Recapping the NBA action affecting the Suns race for the playoffs.

Some of you may remember a few years back in the days when the Suns didn't stop their season and go on vacation after 82 games when the esteemed Wil Cantrell and I used to write daily recaps of the Western Conference playoff race.  Apparently Dave was looking to do something like that again and since he hates you guys almost as much as he loves being dense he's asked me to pitch in and since the Brooklyn Nine-Nine season just ended I need an outlet to vent my many feelings.

This will be pretty simple.  I'll give you a quick recap of the relevant games from the previous night, the current standings, and the relevant games for that night.  I'll show you the standings for the entire Western Conference but for our purposes I consider key or relevant games to be only those involving the Suns, Mavericks, Blazers, Grizzlies, and Warriors.  It will all be heavily biased.

Tuesday March 25th Key Western Conference Results:

Orlando Magic 95 Portland Trail Blazers 85 (Recap) - Coming into last night's action the Magicians had lost an impressive 9 consecutive games.  Included in those 9 were losses to the Bucks, Jazz, and Lakers - which is basically the Bermuda Triangle of NBA defeats.  Despite all that, Orlando got huge performances from both Nikola Vucevic (22 points, 10 rebounds on 10/18 shooting) and Tobias Harris (25 points, 11 rebounds, 10/15 shooting) while the LaMarcus Aldridge-less Blazers shot a paltry 37.2% from the field - all that was a recipe for a terrible Portland loss.  The defeat put Portland just 2.5 games clear of missing the playoffs entirely - impressive considering their 24-5 start to the season.  I would not be opposed to Portland continuing their 1964 Phillies-esque collapse.

Dallas Mavericks 128 Oklahoma City Thunder 119 (Recap) -  Honestly Oklahoma City, you guys are a just a bunch of jerks.  For the second time in 9 days the NBA's deans of sneering and preening dropped a game to the Suns closest playoff competition.  In this episode they got 43 points from Kevin Durant but it wasn't enough to overcome 15 threes from the Mavericks - including 6 from Jose Calderon.  Dirk Nowitzki (who I try to hate but can't) put up a line of 32 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, and 4 steals to lead the Mavs.  I'm still mad that Oklahoma City failed to pull down a rebound up 3 with 29 seconds left.  Fortunately the Mavs and Thunder do not play each other for the remainder of the season because if they did I assume Scott Brooks would give us 48 minutes of Perry Jones while giving Kevin Durant a 2 hour nap.  I hate the Thunder.

Current Western Conference Standings:

TEAM W L PCT GB L10 STREAK
1.San Antonio
54 16 .771 - 10-0 WON 14
2. Oklahoma City
52 19 .732 2.5
6-4 LOST 1
3. LA Clippers
50 21 .704 4.5 9-1 WON 2
4. Houston 48 22 .686 6 7-3 WON 4
5. Portland 
45 27 .625 10 3-7 LOST 3
6. Golden State
44 27 .620 10.5 7-3 LOST 1
7. Memphis 
42 28 .600 12 8-2 WON 2
8. Dallas
43 29 .597 12
7-3 WON 1
- SUNS
42 29 .592 12.5 6-4 WON 4

Wednesday March 26th Western Conference Games of Significance:

Suns @ Wizards -  Ordinarily going 2-1 on a road trip would be considered a really good thing.  Ordinarily you don't need to win 50 games to make the playoffs.  Shut Marcin Gortat up.

Grizzlies @ Jazz -  Utah is in last place in the Western Conference and playing without their second leading scorer in Alec Burks.  Best we can probably hope for here is divine intervention.


Winners of four straight, the Suns rose percentage points above the Mavericks for the #8 position in the hyper-competitive West before watching the Mavs topple the Thunder in OT last night. Thanks for nothing, Thunder! Tonight in Washington, the Suns aim to reclaim the #8 spot vs. John Wall, former Sun Marcin Gortat, and the Wizards.

