Time: 7 p.m. MST
Six months ago talks of a playoff berth would have seemed foolish, far-fetched and nothing short of whimsical.
But since the night of Oct. 30, the Phoenix Suns — through remarkable team chemistry, a hint of youth and admirable naivety, a budding backcourt and remarkable work by both the front office and coaching staff — have turned nothing into something.
Talks of tanking have transformed into fantasies of a prolonged spring.
And while regret still lingers over leads lost along the way, the Suns have earned a chance to remain relevant heading into the final 72 hours of the regular season.
At its core, that’s what Monday night’s home contest against the Memphis Grizzlies represents.
A quick glance at the standings would suggest that Phoenix is a long shot to creep back into the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.
One loss and it’s over.
One win by Memphis — be it against Phoenix or against a more-than-likely apathetic Dallas Mavericks squad Wednesday — and it’s over.
But look closer and it’s safe to say the Suns have been long shots all season long. They weren’t supposed to be the darling of the league, a band of misfits knocking on the door of the Big Dance minutes before the clock strikes midnight.
But here they are with a chance.
And if they can pull off one more magical victory inside the US Airways Center against the one conference foe who has had their number throughout 2013-14, they’ll have a chance to play meaningful basketball on the final night of the regular season .
How does Eric Bledsoe handle the moment?
In all likelihood, Goran Dragic’s left ankle won’t be close to 100 percent anytime soon. Without proper rest, every time he steps out onto the court he’s essentially risking further injury.
As was the case in Saturday’s 101-98 defeat in Dallas, with Dragic’s mobility clearly limited, the ball will primarily stay in the hands of Eric Bledsoe.
Those hands have produced 59 points and 15 assists over the last two contests, however they also were chiefly responsible for back-to-back seven-turnover performances.
Bledsoe has never been the go-to guy during a stretch run, and at times the bright lights have gotten the best of him.
With the season on the line and a veteran defender in Mike Conley likely to hound him throughout the game, how does the 24-year-old respond?
How much damage do Memphis’ bigs cause on the boards?
The Grizzlies have mastered the art of imposing their will on opposing teams. Conley is a fantastic floor general, but Memphis’ identity is seen through the brute force of its two physical, frontcourt stars — Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
With that said, the dynamic duo have not been the only ones to hurt Phoenix on the glass during the teams’ first three contests.
Ed Davis and Kosta Koufas each grabbed 12 rebounds in Memphis’ 110-91 rout back on Dec. 3, while Jon Leuer pitched in with nine. Davis and Randolph combined for 26 in a 99-91 victory on Jan. 3, only to outdo themselves with 17 and 13 respectively in a five-point win a week later.
The point is, the Grizzlies have at least five or six quality rebounders who will grind and pound in order to create extra possessions at the offensive end and limit opportunities at the defensive end.
Who steps up for Phoenix and takes ownership of the glass outside of P.J. Tucker and Miles Plumlee?
Can Marcus and Markieff Morris throw their weight around enough to make a difference? Will Channing Frye exert as much energy inside the paint as he usually does beyond the arc?
If the answer is no to both, odds are Phoenix struggles to stay competitive in the second half.
Do the Suns get the fan support they rightfully deserve when it matters most?
The Arizona Cardinals were the last team in the NFC to miss out on the postseason in 2013. The Phoenix Coyotes just suffered the same fate over the weekend and will miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a second consecutive season.
Simply put, the Valley hasn’t experienced postseason play of any kind since 2012, a drought that’s even longer for its oldest tenant.
Yet with the stakes as high as they have been over the last few weeks, the first two home contests in April were sharp contrasts of one another.
Against the Los Angeles Clippers, the US Airways Center crowd appeared to be taking in an early-season affair. The energy was rather limited until the team rolled out to a 17-point lead in the second half.
Four nights later with Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder in town, it was a complete 180.
Monday night is the closest thing to playoff basketball the Purple Place has hosted since the 2009-10 Western Conference Finals.
Will weekday traffic and a baseball game across the street deter the paying customers, or will they galvanize around the slimmer of hope that still exists for their beloved Suns?