"Patience, young grasshopper. You have not yet learned all the ways of the pick and roll."

Over the last couple of weeks, the Suns have had several "must-win" games. They've won some of them and lost a couple, yet here they are still alive and within two games of both the 7th and 8th playoff spots with eight games left to play. The Earth has continued to spin on its axis and revolve around the small "s" sun, and simple math tells us that the Phoenix Suns are very much alive and kicking. Maybe the term "must-win" is a bit overused?

Nevertheless, tonight's game versus the Houston Rockets is indeed critical to the Suns' playoff hopes. This will be the final meeting between the teams, with Rockets having won the first two and the Suns prevailing in the most recent matchup last month. A loss would put the Suns three games behind Houston and would clinch the tiebreaker advantage for the Rockets, while a win would lift the Suns to within one game and tie the season series at two.

No game is truly a "must-win" until we start talking about elimination games and we're not there yet. But a three game plus tiebreaker (so, effectively four game) deficit with seven remaining would require a near miracle to overcome. This will be the most important game of the season so far, and a loss would probably mean the end of games of escalating importance. But tonight, the Suns don't need to win five or six of eight, or win both of a back to back in Texas. All they have to do is beat the Rockets, a completely manageable task. Then it will be on to the next one.

Let's break it down after the jump.

When the Suns last played the Rockets, Kevin Martin and Kyle Lowry were out with injury, Goran Dragic was backed up by Courtney Fortson (a player so highly regarded that he played in a nameless uniform that night), Michael Redd scored a season-high 25 and the Suns rolled to a 99-86 win. It marked the first time this season the Suns made it over .500 at 23-22 and placed them only 1/2 game behind the 8th playoff spot.

Unfortunately, the Suns have been treading water since then, while their competitors for that final spot, the Rockets included, have fared a bit better. Dragic went all Jeremy Lin on the league in Lowry's absence, helping the Rockets win all four games of a crucial road trip and earning Player of the Week honors.

I've heard Dragic used to play for the Suns and that he was traded in a move that might not have met with the complete approval of the entire fan base, but I can't recall any particularly memorable performances from him in his time as a Sun, nor any teenage girls who spoke of him as if he were one of the Fab Four in 1964, so I assume he was a nondescript sort during his time in Phoenix.

Lowry returned to the Rockets this week, giving them a potent one-two punch at point guard, although he and Dragic combined to shoot 6-21 in the team's Wednesday loss to the Jazz. Dragic remains the starter, but the Suns can expect to see plenty of both players. It will require solid performances from Steve Nash and the suddenly very valuable Sebastian Telfair in one of the game's key matchups, as the Rockets have two starting-quality PGs.

As a team, the Rockets sit around the middle of the league by virtually every measure: 14th in O-rating, 14th in D-rating, 13th in pace. They continue to miss their leading scorer Kevin Martin, out for the last month with a torn labrum in his shoulder. It's impressive that they've been able to have success this past month while missing their starting backcourt, as head coach Kevin McHale has done an excellent job molding this team in his first season in Houston.

For the Suns, again, this game has the highest stakes, so expect them to hold nothing back. They should play with fire and urgency from the opening tip. Grant Hill is expected back just two weeks after surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee, and his likely return brings questions about the Suns starting line-up. Will Hill start? If so, will Shannon Brown return to the bench? Or Jared Dudley? Stay tuned to BSotS for updates as we get closer to game-time.

As for Hill, former Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich once famously said: "Don't ever underestimate the heart of a champion." Hill might not have an NBA championship ring on his finger, but he certainly has the heart of a champion. His teammates will need to demonstrate the same tonight.

Nervous? Excited? I'm ready to have a lot of fun watching a great basketball game. And, of course, gaining a game in the playoff race.

UPDATE 04/13/12 3:36PM MST: Grant Hill will play but not start tonight, according to Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic.

Hill will return to action on Friday the 13th and play at Houston tonight, just two weeks after knee surgery. Hill last played a March 25 but his white jersey at shootaround indicates that he will come off the bench tonight for the first time since Terry Porter started Matt Barnes in front of him in November and early December of 2008.
“Good to go, ready to go,” Hill declared after shootaround today.

