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...

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The Washington Wizards just clinched a playoff berth, guaranteeing the Suns three first round picks in the 2014 NBA Draft.

When Suns general manager Ryan McDonough took over the Phoenix job, he immediately began unloading veterans and stockpiling draft picks. By the time the dust had settled, the Suns were left with four potential picks in the first round.

Now, with the season nearing its end, it is time to take a look at those draft picks and where they will end up.

Minnesota Pick

The pick acquired from Minnesota (Wes Johnson trade under Lance Blanks) is top 13 protected this year, meaning the Timberwolves have to finish in ninth place in the West for the Suns to get that pick. Currently, they are in 10th, 6.5 games back of the ninth-placed Suns with seven games left to play. Basically, Minnesota has to win out while the Suns have to lose the rest of their games.

The Suns have an important decision on their hands. Do they give up on their chase for the playoffs and instead play for that extra pick? It's never too late to start tanking. Can you imagine what McDonough could do with back to back picks at the end of the lottery?

Huh? No? OK then. Sorry folks, the Suns aren't getting this pick this year.

Targets projected in that range: Doesn't matter.

Washington Pick

This pick was acquired by McDonough in the Marcin Gortat trade, and with the Wizards clinching a spot in the playoffs this week, it officially belongs to the Suns. Currently, the Wizards are sitting at sixth in the East, and considering all the West playoff teams have a better record than they do it means the Suns would receive the 17th pick.

There is still some room for this to move around, however. The Wizards are 1.5 games back of the Brooklyn Nets and two games ahead of the Charlotte Bobcats with six games to play. That means the Suns are pretty much locked into the 16th, 17th or 18th spot.

So, the Suns traded for a top 12 protected pick an in the process sent back a player that would help ensure they would receive that pick. Shrewd move.

Targets projected in that range: DraftExpress - T.J. Warren (F, N.C State), Kyle Anderson (SF, UCLA), Montrezl Harrell (PF, Louisville); NBA Draft Insider - Adreian Payne (PF, Michigan State), Clint Capela (F, International), James Young (SF, Kentucky)

Indiana Pick

The Suns have already won this trade big time. Miles Plumlee has been a solid rotation player and Gerald Green has been even better than that, and all the Sun had to give up was Luis Scola. Now on top of that, the Suns are going to get a late first round pick.

The Pacers looked like the best team in the league (outside of when they played the Sun) for much of the season, but lately they've been free-falling, all the way back to the pack. Meanwhile, San Antonio just reeled of 19 in a row to take the best record in the league while Miami has passed them up in the East. The Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers have better records right now as well.

That is as far as they are probably going to fall, however, unless the Pacers continue to play poorly. The Houston Rockets, sitting with the sixth best record in the league, are three games back and Indiana has just six games left to play.

The Pacers aren't catching the Spurs, and it's very unlikely that they catch the Thunder. That means that pick is looking like it will be in the 26-28 range depending on how it shakes out between the Heat, Pacers and Clippers.

Targets projected in that range: DX - Rodney Hood (SF, Duke), Elfrid Payton (PG, Louisiana), Cleanthony Early (F, Wichita State); NBADI - Willie Cauley-Stein (C, Kentucky), Nik Stauskas (SG, Michigan), K.J. McDaniels (SF, Clemson)

Suns Pick

That leaves us with just the Suns' own pick, which actually has a wide range.

If the Suns miss the playoffs, they will be drafting at 14. The Timberwolves aren't catching them as I've already said and the East is the East. Whichever of Phoenix, Dallas and Memphis misses the playoffs is locked into the best record among lottery teams. At 14, they are very unlikely to move up.

Targets projected in that range: DX - Doug McDermott (F, Creighton), Tyler Ennis (PG, Syracuse), Gary Harris (SG, Michigan State); NBADI - Jerami Grant (SF, Syracuse), Dario Saric (SF, International), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

If the Suns make the playoffs, whether it is as a 7 or an 8 seed, they are going to jump ahead of the lower half of the Eastern playoff teams. Depending on how Toronto and Chicago finish, the Suns could end up in the 18-22 range.

Targets projected in that range: DX - P.J. Hairston (SG, NBADL/North Carolina); NBADI - Sam Dekker (SF, Wisconsin), Zach Lavine (SG, UCLA)

Phoenix also has a mid-second round pick, so go ahead and plug in your favorite decorated senior or pick the craziest draft and stash international name for this spot.

Hopefully this gives you a better idea for what to watch for (in addition to the playoff race). The Suns basically have three picks in the second half of the first round, and you can look at all of the players from 10-35 or so on your favorite mock draft to see who the Suns might draft. A package-and-trade up move is also very possible, as three guaranteed rookie contracts is a lot to take on for a team with an already full roster.

No matter how things shake out, we can all have confidence knowing Ryan McDonough is the man making the decisions.

