NBA Standings: A look at the Suns’ playoff chase

Posted by on April 9th, 2:00 pm

PHOENIX — It’s pretty simple for the Phoenix Suns.

Win, and go to the playoffs.

Somehow, that’s made Jeff Hornacek’s team find itself playing the best basketball of the year.

During Phoenix’s 122-115 win against Oklahoma City on Sunday, Goran Dragic got his during a 19-point second quarter. Eric Bledsoe added 30 points total and forced a key turnover on Kevin Durant to help P.J. Tucker’s career scoring night end with a typical Tucker hustle play. Markieff Morris hit a key shot late that helped put the Suns over the top, and finally, Gerald Green launched shots aggressively but in the flow of the offense. Phoenix didn’t get flustered once the Thunder cut away at a 14-point deficit and took a fourth-quarter lead.

The Suns continued to attack with ease. It was unforced.

“I don’t think there were any lulls,” Hornacek said. “Ten-point leads, 12-point leads, that’s nothing (for the Thunder to overcome). We weathered that storm in the third quarter when they made the comeback and made the key plays.”

Phoenix controls its own destiny and seems to have realized it just in time.

Here’s how the Suns get into the playoffs, assuming they don’t sweep the five remaining games.

Where they stand as of Wednesday morning

The eighth-place Suns are a game back of the seventh-place Dallas Mavericks and a game ahead of the ninth-place Memphis Grizzlies. Phoenix has five games remaining, including tonight’s battle against the New Orleans Pelicans, while Dallas has three games left and Memphis has five.

Dallas’ three games left not only includes outings against the Suns and Grizzlies, but a showdown against San Antonio. Memphis, meanwhile, plays against Miami and then has two games against Philly and the Lakers before playing Phoenix and Dallas to close out the year.

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Preview: Phoenix Suns (46-31) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (32-45)

Posted by on April 9th, 9:34 am

Time: 5 p.m. MST

TV: FSAZ (Game switched from FSAZ+)

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PHOENIX — “It’s us against the world.”

That, said forward Channing Frye, is the mindset of the Phoenix Suns as they enter the final five-game stretch of the regular season. The Suns open Wednesday in the eighth spot of the Western Conference standings, a game up on the Memphis Grizzlies and a game behind the Dallas Mavericks, though the Mavs have played in two more games.

Wednesday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans is one the Suns cannot afford to lose considering that this is the worst team they will see in the next four games. After tonight, the Suns have a back to back against the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks on the weekend before coming home to play the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday. They close out the season in Sacramento against the Kings next Wednesday.

Playing in New Orleans can be viewed as a trap game, and that is something that has to be worrying to Suns fans. Just last week, the team failed to show up against the Los Angeles Lakers in what turned into a double-digit loss. Suns coach Jeff Hornacek is not too worried about the trap game potential and thinks his team is ready for the final stretch.

“I think it’s done,” Hornacek said on the potential for the Suns to be looking ahead. “I think they went into the Laker game, coming off winning six in a row that we were just going to win. I don’t think there will be any sort of letdown because they know what’s at stake.”

What is at stake is a playoff berth, something the Suns have not been a part of since 2010. A playoff berth is also something that no one saw coming. Experts said Phoenix would be lucky to win 20 games. Vegas had the over/under at 17.5 after the Marcin Gortat trade.

Despite the low expectations, the Suns have continued to surprise in their stunning turnaround. It has taken awhile for the city to get behind the team, but Suns fever is here in Phoenix and at a season high after the win over Oklahoma City on Sunday.

“I am proud of these guys, how they have battled all year,” Hornacek said. “Having expectations of winning less than 20 games and they have been determined to prove that wrong all year.

“As coaches, we are proud how they play hard every night. All the coaches on the staff played the same way, hard and gritty, and scratch and claw, and that’s what these guys do.”

Hornacek saw signs in the beginning stages of the season that his first year as a head coach may go a bit better than originally expected.

“Those early losses that we had to Thunder and Spurs … could take those as moral victories, but our guys weren’t happy about that and they were ticked off we did not win those games,” Hornacek said. “That was an early sign that we were going to be better than expected.”