Expected starters:

PG Steve Nash vs. Goran Dragic

SG Shannon Brown vs. Courtney Lee

SF Jared Dudley vs. Chandler Parsons

PF Channing Frye vs. Luis Scola

C Marcin Gortat vs. Marcus Camby

FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
Kevin Martin 40 31.6 5.6 13.4 41.3 2.0 5.6 34.7 4.0 4.5 89.4 0.3 2.3 2.7 2.8 1.8 0.7 0.1 1.8 17.1
Luis Scola 58 31.3 6.8 13.7 49.6 0.0 0.0 0.0 2.3 2.9 76.6 1.9 4.7 6.6 2.1 2.4 0.5 0.4 3.2 15.8
Kyle Lowry 41 34.3 4.9 11.6 42.0 1.8 4.6 38.4 3.9 4.5 86.4 0.9 4.2 5.1 7.0 3.1 1.7 0.3 2.9 15.4
Courtney Lee 50 29.2 4.2 9.5 44.1 1.4 3.4 39.5 1.3 1.5 85.5 0.4 2.2 2.6 1.5 1.0 1.1 0.3 1.6 11.0
Goran Dragic 58 25.3 3.9 8.5 46.3 1.0 2.8 34.8 2.1 2.6 79.6 0.7 1.7 2.4 5.0 2.2 1.2 0.2 2.3 10.9
Chandler Parsons 56 28.3 3.8 8.4 45.6 0.9 2.6 33.6 0.6 1.2 52.2 1.4 3.4 4.8 2.2 1.3 1.1 0.5 2.3 9.2
Chase Budinger 50 21.3 3.3 7.6 43.4 1.3 3.3 40.1 0.9 1.2 79.3 0.7 3.0 3.7 1.2 0.9 0.5 0.1 1.1 8.9
Samuel Dalembert 58 23.2 3.3 6.4 51.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.3 1.6 81.5 2.5 4.7 7.1 0.6 1.3 0.6 1.7 2.6 7.8
Patrick Patterson 56 22.6 3.5 7.9 44.3 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.7 0.9 74.0 1.7 2.6 4.3 0.7 0.6 0.4 0.6 1.7 7.6
Earl Boykins 6 15.0 1.8 5.2 35.5 0.3 1.0 33.3 1.7 1.8 90.9 0.0 1.3 1.3 2.7 1.2 0.2 0.0 0.8 5.7
Marcus Camby 53 22.7 2.0 4.5 44.5 0.0 0.1 50.0 0.5 1.1 46.6 2.6 6.2 8.9 1.7 1.0 0.8 1.5 2.2 4.5
Courtney Fortson 9 9.1 1.1 3.1 35.7 0.2 1.2 18.2 1.0 1.4 69.2 0.7 0.9 1.6 1.0 1.0 0.2 0.0 0.6 3.4
Marcus Morris 13 6.5 0.6 2.5 24.2 0.1 0.7 11.1 0.5 0.6 75.0 0.4 0.2 0.6 0.1 0.3 0.1 0.1 0.6 1.8
Greg Smith 7 7.0 0.4 0.7 60.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.3 1.1 1.4 0.0 0.1 0.1 0.7 2.1 0.9

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Phoenix Suns 112, Houston Rockets 105 The Phoenix Suns’ loss in Denver last Friday severely crippled their playoff hopes. A loss tonight in Houston would serve as their knockout punch for all...

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Apr 11, 2012; Memphis, TN, USA; Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea and singer Anthony Kiedis watch the game between the Memphis Grizzlies and Phoenix Suns at the FedEx Forum.  Memphis defeated Phoenix 104-93.  Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-US PRESSWIRE

The Suns road to the playoffs hit a big bump in the form of the Memphis Grizzlies but they're not dead yet. This week we discuss that, Grant Hill's pending return to the lineup, and "mow over" some other happenings in the NBA.

Hosted by Bryan Gibberman and Seth Pollack and presented by Arizona Sports 620 and SB Nation Arizona.

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Keep pushing, Steve! Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE.

