Posted by Dave Dulberg 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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Tags: Gerald Green · Oklahoma City Thunder · Phoenix Suns Preview
Posted by Kevin Zimmerman 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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Tags: Phoenix Suns · Phoenix Suns Recap · Portland Trail Blazers
Posted by Kevin Zimmerman on April 4th, 8:00 am
Time: 7 p.m. MST
TV: FOX Sports Arizona Plus
Just more than a week ago, the Portland Trail Blazers looked like they might find themselves in the same predicament that the Phoenix Suns are in as they enter the Rose Garden on Friday night. LaMarcus Aldridge was injured, and All-Star point guard Damian Lillard didn’t have his best pick-and-roll mate, or any for that matter.
It was bigger than that.
Portland didn’t have the All-Star forward its entire offense revolved around, and Terry Stotts’ team went 3-8 from March 7 through March 25. To be fair, the first four losses of that streak came with Aldridge playing, but the snowball effect was a threat until he returned.
Aldridge has returned and with him, winning has too.
The Blazers host the Suns Friday on a four-game winning streak and with enough motivational memories of losing to Phoenix.
The Suns, meanwhile, could be on the brink of losing their psychological advantage that came in the form of youthful ignorance. They have played loose all along, as if they didn’t know the significance of their success. That was the case on Wednesday against the Los Angeles Clippers, but a lackadaisical approach ended poorly in blowing a 17-point second-half lead to fall.
The worse news is that Phoenix’s two competitors for the final two playoff spots, Dallas and Memphis, have been there before. On Thursday night, Dallas built a 12-point lead against the Clippers with less than five minutes to play but let it slip down to two points in the final minute. Unlike Phoenix, Dirk Nowitzki and Co. closed out the win.
The Blazers have a 2.5 lead on sixth-place Golden State in the playoff standings but have enough motivation to play well just a game back of fourth-place Houston. Earning homecourt advantage against the Rockets would be important, of course, so that’s the carrot dangling in front of Portland.
It’s a wonder if the Suns realize just how big their carrot is — or if they can see it at all. Jeff Hornacek is likely laying the reality out for his inexperienced team, but it’s about to be too late for them to learn how to react.
What am I looking for in the battle between Phoenix and Portland?
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Tags: Phoenix Suns Preview · Portland Trail Blazers
Posted by Kevin Zimmerman on April 3rd, 6:00 am
PHOENIX — Doc Rivers had a fight even before he arrived to U.S. Airways Center on Wednesday. He battled traffic from the Diamondbacks game next door en route to the game and was late to his pregame media session. When he finally made it, Rivers joked that baseball and basketball shouldn’t be played on the same day.
Suns coach Jeff Hornacek took a little longer than normal to make it to his postgame media session. When he arrived, there were no jokes and look on his face wasn’t defeat but frustration.
Phoenix had fought blow for blow with the Los Angeles Clippers, but after 17 lead changes and 12 ties fell 112-108, taking not only a painful punch to the gut, but perhaps a wound deep enough to keep the Suns out of the playoff race.
And it wasn’t that Los Angeles didn’t overcome adversity beyond Rivers’ traffic troubles.
Blake Griffin gave it a go despite suffering from a back injury, and it was quite clear how much he was limited. It said a lot that Channing Frye eventually began trying to take the laterally-limited Griffin off the dribble, and when Griffin struggled to finish shots through contact.
Los Angeles overcame a depth-less roster, Griffin’s stiff back, two technicals and a 17-point lead in the third quarter. And that’s why Hornacek looked so pained.
“We’re telling (the Suns) at the timeout that we got to get the ball up the court quicker. We’re trying to run a play. By the time we got into the play there’s 13 seconds left on the shotclock,” he said. “Maybe that’s a conditioning thing for some of the guys. They’re not able to play the 40 minutes like some of these other guys.
“Looked like Chris Paul had all the energy in the world at the end of the game.”
It’s hard to take because the Suns know they have it in them.
This wasn’t a game because Phoenix was playing out of its mind. It was a playoff-style back-and-forth, and the Suns just couldn’t respond when their lead became a two-point deficit.
