PHOENIX -- For maximizing available resources, it's difficult to beat the guy on "Survivorman" who can whip up lasagna out of generic bugs and build a camp fires with nothing more than a paper clip.
His NBA equivalent could be Phoenix Suns swingman Jared Dudley, who -- depending on the height and skill level at your rec center -- may not be an early pick when choosing sides for a pick-up game.
With the speed of a refund check and a vertical that's not much higher than his jersey number, JD still managed to knock in 23 points and collect 7 rebounds in Friday's 109-101 triumph over the Detroit Pistons.
"He's got a real good rhythm going," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said of good ol' No. 3. "He's playing with a lot of confidence."
Well, the entire team is playing with some (dare we call it?) swagger these days. Now a gaudy 8-2 since the All-Star break, the Suns (22-22) have reached .500 for the first time since they were a modest 4-4 on Jan. 8. With the Minnesota Timberwolves losing to the Lakers in Los Angeles on Friday, the Suns check in at ninth in the Western Conference playoff hunt.
Friday's victory was the Suns' third in as many nights. Their previous back-to back-to-back shift occurred last month and ended in three seemingly playoff-hope-crushing defeats.
With the final third of the season at hand, the Suns have managed to wrangle a reasonable shot at avoiding an early May vacation.
By the way, their visitors for Sunday night's homestand-closing showdown are Houston's Rockets, who share the seventh seed with the Denver Nuggets and are a mere two games ahead of the Suns.
"I just knew that we had to put together a lot of wins to climb back into the playoff race," Gentry said of his approach to having so many games at U.S. Airways Center. "We're at .500 ... we're ecstatic about that, but I know we have a long way to go. We know that we have little margin of error."
Little margin for error could be a fare assessment when judging the ascension of Dudley, who did enter the NBA as a first-round pick out of Boston College. But his early days in Charlotte included several soul-searching tours as a 6-foot-7 power forward.
After arriving in Phoenix, Dudley learned to adapt to his surroundings. With Steve Nash (17 dimes against the Pistons) as the local point-guard resource, Dudley figured that getting better at making 3-pointers would be the way to go. He made a precious 22 percent from deep as a Bobcats rookie, but reached 46 percent during his first full season here. When opponents quickly realized JD had become deadly from distance, they became more aggressive in closing out.
Dudley responded by incorporating the shot fake and mid-range jumper.
Utilizing everything in the expanding tool box against Detroit, Dudley made 8 of 12 shots from the field, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range. His true impact, however, usually can be measured in the less-noticeable plays he makes. On Friday, the roll call featured three important defensive turns in the fourth quarter.
At 3:53, he stripped the ball from Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince and recovered it to help the Suns preserve a 97-95 advantage. With the subsequent shot clock on life support, teammate Channing Frye knocked in a deep 3. It's not exactly coincidental that the production of Frye and Dudley -- each had slow starts to the season now overtaken by recent uprisings -- correspond to the Suns' respective placement in the standings.
Anyway, Dudley forced Prince into a tough shot with :30 seconds to play that turned into Frye's game-high 13th rebound. And when the Pistons still needed a bucket with 18 clicks remaining, Dudley vigorous, rotation-demanding close out helped foil a 3-point bid by Brandon Knight that could have trimmed the Phoenix lead to two points.
"It's big for us because we are trying to get above .500 before we hit this road trip," Dudley said, referring to a four-game journey that offers stops in Miami, Orlando, Indianapolis and Cleveland. "We know it's going to be a difficult road trip going up playing against a lot of elite Eastern Conference teams.
"We just had a big emotional win against the Clippers. To come back and lose to Detroit at home would be devastating in the sense that we're trying to bump up in the standings and that's a bad loss."
Right, Thursday's win over the Clips in L.A. happened with Nash and Grant Hill enjoying a coach-insisted night of R&R. Sebastian Telfair (8 assists) and Shannon Brown (21 points) hade big plays that spurred the closing rally. On Friday, the Suns' irregulars struggled a bit during their second-quarter work, but handed the first unit the lead through almost 8 minutes of the fourth.
The star turns included a 14-point effort from Robin Lopez, who played well enough for Gentry to keep Marcin Gortat (16 points) in dry dock for the entire period.
"Robin did a good job, gave us a presence in there, blocked some shots and had a couple of tip-ins there," Gentry said.
Like Dudley, Lopez used whatever he had to help light another fire for a team still fighting for survival.