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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Dallas Mavericks 101, Phoenix Suns 98 – Nothing left to do but hope

Posted by on April 12th, 9:32 pm

It’s the small things that decide games in the NBA. That has never been more true than in the Phoenix Suns’ 101-98 loss to the Dallas Mavericks tonight. Eric Bledsoe misses a free throw with a chance to tie the game at 99. Gerald Green comes up just short on a baseline jumper with a chance to take the lead. Bledsoe’s fingertips are the last to touch the ball as it flies out of bounds with 25 seconds left. Each one of these is just a single play in a single game. Had even one of them gone the Suns’ way, the outcome of this game might have been different. But what’s done is done. The Mavericks are back in the playoffs, and Phoenix longer controls its own destiny.

The Suns have only one path to the playoffs now. They have to finish with more wins than Memphis. While this is a daunting scenario that requires Phoenix to depend on other teams, the playoffs are still a possibility. Kevin Zimmerman breaks down the scenarios here.

The Suns’ road to the postseason looked much smoother at halftime in Dallas. Phoenix held an 11-point lead after two quarters thanks to Channing Frye’s five triples and the team shooting 60% from the floor. Despite the fact that they committed 10 turnovers and gave up seven offensive boards to the Mavs in the first half, the Suns were dominating nearly every phase of the game. Defensively, they held Dirk Nowitzki to just two points and his team to just 42% from the floor. Eric Bledsoe put up 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting, and Phoenix had already rung up 13 fast break points.

But as has happened so many times this year, Phoenix faltered coming out of halftime. For the second night in a row, their 3-point defense completely collapsed. The Mavericks took advantage hitting five triples in the third quarter and whittling the double-digit down to just three points heading into the final frame. At that point, the writing was on the wall. The Mavericks had all the momentum and a raucous crowd on their side. Though the Suns hung tough in the fourth, and had shots to tie and take the lead late, Dallas – carried by Monta Ellis and Dirk – would not be denied. Ellis finished the game with 37 points (15-23 FG, 3-4 3pt) and five assists, while Dirk had 23 points and eight rebounds. In the first half, Monta drove and scored at will because the Suns had gone small and had no rim protection. When the Suns shifted their defense and closed off the paint, Monta got Dirk going from deep. It was the best game I’ve seen Monta Ellis play in seven years. He picked a hell of a time for it.

For the second night in a row, Phoenix raced out to an early lead only to watch it slowly and painfully evaporate. I don’t think any of the Suns will vacation in Texas anytime soon. For more on tonight’s game, let’s answer our three preview questions.

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NBA standings: How the Suns can make the playoffs

Posted by on April 12th, 9:08 pm

Prepare to root for Mike D’Antoni and Steve Nash one more time. And for likely the first time, Phoenix Suns fans might find themselves rooting for the Los Angeles Lakers. With Phoenix’s 101-98 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday, the Suns find themselves in a precarious position.

They’re relying on haterade connoisseur Swaggy P.

The Mavericks (49-32) already sit at 49 wins with a game left. They have locked themselves into a playoff spot with tiebreakers over both the Suns and Grizzlies.

Phoenix (47-33) has no tiebreakers in its favor against either Memphis or Dallas at this point, not even if the three squads finish 49-33. The three-way tiebreaker is a combination of wins and losses against the two other teams, and at present, the Suns sit at 1-5 and at best could finish 2-5 with a win against Memphis. The Grizzlies sit at 3-3. And Dallas is 5-1 against Phoenix and Memphis.

There are two scenarios remaining.

Memphis, with a record of 47-32, must lose its final three games of the year.

That, or the Suns must win out while the Grizzlies lose two of three — so obviously one of those losses would need to come Monday against Phoenix. If the Suns beat the Grizzlies and the Sacramento Kings to finish the year, they would close out the regular season with 49 total wins. Then, the possibility of Jeff Hornacek’s squad making the playoffs would require Memphis to fall to the Los Angeles Lakers a day prior to the matchup in Phoenix or after that, to the Mavericks in their final game of the year Wednesday.

The worse bit of news comes in the second scenario.

If the Grizzlies limp into their final game of the year against the Mavs having lost to the Suns after beating the Lakers, Dallas would have locked up the seventh seed already and have little reason to go full-bore against the Grizzlies — remember that the Mavs hold the tiebreaker over Memphis.

Dallas could also be shorthanded with Dirk Nowitzki looking battered toward the end of the game on Saturday.

The odds are against the Suns, but now it’s quite simple. They must win against Memphis on Monday and hope to get some help.

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Preview: Phoenix Suns (47-32) at Dallas Mavericks (48-32)

Posted by on April 12th, 8:04 am

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.

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San Antonio Spurs 112, Phoenix Suns 104 — That other Green

Posted by on April 11th, 8:19 pm

This is the type of loss expected from a team expected to win 20 games, if lucky.

It wasn’t necessarily a blown 21-point first-quarter lead that said a lot about how much the Phoenix Suns missed Goran Dragic in a 112-108 loss on Friday, or how far Eric Bledsoe is from being a true floor general.

The list of incomprehensible mistakes the Suns made in the second half at the AT&T Center said more.

Danny Green, who finished with 33 points, was left wide open beyond the arc with two minutes left after he’d already scored 30 and hit six threes, and the shot gave San Antonio a 106-100 lead. Gerald Green left Kawhi Leonard to nab an offensive rebound on the very next play. And with 32 seconds left, Eric Bledsoe pushed the ball on the break and got to the rim, but then decided to fling the ball to Channing Frye for a three-point attempt instead.

It didn’t drop, but the Suns did in the Western Conference standings as the Memphis Grizzlies cruised past the Philadelphia 76ers.

Bledsoe finished with 30 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, but his seven turnovers came on casual and difficult dishes that the Spurs picked off — Phoenix committed 20 turnovers leading to 26 San Antonio points. Bledsoe’s command of the team wasn’t there as the Morris twins and Green got caught flinging long jumpers early in the shot clock, as if hero ball has ever saved the Suns.

It didn’t always look so painfully bleak for Jeff Hornacek’s team.

Like lackluster win at New Orleans didn’t happen, the Suns came out of the gates rolling like they had at Portland and against Oklahoma City, and they did so with Dragic sidelined with a sprained ankle.

The Suns shot better than 58 percent from the floor in the first half, at which point Bledsoe already had his season averages covered. He scored 19 points to go with six rebounds, five assists and three steals in the first half, mostly against a far-from-limber Tony Parker, who played through a back injury.

San Antonio rolled without Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili on the second night of a back-to-back, and it went as expected. Gregg Popovich’s team saw little drop-off with players stepping up in place of the two absent veterans.

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