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.

With four straight wins, including tonight’s 107-92 victory over the Atlanta Hawks, the Phoenix Suns have officially ended their streak of three straight losing seasons. 42 wins is a big number for a...

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Are you a Frye Guy or a Mo' Bro?

Why not both?!

Channing Frye and Markieff Morris both came to play tonight, combining for 35 points on 13-21 shooting while playing engaged defense on Paul Millsap.  Millsap still managed 19 points, but did it on 6-14 shooting.  Frye chipped in 7 boards while Markieff managed 3 in the 102-95 Suns' victory.

Not to be out done, Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragi? scored 20 and 19 of their own points in a solid Suns' victory.  Aside from a cold stretch in the second quarter, Phoenix looked focused and composed throughout the game, never rattling in the face of the Atlanta Hawks' mulitple attempts to steal this game.  This was the smoothest Phoenix's offense has looked since Bledsoe returned from knee surgery and is hopefully a harbinger of things to come.

This was a solid effort by Phoenix and hopefully a bit of a breather for Suns fans after their recent struggles to notch wins.  Not that you'd know they'd been struggling as they've now won 4 in a row and 5 of their last 6!  You know who never struggles (except on fast breaks)?  P.J. Tucker.  That dude just plays his game night in and night out.  Tonight it was 8 points, 11 rebounds and 3 steals for the heart of the Phoenix Suns, who like Tucker, never quit in this game.  His defensive intensity was contagious as the Suns held the normally hot-shooting Hawks to 41.7% shooting.

For the Hawks, DeMarre Carrol matched Millsap's 19 points, while Jeff Teague and Louis Williams had 17 each.  And despite some early domination on the glass, Phoenix managed to out rebound the Hawks' aggressive front line, 39-32.

First Half

Hot shooting and good defense got the Suns off to an 15-7 advantage as Atlanta missed their first 6 shots while the Suns hit their first four 3-pointers.  It did not last long as Paul Millsap and Elton Brand went to work to tie the game with 2 minutes left in the first quarter.  Channing Frye and Lou Williams then exchanged 3 pointers before both teams forgot how to play basket ball for the next 90 seconds.  Gerald Green was then fouled on a drive and hit a pair of free throws to extend the lead to 25-23 to end the quarter.

The second quarter started with Atlanta scoring on their first 2 possessions to take a 2-point lead.  The Hawks stretched their lead to 7 behind some strong play from Louis Williams before Marcus Morris and Channing Frye hit back-to-back threes to close the gap to 1.  An Eric Bledsoe free throw completed the 7-0 run to tie the ball game with 5 minutes left in the period.  Atlanta bested the Suns on the boards 20-18 (5-3 on the offensive end) which lead to multiple second chances and a 3-point halftime lead despite being out-shot by Phoenix 41.2% to 40.5%.

Second Half

After getting abused on the boards early, Phoenix remembered their fundamentals and fought back to take the lead a few minutes into the third quarter.  Goran Dragi? and Eric Bledsoe were aggressive going to the hoop, drawing fouls when they weren't getting lay-ins.  The penetration of DragonBlade was so effective that Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer drew a technical after an uncontested Bledsoe lay-up.  His T was for naught as the Bledsoe-Dragi? lay-up line continued unabated as the Suns outscored Atlanta 35-23 in the third with 23 of those points coming from DragonBlade.

Phoenix looked to keep the momentum going in the 4th, but a cold spell allowed Atlanta to climb back within 4 early in the period.  Gerald Green, who went to the bench early with foul trouble, made his presence felt to keep the Suns from succumbing to the feisty Hawks scoring 9 points in the 4th quarter.  After extending the lead to 10, Phoenix started playing not to lose and working the shot clock with just over 4 minutes left in the game.  The lack of aggression allowed Atlanta to make it way more of a game than it needed to be.  Nevertheless, solid defensive play and steady shooting allowed Phoenix to hold on for the win.

Time: 4:30 pm MST TV: FSAZ The Minnesota-Atlanta back-to-back is one of the hardest trips in the NBA. But after yesterday’s comeback win over the Timberwolves, the Suns could be on the Siberia-London...

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The Phoenix Suns have won 10 more games than the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA season thus far. And yet, Atlanta holds a 3 game cushion for the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference while the Suns are fighting tooth and nail for their first post-season action in 3 seasons. Such is the talent gap between the East and West. Tonight is a chance for Phoenix to emphasize that gap.

The Opponent - Atlanta Hawks

Phoenix beat Atlanta in a track meet earlier this month, 129-120. Despite both teams being on the second night of a back-to-back, given the Hawks' propensity for giving up points (17th in defensive rating), it would be fair to expect more of the same. Atlanta has been streakier than Channing Frye, losing 6 in a row then winning 5 in a row before dropping their last 2 straight. It's probably no coincidence that the last 2 losses have come without ace 3-point shooter Kyle Korver in the line-up. He is listed as day-to-day with back spasms and could miss tonight's game. That would be a boon for Phoenix.

The Suns' frontcourt will have its hands full with Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll, both of whom have played well in the absence of Al Horford this season. Millsap is both Atlanta's leading scorer and rebounder since Horford went down. The way Phoenix has been hemorrhaging points in the paint, I would expect the Hawks to go to him early and often. It will be the Suns' first time playing against Millsap as he missed the first game with Phoenix due to a knee injury.

The Suns

Phoenix has won their last 3 games despite inconsistent play at both ends of the court. This has moved them to within a half-game of both the Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies (who hold a tie-break over the Suns). This is a should-win game for a team sorely in need of them.

Eric Bledsoe's strong return should continue with a match-up against the Hawks' Jeff Teague. In the last game against the Suns, Teague looked All-NBA, with 29 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds. Bledsoe's on-ball defense should prevent a repeat of that performance. Additionally, the Suns should be able to generate some serious offense against an Atlanta team that ranks in the bottom half of the league in both opponent FG% and 3PT%.

The Stats

Note: For the Hawks, I've used the statistical leaders who are expected to be available for tonight's game.


The Lineups


Key Match-Up

The Hawks' Undersized Backcourt vs. The Suns' Undersized Backcourt - It's not often Phoenix plays a team that runs out a pair of 6'3" or shorter guards in their starting five, but that's just what Atlanta has in Jeff Teague and Shelvin Mack. With Bledsoe matching up with Teague, Goran Dragi? should run wild on Mack. Unless Kyle Korver plays, in which case, the backcourt match-ups will become something of a chess game between Jeff Hornacek and Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer.

And as mentioned above, Channing Frye and Markieff Morris will be tasked with checking Paul Millsap. Frye is the better rim defender (allowing 51.9% at the rim vs. 56.0% for Morris), but Morris is more mobile. If the Suns can find their defensive intensity and limit the rest of the Hawks, then maybe Millsap gets his and the Suns win anyway.

The Prediction

No bones about it, this should be a Phoenix win going away, especially if Korver doesn't play. But since nothing has been a given with this team, I think it will be another close and high-scoring affair. 113-107, Suns

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