Phoenix Suns 104, Sacramento Kings 99 — A good win to close

Posted by on April 16th, 10:33 pm

Disappointment lingered heading into the Phoenix Suns’ last game of the season, but Archie Goodwin made the smiles from the bench reappear one last time. Jeff Hornacek’s team beat the Sacramento Kings 104-99 to finish the year with a 48-34 record, locking this Phoenix team in as one of the best non-playoff teams in NBA history.

Goodwin, the rookie who had only three double-digit scoring games on the year, made the most of Hornacek’s generous playing time allowance on Wednesday in Sacramento. The Kentucky product bested his career-high of 16 by pouring in 29 points on 11-for-13 shooting from the floor. He hit just his fourth three-pointer of the year but scored the majority of his points as you’d expect.

Goodwin picked off steals, one time loading up a double-clutch, reverse dunk in front of the Suns bench. In the second half, Markieff Morris found Goodwin cutting to the hoop and from the post tossed a lob pass to the rookie, who finished with one hand before crashing into the backstop.

The Suns got 15 points, five boards and four assists from Morris, and 22 more points from brother Marcus.

Goran Dragic sat out the Suns’ 82nd game of the year but watched from the bench as a starting group of Eric Bledsoe, Gerald Green, P.J. Tucker, Channing Frye and Miles Plumlee played limited minutes. Among that group, Green led the way with 12 points, and perhaps the most significant part of their contributions was Frye’s start.

He started all 82 games of the season and finished as a double-digit scorer despite missing the entire 2012-13 campaign with a heart ailment.

Sacramento had enough reason to roll with its own young players, especially with center DeMarcus Cousins suspended for the season finale. Ben McLemore, once a favorite draft target of Suns fans, one-upped Phoenix’s eventual perimeter pick from the 2013 draft. He finished with 31 points.

Yet, Phoenix scrapped together solid defensive efforts down the stretch with a lineup of Ish Smith, the Morris twins, Goodwin and center Shavlik Randolph.

Smith, who has an unguaranteed contract next year, for the last time showed his value, producing a team-best plus-18 plus-minus by scoring eight and adding eight assists.

So the year is over, and Phoenix immediately heads into a time of reflection — though the starters were already there after the Monday loss to Memphis.

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Preview: Phoenix Suns (47-34) vs. Sacramento Kings (28-53)

Posted by on April 16th, 10:56 am

Time: 7:30 p.m. MST


Suns Logo




It was not supposed to go down like this.

Well, actually it kind of was.

At the beginning of the season, the Suns were expected to be bad. Really bad. Tonight’s season finale against the Sacramento Kings was probably expected by most to be a merciful ending to what should have been a wretched season — the ending of something bad to begin something good, a high draft pick.

Boy were we wrong.

This season went a total 180 on the Suns, who turned into one of the most exciting teams in the NBA. The 2013-14 year brought us the emergence of Goran Dragic as an MVP candidate that earned MVP chants, Eric Bledsoe’s glimpses of his star potential, Miles Plumlee’s athleticism, P.J. Tucker’s grit and leadership, Gerald Green’s irrational confidence, and the exciting youth of Archie Goodwin and Alex Len.

A win last Wednesday against the New Orleans Pelicans put tonight’s game in position as a potential “win and get in” game for the Suns. It was supposed to be a game for all of Phoenix to come together and see if this projected 20-win team could get to win number 50. But the “little team that could” couldn’t finish the deal.

A 21-point lead in San Antonio vanished the night before a second half double-digit lead in Dallas vaporized, leaving a young team in dismay before the Memphis Grizzlies closed the deal Monday night.

Though tonight will not be the kind of exciting night that could have been in the Valley, there’s reason not to ignore the Suns. We should watch this game with a big heart and remember the good times as the Suns run’n’gun for 48 more minutes.

Let’s watch tonight and remember Green’s recent shooting outbursts against Oklahoma City and Portland, or his plethora of high-rising dunks. Let’s remember Tucker’s intensity and defense, because, though the Suns want to bring him back, he will be a free agent. Let’s remember Bledsoe’s game-winning three-point shot against Utah in the season’s first week and the way he managed to take his game to a new level when it mattered the most. He’s also a free agent. Let’s also enjoy the rookies, Goodwin and Len, who should get heavy minutes tonight. Both players have had moments this year that made the future a bit brighter.

Most importantly, let’s remember The Dragon and the way he has crept into superstar status. No, he is not playing tonight with his badly sprained ankle, but that does not mean we can’t spend tonight thinking about all the moments he took the team to another level. You will not find a nicer guy in the entire Suns organization than Dragic, a player who has become a household name in not just Phoenix, but in the NBA.

No, there is nothing on the line tonight, but let’s support this team for its final game. Because remember, they cared about winning when many didn’t think they should. The least we can do is tune in, look back at the good times, but also look ahead to the brighter ones.

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Goran Dragic joins Hornacek, Petrovic on exclusive list

Posted by on April 16th, 6:00 am

PHOENIX — Goran Dragic has received quite a bit of attention this season.