While the ride has been a fun one, there is still much to be accomplished in these final five games. Let’s get to some keys to tonight’s game for the Suns.

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Dragic and Tucker lead, but youth defines Suns’ character

Posted by on April 7th, 6:00 am

PHOENIX — It’s clear Goran Dragic and P.J. Tucker, holdovers from a failed regime, are two reasons the Phoenix Suns cling to the final Western Conference playoff spot with five games left on their schedule.

Dragic scored 19 second-quarter points to finish with a team-high 26 in a 122-115 win against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday night. Meanwhile, Tucker scored a career-high 22 on top of a fine defensive effort against Kevin Durant, who pumped in 38 but didn’t find easy looks in the critical minutes of a close game.

Dragic and Tucker are the faces and the outright leaders, but the character of the Suns as a team isn’t exactly that of either.

Phoenix thrives on Dragic speaking with his play and Tucker literally speaking loudly and often, but it goes deeper. Last Wednesday, Jeff Hornacek’s team was running football sets during pregame warmups, and huddles took on the energy of a confident and cocky high school team.

This wasn’t a scene out of More Than a Game, the documentary film that followed LeBron James through his high school years. This was the NBA, and the Clippers blew away a 17-point Phoenix lead to remind the Suns of it.

Friday while visiting the Blazers and Sunday against the Thunder, something clicked.

Or not.

“It’s great to say we’re learning,” Hornacek said Sunday, then stomping all over that idea. “Clippers made plays the other night. We had guys make plays tonight.”

This team hasn’t exactly taken Tucker’s borderline moody, aggressive personality, or Dragic’s more reserved but just as passionate approach. Instead, Phoenix plays with a playful exuberance that’s almost ignorant to the situation. Tucker suggests it’s a positive thing.

Those high school huddles mean the Suns are having fun. At the least, they’re together, something winning teams — sorry, Pacers — can’t all say.

“Everybody knocks us, they talk about when we lose or we have bad games that this is a young team and all that stuff,” Tucker said. “You all know, you guys write it. In these games right here, it’s the same thing. We’re a young team. It rolls right off our shoulder. We get to the next play, we yell at each other but we’re friends. We’re teammates but we’re friends. It’s a weird group. Being a young team is also an advantage for us.”

Being young is good. It’s on record.

Tucker is playing for a contract, but neither he nor anybody else on the Suns seem to be thinking at a business level. It’s hard to remember the last time someone used that word, “business,” which is often the word used to duck a difficult question.

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Phoenix Suns 122, Oklahoma City Thunder 115 — Alive and kickin’

Posted by on April 6th, 9:26 pm

PHOENIX – The Suns aren’t dead yet.

Arguably and in the moment of a 122-115 win on Sunday, they’ve never been so alive.

Phoenix has a mighty hill to climb — the Grizzlies lost to fall to ninth and the Mavericks won to separate in their seventh-place spot on Sunday — but it was the Oklahoma City Thunder who might have the most to worry about. A top-tier Western Conference squad like the Thunder wouldn’t survive playing the defense it did in their loss at U.S. Airways Center, while the confident and loose Suns have a solid shot at the postseason if that type of performance recurs in the remaining five games of the season.

Scott Brooks’ team allowed the Suns to gun their way to a win on 58 percent shooting from the floor and 68 combined points from Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Gerald Green.

Phoenix took just 23 threes but drilled 11, a result of confidence but also pickiness in chasing the right opportunities.

In the second quarter after going scoreless through the first 12 minutes and missing his first three shot attempts, Dragic went to what made the Suns so successful in their Friday win against Portland. He went 8-for-10 in the second quarter to score 19 points, first dipping his way past Reggie Jackson or Westbrook, then taking his game to beyond the three-point arc.

It also helped the Suns were the bigger team, for one chunk finding Green with Derek Fisher on his back and Markieff Morris being defended by Caron Butler.

Phoenix held a 38-29 lead minutes into the second quarter and again hit the nine-point advantage with less than four minutes to play at 52-43. The Suns led 62-53 at half and build a lead as big as 14 points in the third.

Just as the Clippers did last Wednesday, Oklahoma City wasn’t going to fold.

