PHOENIX — It’s pretty simple for the Phoenix Suns.
Win, and go to the playoffs.
Somehow, that’s made Jeff Hornacek’s team find itself playing the best basketball of the year.
During Phoenix’s 122-115 win against Oklahoma City on Sunday, Goran Dragic got his during a 19-point second quarter. Eric Bledsoe added 30 points total and forced a key turnover on Kevin Durant to help P.J. Tucker’s career scoring night end with a typical Tucker hustle play. Markieff Morris hit a key shot late that helped put the Suns over the top, and finally, Gerald Green launched shots aggressively but in the flow of the offense. Phoenix didn’t get flustered once the Thunder cut away at a 14-point deficit and took a fourth-quarter lead.
The Suns continued to attack with ease. It was unforced.
“I don’t think there were any lulls,” Hornacek said. “Ten-point leads, 12-point leads, that’s nothing (for the Thunder to overcome). We weathered that storm in the third quarter when they made the comeback and made the key plays.”
Phoenix controls its own destiny and seems to have realized it just in time.
Here’s how the Suns get into the playoffs, assuming they don’t sweep the five remaining games.
Where they stand as of Wednesday morning
The eighth-place Suns are a game back of the seventh-place Dallas Mavericks and a game ahead of the ninth-place Memphis Grizzlies. Phoenix has five games remaining, including tonight’s battle against the New Orleans Pelicans, while Dallas has three games left and Memphis has five.
Dallas’ three games left not only includes outings against the Suns and Grizzlies, but a showdown against San Antonio. Memphis, meanwhile, plays against Miami and then has two games against Philly and the Lakers before playing Phoenix and Dallas to close out the year.
Who has the tiebreakers?
Dallas has a 3-0 tiebreaker over Memphis, and the Grizzlies own a 3-0 tiebreaker over the Suns. Having the better record is the best bet to avoid such situations, but the Suns can still get a tiebreaker over Dallas. That’s why the April 12 game against the Mavs is the most important game left with the series tied 1-1.
The other reason for Phoenix to win that one is that it could help them with overall records against the two other teams. If there is a three-way tie in record between Memphis, Dallas and Phoenix, the way to sift the odd team out is by overall record against both opponents. The Suns are in bad shape there with a 1-4 record against the Mavs and Grizzlies, but Dallas and Memphis also play each other in the final game of the year.
If the Suns beat Dallas on April 12, and then Memphis on April 14 before the Grizzlies lose to the Mavs on April 16, then the Suns would have a 3-4 record against both teams and leapfrog Memphis, who would at that point be 3-5 against the Mavs and Suns.
View the Suns’ two games against the Pelicans and Kings as blessings or curses. It’s two more opportunities to nab easy wins but also two scary games that could put Phoenix in a bind.