OAKLAND – Injured guard Eric Bledsoe said he expects to return to the Suns lineup on Monday against the Clippers or Wednesday against the Cavaliers at the latest, a critical roster addition for Phoenix that adds another layer of intrigue to the Western Conference playoff race.
Whether Bledsoe can go from missing nine weeks with a knee injury that required surgery to having close to the same impact he had in the first 24 games before he was hurt — 18 points and 5.8 assists while shooting 48.6 percent — now becomes one of the storylines of the season’s final quarter. The Suns, at 36-26, are the team success story of the league and are tied with the Grizzlies for eighth place in the West, a game behind No. 7 Dallas and five ahead of No. 10 Minnesota. Whether Bledsoe struggles to regain his rhythm or quickly assimilates could tilt the standings.
While the Suns said they expect a return Wednesday at home against the Cavaliers, Bledsoe has not ruled out Monday against the Clippers, his former team, in Los Angeles. The decision, he said Sunday before the Suns lost to the Warriors at Oracle Arena, will probably come Monday afternoon.
“I can definitely look forward to it, see how I’m feeling at shootaround or whatever to see how it goes,” Bledsoe said. “If it’s there, I’ll go.”
Whether it happens Monday or Wednesday, coach Jeff Hornacek said Bledsoe will come off the bench “the first few games.” After that, Hornacek added, “I would guess at some point he might be back in that starting lineup because when he and Goran [Dragic] were in there we were pretty good.” But Hornacek publicly left open the possibility, however unlikely, that Gerald Green could remain a starter.
Bledsoe hurt his right knee Jan. 2 and underwent surgery to repair cartilage on Jan. 10. The Suns are 17-15 since then, plus 3-3 when he missed six other games with a bruised shin.
“It’s been tough to sit there and watch for two months now,” Bledsoe said. “It’s definitely been tough. But at the same time, it’s been exciting to watch. The guys go out there and fight every night.”