Hornacek worried about sounding like a broken record against Los Angeles, but the Suns must have learned something from the last time their lead wilted. All night long, they bullied the Thunder with their bench unit, and it quickly got Oklahoma City in the penalty during the fourth quarter.

As usual, the man leading the physical Phoenix effort was P.J. Tucker, who scored a career-high 22 points, grabbed seven rebounds and added two blocks and two steals while holding — excuse the word choice — Kevin Durant to 38 points on 13-of-28 shooting.

It was a steal by Bledsoe on Durant that led to Tucker running down a ball with 43 seconds left. Tucker’s dive on the floor forced Fisher to foul to stop the game clock, and the two free throws giving the Suns a 117-112 lead secured their second-to-last home game of the year.

Dave Dulberg asked a few questions before the game, and here’s they were answered.

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Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder (55-20) at Phoenix Suns (45-31)

Posted by on April 6th, 10:00 am

Time: 6 p.m. MST






The phrase must-win has become rather trite in professional sports because its usage is often applied regardless of the situation.

With that said, that is essentially what faces the Phoenix Suns over the remainder of their regular season. The race for the final two spots in the Western Conference has come down to three teams (Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies and Suns), creating a margin of error that is slim to none.

Lose a 17-point lead at home against the Los Angeles Clippers. Move on.

Overcome a double-digit deficit on the road against the Portland Trail Blazers. Move on.

The Suns’ treacherous April schedule doesn’t leave room for any rear-view window watching. Every game comes attached with one goal: Survive and advance.

Surviving against Sunday’s opponent, the Oklahoma City Thunder, won’t be a cake walk by any means.

Although the Thunder, one of the odds-on favorites to represent the West in the NBA Finals come June, are playing their third game in four nights, Scott Brooks and Co. still have their eyes set on the No. 1 seed.

A loss Sunday in Phoenix coupled with a San Antonio win would all but nix any chance for Oklahoma City to secure home-court advantage throughout the first three rounds of the postseason, so Sunday’s clash means plenty to Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and friends.

Here’s a look at three questions that could go a long way in determining the outcome.

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Phoenix Suns 109, Porland Trail Blazers 93 — Green Week

Posted by on April 4th, 9:45 pm


Jeff Hornacek must have gotten the message across.

Two losses to the Los Angeles teams in a row made the Phoenix Suns able to see the end of their season on the horizon, but at first against the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday, it wasn’t clear whether they’d be able to harness the urgency in the right way.

But the wildest of wild cards of all people did just that, and his teammates followed him. Gerald Green came out gunning early, and it might have been described as chucking. At the end of a 109-93 win for the Suns in the Moda Center, Green had 32 points in catapulting his team to a crucial win, especially with the Grizzlies and Mavericks also winning on Friday night and keeping ahead of the Suns in the standings.

The first 36 minutes was a back-and-forth affair, and somehow the Suns kept pace with the Blazers. Phoenix pushed the pace and the guards made it clear they had no intentions other than to drive the ball into the paint. Sometimes it got them into trouble.

Hornacek’s squad forced a lot, but it always came with aggressive and sure intentions.

Phoenix scored 24 fastbreak points to Portland’s six.

The only issue was that the Suns struggled to finish their many looks in the paint. In the first half, they got 25 shots in the paint but hit just 10, all while holding Portland to just 12 shots in the paint. By the end of the game, Phoenix got off 50 shots in the paint to the Blazers’ 30, outscoring them there 48-32.

Eric Bledsoe added 30 points, a few blocks and some offensive boards, and Goran Dragic added another 19 for the Suns.

Phoenix trailed 80-79 heading to the fourth quarter, but unlike the pivotal minutes against the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday, they didn’t shy away from the pressure. Green threw a lob pass to himself off the backboard for a dunk, then hit a transition three-pointer to cap a 7-0 Suns run in the first 2:08 of the fourth quarter, which gave the men in purple a six-point lead.

Green added 14 more points in the fourth quarter, Bledsoe scored 12 more, and Phoenix outscored Portland 30-13 while holding the Blazers to 31 percent shooting.

To the pregame questions from today’s game preview.

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