Riding a 6 win out of 7 streak after bottoming out with an embarrassing home loss to the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers, the Phoenix Suns (42-29) appear to have successfully reintegrated budding star Eric Bledsoe since his return two weeks ago from knee surgery. While Gerald Green filled in admirably during Bledsoe's absence, including a few spectacular outings, this Suns team needs a fully healthy roster to have a chance to make the playoffs and do some damage in the extremely competitive Western Conference.

The Eastern Conference, in which the Washington Wizards (36-34) play, is a different story. For comparison's sake, the Wiz would be sitting 6 games out of the final spot in the West, yet are currently the #6 seed in the East. Still, the Wiz are an improved team this season, and look like a virtual lock to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008 behind not as good as Dragic first time All-Star John Wall and former Suns center Marcin Gortat.

Wall and Bradley Beal give the Wiz a quality, young guard tandem around which to build, but the bulk of the rest of the team is comprised of middling veterans such as Trevor Ariza, Nene Hilario (injured again), our old friend Gortat, "The Polish (Quote) Machine," and disappointing youngsters Chris Singleton and Otto Porter.

Pole Position

Gortat is having a typical season for him, averaging 12.8 points and 9.4 rebounds on 53% FG shooting in 32.9 minutes per game, while also playing solid if unspectacular defense. Those stats are right in line with his career/36 minutes stats. What you see is what you get with Gortat; there aren't many surprises except for when he opens his mouth and makes an ill-advised comment to the media regarding his role, teammates, etc. Come to think of it, that isn't surprising anymore either.

As I'm sure Suns fans remember well, Gortat was traded, along with Shannon Brown, Kendall Marshall and Malcolm Lee, to the Wizards for the Wizards' top 12-protected first round draft pick this season, and the insured, expiring contract of injured Emeka Okafor, who will miss the entire season. At the time, the trade was hailed as a coup for wundkerkind Ryan McDonough in acquiring a first round pick out of Gortat, who was almost certain to depart after his contract expires this summer.

That made sense for a Suns team with its eyes firmly on future seasons more than the current one, but then a strange thing happened. The Suns wound up enjoying more success than anyone forecast, and started to look like a contender for one of the lower playoff seeds, only missing a piece here and there to make a serious push. One of the missing pieces was an extra center to rebound and anchor the interior defense once Miles Plumlee hit a wall after a fast start, and rookie Alex Len looked as raw as expected.

Food for thought: how much better would the Suns be with Gortat on the roster, taking minutes from the not yet ready Len and the erratic Plumlee? Many Suns fans were willing to surrender a first round pick for a big man at the trade deadline. What if they had kept the solid center they already had instead of trading him for a first rounder? Personally, I still think the Suns made the correct move, even though it has cost them this season. It's a question worthy of consideration.

What to watch for

This will not be an easy game for the Suns. The Wiz are an average team overall, but they have a few talented players, and are able to light it up from behind the arc with Ariza, Beal and Martell Webster, boasting the league's 2nd ranked 3-point % at .386. One of the major areas of improvement between the disaster of last season's Suns and impressive rise this season has been 3-point defense. They surrender only .339% to their opponents, also good for 2nd in the league. If the Suns can stymie the Wizards' 3-point shooting, and win the battle from behind the arc overall, expect a fifth straight victory.

Time: 4:00 pm MST TV: FSAZ The 1971-72 Phoenix Suns won 49 games and missed the playoffs.  Now that was at a time when the NBA had fewer teams and fewer playoffs spots, but nevertheless, that same...

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Over and over again, the Phoenix Suns rise from the ashes to retake playoff position from more experienced teams as the season winds down. Today, the Suns are back into the 8th spot earlier than most had predicted.

Thanks to a tiebreaker that is momentarily in effect, the Phoenix Suns are back in the 8th spot in the playoff chase, just ahead of Dallas thanks to having a better Western Conference record.

Both teams are 42-29, but the Suns are better against the West so far so they are in the 8th spot for now. Dallas faces a brutal schedule for the next week, while the Suns have to keep winning on the road before closing out against their own brutality of schedule. Dallas faces the Thunder, Golden State and play two against the Clippers in their next five games. Sound familiar? It's that stretch that knocked the Suns out of position earlier.

