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So, do you think the Suns will squeeze into the postseason?
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Time: 5:30 p.m. MST
From friend to foe in less than 24 hours, such is the life these days in the wacky and wild Western Conference.
Thursday night, the San Antonio Spurs did their part with a 109-100 road victory over the Dallas Mavericks, which temporarily allowed the Phoenix Suns to leapfrog into seventh place by percentage points.
Friday night, those same Spurs will be looking to lock up the top seed out West, showing no concern in the process for the Suns’ aspirations of reaching the postseason for the first time since 2009-10.
Phoenix has one regular season win at the AT&T Center over the last four campaigns, and the building has regularly served as a house of horrors for the purple and orange.
The last time the two teams met in the River City, the Suns squandered a late one-point lead in the waning moments en route to a 99-96 defeat.
While there’s plenty more at stake Friday — Spurs can secure home-court advantage for the entire playoffs and the Suns can lay claim to the No. 7 seed all by themselves — concerns about whether either squad will be at full strength remain at the forefront.
Here’s a look at three questions heading into Phoenix’s first leg of the all-important, Texas two-step:
Will Goran Dragic play? And if he does, how does he get around on the ankle?
AZCentral.com’s Paul Coro was the bearer of bad news late Thursday, announcing that Suns guard Goran Dragic would be questionable for the contest after spraining his left ankle.
On the surface, it’s hard to imagine Dragic missing the biggest game of the year to date. Then again, Saturday’s tussle in Dallas is just as important if not more so than a showdown in San Antonio.
Do the Suns rest their leading scorer in the hopes of keeping him fresh for the following night or does “The Dragon” find a way to make his 75th start of the season?
If a hobbled Dragic does play, staying with either Patty Mills or Cory Joseph will be intriguing to say the least.
Across the Internet, Thursdays have turned into Throwback Thursdays, where social media users and abusers post old pictures of themselves. ValleyoftheSuns has decided to jump into the Phoenix Suns’ past to remember some of the best, worst and weirdest moments in franchise history.
Date: February 27, 2013
Place: AT&T Center, San Antonio
Set-up: For this week’s Throwback Thursday, we go back to last season. Why you might ask? Because before the present-day incarnation of the Suns take on the San Antonio Spurs Friday in the biggest road game to date, they need not look any further than the hapless 25-57 squad that pulled off an unexpected victory in the River City.
Johnson’s shot: Heading into their third contest of the 2012-13 regular season, the Suns and Spurs looked to be a far cry from the two rival organizations that battled six times in the postseason from 2000-10. By their final matchup of the campaign, Phoenix was limping in 20 games under .500, while San Antonio was gearing up for the postseason having won 18 straight games at home.
After jumping out to an early lead, the Suns could never seem to get control of the game over the next three-plus quarters. The Spurs held double-digit leads on a handful of occasions, but up until the final minutes of the game they were more than content to lead by an arms distance of six, seven or eight points.
But down by seven with a little more than three minutes to play, Jermaine O’Neal and Marcus Morris took over for Phoenix. The duo scored eleven straight points down the stretch to pull the Suns to within four with 11 seconds remaining.
Goran Dragic would whittle that lead down even further with a short jumper, setting the stage for a wild final few seconds.
Trailing 99-97 with four ticks still on the clock, Morris immediately fouled Manu Ginobili following Dragic’s shot. Despite being a career 83-percent shooter from the charity stripe, the Spurs guard missed the second of his two attempts from the line.
Without a timeout, O’Neal corralled the rebound and immediately heaved the ball down court. Swingman Wesley Johnson, who was one of five players around the paint at the time of the free throw attempt, managed to get all the way down court in time for the pass. In one fluid motion, he rose up from right of the arc and drained a 24-footer in the face of Tiago Splitter as time expired.
Aftermath: Although the Suns’ bench celebrated the buzzer-beater as if it won the team an NBA championship, they would need overtime to get past the vaunted Spurs. And as it turns out, the extra session didn’t turn out to be all that difficult. San Antonio went on to miss all eight shot attempts in overtime, and Phoenix pulled off the unlikely win by a final of 105-101.
O’Neal finished with an impressive double-double (22 points and 13 rebounds) off the pine, and Dragic also pitched in with 13 points and 13 assists.
The regular season win marked the Suns’ first at the AT&T Center since Oct. 29, 2008.
We’ll start with the bad. The Suns gave up 44 points in the paint to a Pelicans team that was missing Anthony Davis. Davis sat out the game with back spasms, but that didn’t stop New Orleans from dominating around the rim. Rookie Jeff Withey led the Pelicans with 17 points, nearly all of which came on uncontested dunks and layups. The Suns’ defense was so lacking that in the second quarter, New Orleans shot 78% from the floor. Miles Plumlee was totally absent as a rim protector, recording no blocks and grabbing only six rebounds. New Orleans was missing all but one of their opening day starters, yet Phoenix’s porous defense allowed the Pelicans’ reserves to score 53 of the team’s 88 points and made guys like Anthony Morrow and Luke Babbitt look like All Stars. Tonight’s game was just another example of the Suns playing down to the level of their competition. Luckily the Suns have three tough opponents coming up, so Coach Hornacek won’t need to worry about his team’s nasty habit for another week.
Offensively, Phoenix played well aside from some poor shot selection by the Morris twins and continued hesitancy from Channing Frye. Goran Dragic captained the ship well throughout the game, keeping the team afloat with 20 points and nine assists and steadying the ship every time the home team threatened to put the Suns in a hole. P.J. Tucker was a rock, as usual, scoring 15 points on just nine shots and grabbing a team-high nine boards. Overall, the Suns shots nearly 49% from the floor, hit nine of their 19 attempts from downtown, and turned the ball over just 12 times. But it was not an offensive performance they’ll be rushing to watch on film anytime soon.
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.
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.