PHOENIX — If you take any stock in the Hollinger Playoff Odds, the Suns’ season did indeed suffer a slow and painful death on Friday night against New Orleans.
By the end of the night their 6.2 percent chance of a playoff miracle had turned into a 1.7 percent no chance in Hell.
But with 11 games remaining on the docket starting with tonight’s ESPN-televised tilt against the Dallas Mavericks the Suns are doing all they can to stay positive in the face of these seemingly insurmountable odds.
“We’re going to keep playing,” head coach Alvin Gentry said. “Our goal is still to make playoffs. It might be a long shot, but it doesn’t matter, we’ll keep competing and we’ll keep playing extremely hard, and we’ll do the very best we can. That’s what we get paid to do.”
The Suns trail New Orleans by five games and are in line to lose the second tiebreaker even if they tie the season series, so it’s fairly safe to forget about catching the Hornets.
The Grizzlies have shown no signs of fading and lead Phoenix by three overall and two in the loss column, but after tonight’s matchup with the Spurs and a pair against New Orleans most of their remaining games are patsies. The Suns’ remaining opponents boast a .551 winning percentage, whereas Memphis’ are at .469, easiest in the West.
Even if Memphis were to collapse, the Suns trail the red-hot Houston Rockets — winners of five in a row — by a game and a half.
Countered Jared Dudley, “We’re not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs so nobody should be shutting it down. You get paid to play and it’s the best job, so I’ll be ready to go here on Sunday fired up to beat Dallas.”
Dudley is right, the Suns are not mathematically eliminated, but they essentially are in the NCAA Tournament mode Gentry brought up in the past in that they almost need to win the rest of their games. Hollinger projects the No. 8 Grizzlies to finish 46-36, and the Suns really must win every one of their games from here on out to finish ahead of that pace.
Gentry told The Arizona Republic that there could be a starting lineup change for Sunday’s game, with Dudley possibly starting for Vince Carter and Marcin Gortat starting for Robin Lopez. The Suns’ coach said he would decide Sunday morning.
Gortat said he expects to play after fracturing his nose following a collision with Steve Nash, and such changes would bring two of the Suns’ most effective players into the starting unit.
Lopez and Carter both went scoreless on Friday night. Lopez picked up four fouls in less than four minutes and Carter missed the second half with a virus after missing his only three shots.
With Lopez and Carter providing such meager production, the Suns’ bench scored a season-high 65 points against the Hornets. The bench has scored 50.1 points per game since the All-Star break and now leads the league at 40.7 overall, but perhaps that’s misleading with some of the Suns’ best players such as Gortat coming off the pine.
The Suns once again catch somewhat of a break since Dallas demolished Utah by 17 last night, but Phoenix has lost to so many road teams on the second game of a back-to-back it can hardly be called an advantage anymore, especially when the Mavs are 12-4 in such contests.
But the Suns will take any potential break they can as they face a daunting 11-game finish that they must practically sweep to maintain their playoff prayer.
Dallas has lost five in a row to winning teams, but the Mavericks have won three straight and six of seven against the Suns. … The Suns are 2-9 at home against teams with a winning percentage of .600 or better this season, much worse than the league average of .391.