Time: 5:30 pm MST
Despite last night’s agonizing defeat at the hands of the Spurs, the Phoenix Suns still control their playoff destiny. A win tonight in Dallas would give Phoenix the season tiebreaker with the Mavericks. It would also mean the Suns could clinch the playoffs with a win over the Grizzlies or a Dallas loss to the Grizzlies. However, if Phoenix falls tonight in Dallas, all of those assurances go out the window. A loss would put the Suns on the losing end of tiebreakers with both the Grizzlies and Mavericks and would make grabbing a playoff spot very unlikely indeed.
Adding to the already massive stakes of tonight’s game is the fact that Dallas can clinch a playoff spot with a win tonight. The Mavs are 25-15 at home this year, but the Suns are battle tested road warriors. Phoenix had won 7-of-9 on the road before last night’s collapse in San Antonio. The Suns are certainly up to the task tonight in Dallas, even on the second night of a back-to-back. The major question hanging over both teams is health.
Goran Dragic sat out last night’s game with an ankle injury. While his status for tonight’s game has yet to be confirmed, the look on Dragic’s face as he sat on the bench in San Antonio said it would take a bazooka and a SWAT team to keep him off the floor tonight in Dallas. For the Mavs, both Monta Ellis and Shawn Marion are dealing with lingering injuries. Both played in Dallas’ loss to the Spurs on Thursday, but both are still listed as day-to-day.
Through 79 games, the Suns have exceeded every expectation. Now they have three games to exceed just one more. Their three-round brawl for the playoffs begins tonight in Dallas. For more on tonight’s game, let’s ask three preview questions.
What will Goran Dragic contribute?
Winning last night’s game against the Spurs wouldn’t have changed much about Phoenix’s playoff chances. With that in mind, there’s a possibility that Coach Hornacek held Dragic out against the Spurs to keep him fresh for the Suns’ more important games against Dallas and Memphis. In that case, expect the Dragon to come out breathing fire tonight. Knowing what kind of player Goran is, it’s safe to say that watching his team choke away a 21-point lead must have been torture, and he’ll be more than ready to take his revenge against the Mavericks.
Tonight’s game will require strong contributions on both the offensive and defensive ends. Dragic is the Suns’ go-to scorer when games get tight. He was sorely missed in the second half against the Spurs. Dragic will also be called upon to bottle up Mavericks’ point guard Jose Calderon. With Eric Bledose likely matched up on Monta Ellis, Dragic will have his hands full with the Spaniard who has had a resurgent season in Dallas. Calderon is a great distributor and outside shooter. Though he doesn’t have blow-by speed, Dragic will still have to stay tight with him every minute they are on the floor together. Calderon leads the Mavs in made threes per game. It was poor defense on outside shooters that cost the Suns in San Antonio. They cannot afford to let Dallas get hot from deep tonight.
Can Phoenix avoid a letdown quarter?
The Suns were outscored 37-19 by the Spurs in the third quarter of last night’s game. That collapse completely erased Phoenix’s big first-half lead and essentially handed the game to San Antonio. But last night was not the first time Phoenix let a game slip through their fingers because of one bad quarter. The loss to the Clippers at the beginning of April was attributable to a 34-17 drubbing in the fourth quarter. The Suns loss to the Mavericks back in January was caused by a similar third quarter let down. And even Phoenix’s victory in New Orleans was marred by a terrible second quarter performance.
When the Suns beat great teams like the Thunder or Trail Blazers, they do it with consistency. They win or keep the score close in all four frames, and don’t give their opponent any momentum to feed off of. They key for the Suns tonight in Dallas is consistency in all four quarters. Phoenix must come out of halftime ready to play and claim a victory, because they, just like their opponents, are fighting for their postseason lives.
Who wins the battle beyond the arc?
The Suns and Mavs are two of the best three-point shooting teams in the NBA in both accuracy and volume. This game will likely go to whichever team shoots the ball better from outside. The Suns may have the upper hand in this match up though. Phoenix is one of the best teams in the league at defending the three-point line. Though they did not show it last night, today is a brand new day, and there’s no doubt Coach Hornacek will be preaching perimeter from sun up to sun down as Phoenix prepares for its biggest game of the season.