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Time: 5:30 p.m. MST
From friend to foe in less than 24 hours, such is the life these days in the wacky and wild Western Conference.
Thursday night, the San Antonio Spurs did their part with a 109-100 road victory over the Dallas Mavericks, which temporarily allowed the Phoenix Suns to leapfrog into seventh place by percentage points.
Friday night, those same Spurs will be looking to lock up the top seed out West, showing no concern in the process for the Suns’ aspirations of reaching the postseason for the first time since 2009-10.
Phoenix has one regular season win at the AT&T Center over the last four campaigns, and the building has regularly served as a house of horrors for the purple and orange.
The last time the two teams met in the River City, the Suns squandered a late one-point lead in the waning moments en route to a 99-96 defeat.
While there’s plenty more at stake Friday — Spurs can secure home-court advantage for the entire playoffs and the Suns can lay claim to the No. 7 seed all by themselves — concerns about whether either squad will be at full strength remain at the forefront.
Here’s a look at three questions heading into Phoenix’s first leg of the all-important, Texas two-step:
Will Goran Dragic play? And if he does, how does he get around on the ankle?
AZCentral.com’s Paul Coro was the bearer of bad news late Thursday, announcing that Suns guard Goran Dragic would be questionable for the contest after spraining his left ankle.
On the surface, it’s hard to imagine Dragic missing the biggest game of the year to date. Then again, Saturday’s tussle in Dallas is just as important if not more so than a showdown in San Antonio.
Do the Suns rest their leading scorer in the hopes of keeping him fresh for the following night or does “The Dragon” find a way to make his 75th start of the season?
If a hobbled Dragic does play, staying with either Patty Mills or Cory Joseph will be intriguing to say the least.
Can Phoenix contain the “other guys?”
Tony Parker did not play in Thursday night’s win, as he was back in San Antonio nursing the sprained facet joint on the left side of his back.
Whether Parker or any of the Spurs’ core players — Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili or Tim Duncan — suit up on the second night of a back-to-back is a mystery at this point, but there’s a chance Popovich rests his players after the win on Thursday.
I'm assuming no Duncan, Parker and maybe others tonight vs PHX, so good chance Dallas remains in 8 spot at least another day.
— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) April 11, 2014
On one hand, San Antonio can take care of their business with a single victory over Phoenix, but on the other hand it can also achieve the same goal with one more Oklahoma City loss.
Since Gregg Popovich is as unpredictable as they come, speculation is essentially an exercise of futility.
Regardless of what lineup they face, how the Suns handle complimentary pieces like Austin Daye, Boris Diaw, Marco Belinelli might determine the outcome of the ballgame.
The aforementioned quartet played 77 combined minutes against the Mavericks but could see major minutes if Popovich elects to be cautious.
Belinelli and Mills only combined for 12 total points in Phoenix’s 106-85 victory back on Feb. 21, but neither guard is a slouch by any stretch of the imaginable. Poor defensive closeouts against either, and they’ll torch opposing defenses.
Does the light switch go on immediately?
So much has been made of late about the Suns’ ability to flip the switch depending on the level of competition they’re facing.
Sunday, they were emotionally-invested in a 122-115 victory over the Thunder, whereas in Tuesday’s 94-88 win over the New Orleans Pelicans, grit and late-game execution masked a relatively lackluster effort.
This time of year, winning pretty and winning ugly equal the same result. However to beat the Spurs, who hold an NBA-best 23-3 record since the All-Star break, the Suns will need a complete, 48-minute effort — regardless of the five players Popovich runs out at any given time.
San Antonio is one of only two teams in the league ranked in the top 10 in both team offense (points per game) and defense (points allowed per game). If Phoenix wants to make sure Friday isn’t a playoff preview, it better be mentally engaged from the opening tip.
If not, Saturday will become even more of a must-win than it already is.