Time: 5 p.m. MST
TV: FSAZ (Game switched from FSAZ+)PHOENIX — “It’s us against the world.”
That, said forward Channing Frye, is the mindset of the Phoenix Suns as they enter the final five-game stretch of the regular season. The Suns open Wednesday in the eighth spot of the Western Conference standings, a game up on the Memphis Grizzlies and a game behind the Dallas Mavericks, though the Mavs have played in two more games.
Wednesday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans is one the Suns cannot afford to lose considering that this is the worst team they will see in the next four games. After tonight, the Suns have a back to back against the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks on the weekend before coming home to play the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday. They close out the season in Sacramento against the Kings next Wednesday.
Playing in New Orleans can be viewed as a trap game, and that is something that has to be worrying to Suns fans. Just last week, the team failed to show up against the Los Angeles Lakers in what turned into a double-digit loss. Suns coach Jeff Hornacek is not too worried about the trap game potential and thinks his team is ready for the final stretch.
“I think it’s done,” Hornacek said on the potential for the Suns to be looking ahead. “I think they went into the Laker game, coming off winning six in a row that we were just going to win. I don’t think there will be any sort of letdown because they know what’s at stake.”
What is at stake is a playoff berth, something the Suns have not been a part of since 2010. A playoff berth is also something that no one saw coming. Experts said Phoenix would be lucky to win 20 games. Vegas had the over/under at 17.5 after the Marcin Gortat trade.
Despite the low expectations, the Suns have continued to surprise in their stunning turnaround. It has taken awhile for the city to get behind the team, but Suns fever is here in Phoenix and at a season high after the win over Oklahoma City on Sunday.
“I am proud of these guys, how they have battled all year,” Hornacek said. “Having expectations of winning less than 20 games and they have been determined to prove that wrong all year.
“As coaches, we are proud how they play hard every night. All the coaches on the staff played the same way, hard and gritty, and scratch and claw, and that’s what these guys do.”
Hornacek saw signs in the beginning stages of the season that his first year as a head coach may go a bit better than originally expected.
“Those early losses that we had to Thunder and Spurs … could take those as moral victories, but our guys weren’t happy about that and they were ticked off we did not win those games,” Hornacek said. “That was an early sign that we were going to be better than expected.”
While the ride has been a fun one, there is still much to be accomplished in these final five games. Let’s get to some keys to tonight’s game for the Suns.
Can Phoenix control Anthony Davis?
The Pelicans center scored 32 points on 14-18 shooting the last time he played the Suns at the end of February, a 116-104 Suns victory. Though Davis is banged up, he should be able to go tonight. The Pelicans as a team are pretty banged up and it is important to shut down Davis and force the other guys to beat you.
Will Green keep cruising (again)?
Every playoff team has to have a player like Gerald Green. He is the irrational confidence guy that can be near unstoppable when he is stroking. It was his alley-oop he threw to himself off the backboard that got the Suns going last week. It ignited a 30-13 fourth quarter win over the Portland Trail Blazers that broke open a close game. Green also added 24 points with five three-pointers against the Thunder on Sunday. If Green is shooting at the percentages he has been the past two games, it will mean good things for the Suns.
Where is Eric Bledsoe’s jump shot?
The one part of Bledsoe’s game that has been slow to return is his jump shot. Hornacek acknowledged that the guard has been struggling with it since coming back from his knee surgery.
“He is pretty sore, not sure he has his outside shot like he had going earlier,” Hornacek said. “He can still make them, but when you don’t have a lot of practice time with eight weeks off it is to be expected.”
Bonus question: How do the Grizzlies do?
The Mavericks sit a full game ahead of the Suns after beating the Utah Jazz on Tuesday, but Memphis sits a full game back of Phoenix heading into Wednesday. The Grizzlies face the Miami Heat as the Suns tip against the Pelicans on FSAZ (not plus), which will be something else to watch.