A three game losing steak in this type of situation is quite undesirable, but that is what Phoenix is staring in the face as they travel to Portland. I expect to see a reinvigorated team after they got plenty of rest in the fourth quarter of their collapse against the Clippers.

I've decided to deviate slightly from the rigid format that I've followed on my game previews this season. I can be latitudinarian in the same way the Suns are completely flexible in the effort they've been giving lately.

In tribute to the Suns last two performances I first mused over mailing in the entire preview. But then I remembered the last game and figured I could at least write 75% of a captivating, engaging article before completely derailing and letting it devolve into a literary Blazers fan. I kid.

I've heard people talking about these already being playoff games. If the Suns are going to perform like they did against the Lakers and Clippers in the real playoffs then I'm not necessarily too interested in watching them play an extra four games... Instead I like to refer to these dandies as play in games. That sounds much more better.

Tonight's opponent, the Portland Trail Blazers, holds a special place in my cold, dead heart. Even though the pieces are different from seasons past it just gives me a warm glow of smug satisfaction when Phoenix trounces Portland that I just don't get with a victory over a team like the Rockets or Warriors. Beating them on their home court given the stakes would make writing a victory recap slightly more enjoyable than the alternative.

Speaking of home courts, I take exception to Willy and his "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet" gibberish since Moda Center sounds like a misguided case of naming rights going down the wrong path. In fact, I think switching from the elegance of the Rose Garden (which is just pretty cool) to the current Moda Center travesty sounds like a cruel prank the fans here in Phoenix would play on their buddies from (pick your favorite nickname) Stumptown, PDX, Rose City, Bridgetown, Beervana, Little Beirut, Potland, Munich on the Willamette, Rip City, Hipster Hollow, South Vancouver.

Yes, with all that great material to sift through they still came up with Moda Center. What the hell is a Moda with them?

I should probably put in here somewhere that tonight's game is at 10:00 pm EST (7:00 local) and will be televised on Fox Sports Arizona Plus. I actually got an email about this so it seems like there may be some change from the regular programming (due to Diamondbacks games?). To be perfectly honest I'm not really sure. The message listed a bunch of cable providers and the channels, but I'm not going to taint this preview (that is going so swimmingly) by cluttering it with a bunch of what will most likely turn out to be useless pertinent information. Just keep in mind that the game may not be on its regular channel. This probably does not affect those of you that are pirating illegal feeds to the game online.

After everything seemed roseate when the Suns were taking care of business against a soft spot in the schedule and rolling off six straight wins, the recent two game skid has drawn the ire of coach Jeff Hornacek as he seems to be hinting that one or more of a combination of Suns players that includes everyone not named P.J. Tucker and Goran Dragic are lacking focus/energy/heart. While Goran would appear to be above reproach in the effort department he has been more than culpable in the losses that have made him a great source of distraught quotes on the team's putrid play and the resulting playoff implications.

Coming off of an excellent effort against the Knicks, 32 points on 11-17 shooting, Dragic had his worst shooting percentage in consecutive games this season by combining to shoot 8-27 from the field. Eric Bledsoe has also struggled in only scoring 12 points per game and committing a total of nine turnovers while only dishing out seven assists. His uncoordinated drive at the end of the game against the Clippers where he had trouble turning the corner, couldn't elevate over Jared Dudley and had his shot blocked from behind by Darren Collison (which resulted in the ball bouncing off of him out of bounds while he was in the supine position) was very unslashy.

These two need to play better.

Speaking of playing better, Portland has regained traction after they appeared to be flirting with a spectacularly catastrophic slide out of the playoffs. Who knew that getting LaMarcus Aldridge back would help? They've now won four straight after a 3-8 stretch that had them creeping towards the bottom of the playoff picture. Aldridge has two games with at least 25 points and 15 rebounds during the win streak.

Portland and Phoenix have met up three times earlier this season (all before December) with the Suns (twice in blowout fashion) and the Blazers (once in a tight game) protecting their stomping grounds. Given the nature of those contests, and the fact that games in November are very useful as predictive tools for outcomes in April, I feel pretty confident in assuming that the Suns are in prime position for a win tonight. If the game is close, though, my advice would be to at least pretend to guard Damian Lillard in the waning moments. Just a thought.

The Suns are now 24-12 in games that Bledsoe has played this season (since people seem to love this stat). Rumors of his impact on the defensive end may be greatly overexaggerated, though, after they have been razed in their last two games.

I'm thinking the Suns are going to have to win at least two (my guess is three if they also go 2-0 at home) of these road games down the stretch to slink into the playoffs, so no reason to squander an opportunity to get one of those tonight. I'd prefer not to fall behind again from this point on. Speaking of squandered opportunities, I found it rather unpleasant to hear Doc Rivers say that if Phoenix would have kept up the pressure on the Clippers through the first part of the grease fire that fourth quarter turned into he would have never even subbed his starters back in to get them some rest.

