Phoenix sits a game and a half behind the Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies for the final spot in the Western Conference playoff race, but the path to the postseason is harder than it seems. The Suns are two games behind Memphis in the loss column, and since they lost the season series, have to make up three games to pass the Grizzlies.
Dallas plays eight of its final 13 contests against teams that are above .500. Phoenix has eight of its final 14 against teams with a winning record. The Mavs and Suns are set to meet on April 12 in a matchup that will decide the season series that is currently tied at 1-1.
"We put the playoff picture up there now," explained head coach Jeff Hornacek. "We stress they have to play at every game. Every play is important and just that emphasis that you've got to lay it all out there. Sometimes it's hard and guys kind of have to go through it to figure it out."
Memphis has won six of seven and Dallas is 5-2 in its last seven games. The Suns themselves have won three of four on the heels of a tough three-game losing streak.
"Every team is turning it up," said Hornacek. "It's playoff basketball right now even though we're not in the playoffs yet. That's how these last bunch of games always are. You've got to be focused on basketball the whole time. You've got to start thinking about if from the second you wake up when we go over plays to really have that focus in when you see that happening we do the proper things."
Suns guard Goran Dragic is one of the team's three rotation players who have seen significant time in a playoff series before, along with Eric Bledsoe and Channing Frye. Leandro Barbosa is hurt, while Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee took in the Pacers' run last year from the bench.
"He just said look we have to get back to being the old Suns," Dragic said about Hornacek's advice. "In the middle of the season, our defense was really good and we have to get back to that track. The last quarter of (Wednesday) night's game was good defensively and we have to at least play like that for 35 minutes and try to get to 40. If we can do that, we will be in good shape."
Hollinger's playoff odds on ESPN.com indicate Memphis would be the easiest team for the Suns to pass. Dallas has an 85.4 percent chance to make the postseason followed by 80.3 percent for the Grizzlies. The Suns sit at 28.9 percent.
Phoenix has 14 games to prove the numbers and odds wrong.