A guest writer, fantasy basketball money leagues, posted a very good article today analyzing whether the Suns can make it. Spoiler alert: there's a reason I promoted the fanpost to the top of the site.

The Borg?

When the Suns do make the playoffs, guess who they are most likely to match up against? The San Antonio Spurs, no less.

The Spurs keep trucking along, now fighting to win their 15th straight game despite regularly resting their stars. Guess who was the last team the Spurs lost to?

You're right, it was the Suns. By a whopping 21 points. The Spurs were resting Tony Parker in that game, and were at the end of a 9-game road trip. Otherwise, the Spurs beat the Suns the two times they'd met earlier in the season.

A first round matchup against the Spurs would be poetic. While the Spurs dominated the Suns in the mid-2000s, knocking the Suns from the playoffs in 2005, 2007 and 2008, the Suns swept the Spurs in 2010. That was the last time the Suns made the playoffs while the Spurs have made it each year and reached the Finals in 2013.

Whither the Blazers?

A crazy thought is that the Suns might not have to make the playoffs ahead of either Memphis or Dallas. They just might be the ones to knock Portland from the playoffs. The Suns are only three games behind Portland now, who are reeling in the second half and playing even worse without LcMarcus Aldridge. The Blazers' slide began before Aldridge was sidelined, though, so there's no guarantee they will win a bunch of games once he comes back.

Risen again

Let's savor this for a moment, Suns fans.

Three times now, the Phoenix Suns have pushed back against their doubters this season to take a playoff position in the tough Western Conference.

First, the Suns killed it in December, winning 10 of 13 games and getting as high as 7th with a 19-11 record after pasting the Los Angeles Clippers in LA on December 30.  The Suns were never supposed to be good enough to win anything but the lottery.

Second, when Eric Bledsoe went down to long-term injury the pundits again predicted the Suns' demise. They said the mirage would fade, and the Suns would go back to resembling the Sixers. But no, the Suns treaded water without their second best player and kept their playoff position for two full months behind the Dragon.

A third time the Suns were left for dead happened just two weeks ago when the Suns lost a series of games in advance of Eric Bledsoe's return that dropped them to the 9th spot with a looming road-heavy schedule to close out the year. No way the Suns make it, they said. A loss to Cleveland at home seemed to staple the Suns "RIP" sign to their chests.

Yet, just two weeks later the Suns have won 6 of 7 games since Eric Bledsoe returned to the starting lineup, and now are right back into the playoff picture with small window to widen their hold on the position before the gauntlet of the final 2 weeks faces them.

Hold tight

Going into April with a hold on playoff position is vital, but this team has already proven they can beat anyone on any night and that they do not shy from pressure. Since when has such an inexperienced team held up so well under pressure?

Ladies and gentlemen, meet your Phoenix Suns.

#ignited

Coach Hornacek approves of what his team is doing right now. Or maybe that is a play call... Either way here is the Center of the Sun with the weekly recap, draft update, stats, quotes, and a preview of the week ahead.

How do you define the Phoenix Suns (42-29) recent four game winning streak? Was it a simple case of "doing what they were supposed to do?" Or a turning point in the season...? Different eyes are going to see different things. One thing is for certain: This past week the Suns pulled their heads fully above water and are neck-and-neck in this playoff race.

Game Recaps

@ Brooklyn Nets - L (95-108) Full Recap

vs. Orlando Magic - W (109-93) Full Recap

vs. Detroit Pistons - W (98-92) Full Recap

@ Minnesota Timberwolves - W (127-120) Full Recap

@ Atlanta Hawks - W (102-95) Full Recap

Either way, this was an important week for the Suns and so is next week. More on that below. The Suns took care of business and that is what matters the most right now. They needed these wins.

