deserving of the opportunity,” Hornacek said.

A look to keep an eye out is Hornacek rolling out a three guard lineup with Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and Gerald Green. He has mentioned it before, but with Tucker out it gives the Suns coach a better chance to use it tonight.

“We could go with a small lineup,” Hornacek said. “I figure Goran and Eric will be in there for quite a bit anyways, but now it will allow Gerald to play the three as well.

“It puts a little wrinkle in what we have to do and the guys have to step up and win it for PJ.”

Can the Cavs defend the three?

One of the main points Brown is keying in on for tonight is defending the Suns three-point shot. He was satisfied with how his team guarded the three in the Suns’ 99-90 win in Cleveland a couple months ago. He was not happy with his team’s effort in defending the three against New York on Saturday and is looking for his team to improve on that tonight.

“The second thing is we have to make sure we defend the three,” Brown said. “We did a good job in our last game against Phoenix at home, then in the second half they hit four or five right off the bat.

“We have to close out on the different shooters they have.”

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Tags: Cleveland Cavaliers Eric Bledsoe Goran Dragic Phoenix Suns

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