The battered point guard will sit out the Suns’ final game on Wednesday against the Sacramento Kings, according to Paul Coro, meaning his 2013-14 season ends with averages of 20.3 points, 5.9 assists and 1.4 steals per game on 50.5 percent field goal shooting and 40.8 percent accuracy from three-point range.

Dragic has been visited by European journalists and been compared to the late Drazen Petrovic, a national hero from the former Yugoslavia that in Dragic’s childhood included Slovenia.

Before Dragic, it was Petrovic — who spent four years in the NBA before tragically dying in a car accident in 1993 — joining Hornacek as the last NBA guards to average 20 points on 50 percent shooting and 40 percent accuracy from three-point range. Of qualifying three-point shooters, Dragic joins an exclusive list that includes three current sure-fire Hall of Famers — LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Dirk Nowitzki — along with Larry Bird, Dale Ellis, Kiki Vandeweghe and Chris Mullin.

It’s an impressive group in the three-point era, but fitting for Dragic that Petrovic and Hornacek were the last players to reach such marks before him.

“He was a national hero back home,” Dragic said of Petrovic. “It’s unbelievable if I can do that. It’s all hard work and it’s paying off. I cannot sleep on those numbers.

“He was unbelievable player,” Dragic added. “Back in Europe … he scored 60 to 80 points per game.”

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Suns gain league-wide respect

Posted by on April 15th, 6:12 pm

PHOENIX — Part of the growing up process for the Phoenix Suns was winning over fans after three lottery-bound seasons prior, the last of which was a historically bad year.

Another part was learning something about themselves.

“That we can play with anybody,” point guard Goran Dragic said without hesitation when asked what he learned this year.

“We had a lot of great moments and a lot of strength, and just to come to the season and everybody was saying we’re not going to play good, that tells us something about how this team is and how we came along and played tough basketball.”

Coach Jeff Hornacek took a longer while to take the podium following the Monday night, 97-91 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. He was busy giving a speech to his team.

“This team tonight, they were in the Western Conference finals last year,” Hornacek said of the Grizzlies. “They’re one of the top teams when Marc Gasol plays. Our guys battled, they did the best they could.”

Hornacek said his players proved a lot to their coaches, the fans and the organization this season. More importantly, they proved much to themselves.

But maybe most importantly, the Suns proved something to their NBA peers.

“A lot of compliments from older guys in the league like, ‘Man, you guys just look like you have a good time playing with each other,’” said Suns forward Channing Frye.

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Memphis Grizzlies 97, Phoenix Suns 91 — Solar eclipse

Posted by on April 14th, 10:58 pm

PHOENIX – Jeff Hornacek answered his pregame questions as if the Suns would become one of the best teams in NBA history without a postseason berth. Contextually, he was answering a specific question, but the admission of his team not being in control of its own destiny made one thing clear.

It already stung.

“If you would have said at the beginning of the year that we had a chance to control our own destiny coming down to the last week, you would have probably been pretty happy about that,” Hornacek said before the must-win game against the Memphis Grizzlies. “The tough part is, once these guys got there they expected to try and win one of those games, two tough games — one at San Antonio and one at Dallas.”

It stung even before Phoenix fell at home on Monday, 97-91, to the Memphis Grizzlies. For the first time since a five-year stretch in 1970-75, the Suns are lottery-bound for the fourth year in a row.

The U.S. Airways Center crowd seemed to have accepted the Suns’ fate. The fans seemed less on-edge about the moment and more settled in, ready to enjoy the last home game of a memorable season dug out of a trash heap.

So give the Suns credit one more time, even with the odds against them and even after a loss to the Grizzlies that included 22 lead changes and eight ties, almost all of which came in the second half.

Feel bad you picked them to win 15 games or 20 or 25 or 35 or 40 or 45.

The Suns sit at 47 wins and could add one more to that total, but their postseason fate is decided by what-ifs that give the franchise four of the six-best non-playoff teams in NBA history in terms of win totals.

Team Season Win total
Phoenix Suns 1971-72 49
Golden State Warriors 2007-08 48
Phoenix Suns 1970-71 48
Phoenix Suns 2013-14 47**
Seattle Supersonics 1971-72 47
Phoenix Suns 2008-09 46

A dreadful start for the Suns saw the Grizzlies take a 24-12 lead late in the first quarter as Zach Randolph abused them. The second quarter was Mike Miller’s turn to torch the Suns, but it was more a discredit to the Phoenix defense than anything he was doing. Miller’s weakside floating led to Marcus Morris unnecessarily helping a few times, and then Gerald Green got caught losing Miller – as in, his eyes weren’t on Miller – working off the ball.

Phoenix woke up eventually, but as it had against Dallas and San Antonio, the Suns’ inexperience, or really Memphis’ experience, played the biggest factor.

“They make runs, they can really score the ball,” said Memphis coach Dave Joerger. “They put so much pressure on you. They biggest thing is we didn’t get way down. Every time we felt like we weren’t playing well — we’d have a couple of hiccups or turnovers and we turned the ball over way too many times — the most they got ahead was by three points.”

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Preview: Memphis Grizzlies (48-32) at Phoenix Suns (47-33)

Posted by on April 14th, 9:00 am

Time: 7 p.m. MST






A chance.

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?

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