Instead we helped get them all tuckered out so they wouldn't be able to complete the improbable comeback against Dallas last night like they just managed to do against us.

So that was nice.

There has been plenty of quippy banter circulating lately over the season being a success regardless of the outcome of these last seven games and how a consolation prize of moving up into the lottery would help assuage the wounded pride of falling just short... But I'm of the opinion that the Suns need to get their *&%^ together and make the playoffs.

They have set my expectations based on what they've done this season and I know their expectations are that they can do this. They're definitely capable based on their performance. I know they can do it.  They know they can do it. All that's left is to... well, do it.

So, yes the season is still a success, and yes, getting McMiracle an extra six or seven spots up the draft board will give him a greater purview come draft day, but I will still be disappointed if these guys come up just short after everything they've accomplished this season because they will have failed to realize their potential given this final opportunity.

Which would suck.

So... I'm going to pick the Suns to win tonight.

**Mostly because that's what I want to happen and without really scrutinizing exact reasons why or parsing data to come up with some kind of supportable reason.

I liked the Clippers better when they sucked.

Anyone have a friend or relative that used to be pretty cool but then either made a bunch of money or got a bunch of power and became a totally different person?  Well that friend or relative is the LA Clippers.

Remember the good ol' days when Loy Vaught passed for the best player on a team and Benoit Benjamin got regular playing time?  Those were fun times.  Well now the Clippers are a bunch of jerks that hate cooperating with a Phoenix team trying to make the playoffs.

First they show up and act like terrible guests in rallying from 17 down to beat the Suns, and then they return home and lose to the Clippers.

Doc Rivers isn't even a real doctor.

Thursday April 3rd Key Western Conference Results:

Dallas Mavericks 113 Los Angeles Clippers 107 (Recap) - Like we didn't see this coming.  When the Clippers took a 4 point lead in the middle of the third quarter I was thinking maybe they wouldn't let me down.  When they rallied to tie the game at 89 with 8:44 to go in the 4th I was again injected with a little bit of hope.  Then in a move I can only assume they learned from the Suns, they stopped playing for about 5 minutes.  After that 5 minutes they trailed by 12 with 3:24 left.  A furious rally had they draw with 2 points of Dallas and actually get two separate open three point attempts to take the lead - but a returning J.J. Redick and Darren Collison missed their shots and the Mavericks garnered an enormous road win.  Dirk Nowtizki had 26 points and 11 boards for the Mavs while Vince Carter added 16 points - including 4 three pointers - in an effort that makes me want to change my sig.

Cliff Paul isn't real, jumping over a Kia isn't really that impressive (hell Marko Milic did something similar), and Jared Dudley is fat again.

Bleh.

Current Western Conference Standings:

TEAM W L PCT GB L10 STREAK
1.San Antonio
59 17 .776 - 9-1 LOST 1
2. Oklahoma City
55 19 .743 3
8-2 WON 3
3. LA Clippers
54 23 .701 5.5 7-3 LOST 1
4. Houston 49 25 .662 9 5-5 LOST 3
5. Portland
49 27 .645 10 6-4 WON 4
6. Golden State
46 29 .613 12.5 5-5 LOST 1
7. Dallas
45 31 .592 14 6-4 WON 1
8. Memphis
44 31 .587 14.5
6-4 LOST 1
- SUNS
44 31 .587 15 7-3 LOST 2

Friday April 4th Western Conference Games of Significance:

Suns @ Trail Blazers: The last time the Suns were in Portland they opened the lane so wide for a Damian Lillard game winner that you'd think the play was blown dead:

Fun play, huh?

I know it's a road game against a team that has been playing great basketball since LaMarcus Aldridge returned from his latest injury but if the Suns have designs on ending their playoff drought they're going to need to find a way tonight.

Nuggets @ Grizzlies: The Nuggets hung nice and tough with the Grizzlies earlier this week which hopefully bodes well for tonight's matchup.  Unfortunately this game will be in Memphis.  On the plus side since missing a game tying three pointer the other night Timofey Mosgov is shooting a scorching 50% from three point range.

Kings @ Warriors:  I know the Suns are only two back of Golden State but the Dubs are pretty much done with the competitive portion of their schedule.  I'd be pretty surprised if they didn't cruise by a Kings team that hasn't beaten a good West team on the road since the calendar flipped to 2014.

Mavericks @ Lakers:  Back to back games are rarely easy but it helps when you don't have to get on a plane and are playing the Lakers.  Maybe the playoff tested Mavericks will take the Western Conference's 2nd worst team lightly - and maybe Captain America will lose in his latest sequel.

You're all thinking it so I'm just gonna say it -  with our playoff foes playing bottom feeders and the Suns in Portland, today could be a really, really bad night for the Suns playoff hopes.


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...

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