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Tags: Goran Dragic · Phoenix Suns Analysis
Posted by Kevin Zimmerman on April 2nd, 10:12 pm
PHOENIX – During the game on Wednesday night Chris Paul didn’t get under Goran Dragic’s skin, but he sure got under his jersey. And when it was all said and done, the Los Angeles Clippers point guard likely got under coach Jeff Hornacek’s skin.
Paul propelled Los Angeles to a 112-108 win with 20 points and nine assists. He frustrated Dragic into a 2-for-11 shooting night, and though The Dragon scored 11 of his 15 points at the foul stripe, the damage was done. Paul also hit the go-ahead shot, a deep three-pointer at the end of a shot clock that gave Los Angeles a 108-106 lead with less than two minutes to play.
The Suns put eight players into double-figures and played lively defense.
But even an injured Blake Griffin scored 23 points, tying guard Darren Collison for the game high.
The effort from Phoenix, in general, was more spirited than the loss to the Lakers on Sunday.
Phoenix finally got forward Channing Frye involved in the third quarter, when he hit a three-pointer, his first bucket of the game, 2:30 into the second half. Two minutes later, he drilled another three that gave the Suns a 76-69 lead, their largest to that point.
P.J. Tucker also came alive in the second half, grabbing nine rebounds and scoring eight points to follow up his quiet prior six quarters.
The Suns lead grew to as many as 17, and they went into the fourth quarter with a 91-78 advantage thanks to holding Los Angeles to 18 third-quarter points.
Doc Rivers wanted revenge and went with a revenge lineup during the fourth quarter. He ran out Jared Dudley, and for the first time in the game, Hedo Turkoglu, to take it to their old Suns team, and the Clippers ripped down the double-digit lead and then some. The Suns lost the fourth quarter 34-17.
It would be Dudley, the former Sun, closing out the game on free throws as loose balls when the Clippers way and Phoenix struggled to get easy looks come crunch time.
Once again, the Suns failed to make headway in the playoff race. The Memphis Grizzlies lost 102-88 to the Minnesota Timberwolves, and the Golden State Warriors fell to the San Antonio Spurs 111-90.
To the pregame questions.
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Tags: Los Angeles Clippers · Phoenix Suns Recap
Posted by Kevin Zimmerman on April 2nd, 8:00 am
Time: 7 p.m. MST
A review of the Sunday night loss to the Los Angeles Lakers saw the Suns look almost perturbed in running back to match up against a fast-paced team, and even in the halfcourt, Phoenix seemed bothered if they needed to help their teammates from the weakside and annoyed when the Lakers scored when that didn’t happen.
It probably had Jeff Hornacek scratching his head, too.
This was an opportunity, maybe the Suns’ last one of the year. And they blew it, not because they didn’t match up well with Chris Kaman, the center who thrived despite recently clashing with his coach. It was all because the Suns didn’t appear to care about trying to stop him.
The effort excuse is used a lot in basketball, but usually it’s about an effort in focusing for every play, or the effort in trying to fix problems. But the Suns’ problems in a 115-99 loss that broke a six-game winning streak was about not running back hard enough and not racing to teammates’ aide when matchups were mixed up the a hectic race to the other end of the court.
If the Suns do the same Wednesday night at home against the Los Angeles Clippers, the result will be much, much worse for a team locked in the standings with the Memphis Grizzlies and a half-game ahead of the Dallas Mavericks, who fell in overtime to the Warriors on Tuesday.
Luckily for Phoenix, Los Angeles will probably not be at full strength.
Forward Blake Griffin, who scored 37 points against the Suns on March 10, a 112-105 Clippers win, is doubtful with a back injury, reports the Los Angeles Times. Bench spark plug Jamal Crawford is dealing with an Achilles injury.
Los Angeles’ last outing, a 114-104 win Monday against the Minnesota Timberwolves, was the third win in a row for the Clippers. Chris Paul, Darren Collison and DeAndre Jordan have still been plugging along, and though the bench is short, Doc Rivers’ crew won’t be an easy victory for Phoenix.
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Tags: Los Angeles Clippers · Phoenix Suns · Phoenix Suns Preview