It's Friday the 13th! Don't be scared, but I'd watch my back if I were you ...

Nothing scary to report on the playoff standings this morning, at least, as only the higher and lower seeds played last night. Memphis followed up it's big win over Phoenix with a loss to San Antonio, the Clippers beat Minny and Dallas beat Golden State.

Here's the standings today:


The Suns are still two games back of anything, but this weekend will tell a whole lot about the Suns' future. While the Suns are playing tough roadies, the other teams bunched around the Suns will play some tough games as well.

Suns face Houston, while Utah faces New Orleans (with Gordon) and Denver faces the Lakers. Hope for good news tonight.

Steve Nash, Assistant GM

Steve Nash has made it public that he wants to return to the Phoenix Suns. But there is a caveat. He wants some more talent to play with. Nash's feelings are clearly understandable. It would make very little sense for him to sign on for the remainder of his career carrying a .500 or less ball club on his creaky back for 82 games.

We have all understood that ever since the brief Porter/Shaq debacle that the front office has realized that keeping Steven happy is an excellent policy to maintain. Now more than ever the idea rings true. The Suns, with no starting PG waiting in the wings are stuck creating organizational decisions based on the desires of their 38-year old future Hall of Fame point guard.

It's pretty clear that Nash is as close to a player/GM as there is in the league. As such, this off season should be busy for the Phoenix Suns. There are a few dollars in the coffer and plenty of needs on the court. The question I am considering is:

"Who of the current Suns on expiring deals does Steve Nash want to bring back for next season?"

  • Shannon Brown - Brown came to Phoenix to play next to Steve Nash with the hopes of having a career year and thus, cash in. Who could blame him? After losing the 2 guard spot to Jared Dudley out of camp, Brown started the season slow and ugly. Yet since being inserted into the starting lineup, Brown has been the go to scorer for the Suns. He's scored in double figures in 10 straight games. He's young, athletic, a finisher. The Suns could do a lot worse than Brown as their starting 2 guard. Problem is, he's going to want 3-5 years and a significant pay increase. I would like to bring him back, but he may not be worth what he asks (just a hunch).
  • Sebastian Telfair - Not unlike Brown, Telfair started slow, and at times was absolutely awful. He struggled to find his shot and create for teammates. Watching Bassy dribble off 18 seconds of the shot clock and then hoist up brick after brick was infuriating. But he's been more consistent in the second half of the season, his defense is tenacious, and while he still has the tendency to dribble too much, he has shown signs that he could be a decent PG off the pine. Thing is, you have to figure he'll see more and more court time as Nash ages. Can he improve as Nash declines? I would think Bassy is tired of moving around, team to team. I'm thinking he'd love to stay for a few more years, and he'd continue to be pretty cheap. I wouldn't mind bringing him back.
  • Grant Hill - BAMF wants to continue playing. And if he does, you can bet Nash wants to play with him. But how many games do you expect him to play over the next few years? If it's a condition of Nash returning, it's a non-issue. Pay him fairly with incentives for numbers and games played. He is a defensive specialist and still a very good player. You have to bring him back.
  • Michael Redd - this is an interesting one. He's bound to be cheap instant offense off the bench along with veteran leadership. Again we're talking huge injury risk. But another 1 year deal with an option could work. I could see Redd wanting to stay with Aaron Nelson, Gentry, Nash and Hill. Still, he doesn't add to the Suns youth. Let him go.
  • Ronnie Price - You fill out your roster with Ronnie Price on the cheap. I like his defense, but thats about it. He was a one year rental. Let him go.
  • Robin Lopez - a big man with some skills is hard to come by. Robin didn't get his extension mid year, and it's understandable due to performance and behavior. He didn't get dealt at the trade deadline, which could mean that the Suns want to evaluate him based on a full, healthy season before deciding what he's worth. Or, it could mean no one was all that interested. He seems to have settled in to his back up role. I see Lopez maturing and solidifying the second unit up front. With his injury history he could be a career backup, playing 15 minutes per game. And that may suit him and the Suns just fine. Re-sign him.
Those are Wil's thoughts. But what does Steve Nash want?

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