The Memphis Grizzlies have gone 27-9 as of late and look like a team that could run all the way up to the No. 4 Seed if they keep this up. They also have a five game road trip starting this week that could benefit the Suns. The Dallas Mavericks this season have only lost more than two games in a row once. A three game losing streak to start this month off. They are a model of pretty consistent basketball for a team that is fighting for the eighth and final playoff spot out west. They get to sit back at home for four straight, three of which against playoff teams, all in conference.

So for the Suns beating bad teams now is important for the final stretch where they only have two under .500 opponent on the schedule (Sacramento & New Orleans) and six Western Conference Playoff contenders to deal with after this current week.

Goran Dragic's comment after the Detroit win (see below) was the right approach for every opponent the Suns play over the next three weeks. They are all good. They are all talented. And the Suns have to remember that nightly.

Part of that is going to be the return of Eric Bledsoe to where he was as one of the NBA's Most Improved Players and another part of it is the play of the bench.

This past week Markieff Morris and Gerald Green played very well. Morris (17.6 PPG 64% shooting) and Green (14.0 PPG 49% shooting) found their rhythm and chemistry providing a spark off the bench. Sam for Ish Smith, Alex Len, and the rest of the reserves.

When that unit contributes the way they have as of late this is a dynamic offense with waves of scorers to throw at opponents. When they are not... Well, that is a very different story.

Overall the team controls their own destiny and cannot worry about what Memphis does on their road trip or how Dallas serves up home cooking during their stand. All that matters is how the Phoenix Suns do in their games and everything else will take care of itself. Well, a little help from the Basketball God's wouldn't hurt...

Key Stat

> 45%

In all four wins this week the Suns are holding their opponents to under 45% shooting from the field. They are playing a more desperate and urgent brand of basketball as of late allowing them to compete on both sides of the court. This is not going to become a great defensive team overnight, but they have to be competitive down the stretch here to even consider catching Dallas, Memphis, or Golden State in the standings.

Quote of the Week

They are a good team. They have won only 25 games, but still if you look at their roster they have good players. I think we went into the game especially remembering that game in Detroit when we were down 25 points and tried to come back. Tonight, I think we played well for some parts of the time, but we still had a lot of problems especially getting big guys out of the paint and getting rebounds. -- Goran Dragic on the Pistons

2014 NBA Draft Update

Surrogate Watch continues and the Suns have three first round picks with the current projections, with their own pick landing in the lottery. Sort of what most thought in the pre-season, but not quite the pace from those projections. Here is the update on how the three picks look right now:

Minnesota Timberwolves (34-35) -- No. 12 Overall (Pick stays in Minnesota based on Protections) Aaron Harrison, Freshman Guard Kentucky

Phoenix Suns (42-29) -- No. 23 Overall (Pick stays in Phoenix based on Protections) Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Freshman Wing Arizona

Washington Wizards (36-34) -- No. 19 Overall (Pick goes to Phoenix based on Protections) Clint Capela, Swiss Forward 1994 Born

Indiana Pacers (51-20) -- No. 30 Overall (Pick goes to Phoenix based on Protections) Jabari Bird, Freshman Wing California

Keep following along here to get updates and information on the 2014 NBA Draft Class and more.

Suns History Lesson

This week in Suns History: March 31st, 1992 -- Cotton Fitzsimmons won his 800th game becoming only the 6th Coach in NBA History to reach that amount of wins.

Previewing the Week Ahead:

Wednesday, March 26th @ Washington Wizards (36-34)

Friday, March 28th vs. New York Knicks (29-41)

Sunday, March 30th @ Los Angeles Lakers (23-46)

The Suns can easily pick up where they left off rattling off wins against the middle to bottom of the league. A switch flipped for them after the loss to Brooklyn and they are winning the games playoff teams have to win to be playoff teams. On the season they are a combined 2-3 against these three with all three wins coming against the "rival" Lakers. A double-dip along the yellow brick road to the playoffs of a season sweep of the Lakers and a pace keeping win would be a sweet feat.

All three games have an emotional and rational significance to the Suns with the Lakers being the Lakers, Marcin Gortat on the Wizards, and that buzzer-beater by J.R. Smith a year ago... We all remember.

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