The Phoenix Suns have had a successful season under rookie coach Jeff Hornacek, exceeding expectations by a wide margin while making a drastic improvement from a team that failed to finish over .500 for the last three years.
They’d like to cap it with a playoff berth, but they’re going to need some help.
Phoenix looks to prevent the visiting Memphis Grizzlies from securing a trip to the postseason while keeping its own playoff hopes alive Monday night.
The Suns’ 25 wins last season were their fewest since going 16-66 in their inaugural 1968-69 campaign, leading them to part with four of their top five scorers prior to 2013-14.
With Hornacek guiding the club in his first head coaching job, Phoenix (47-33) has turned things around and still has a chance to qualify for the playoffs in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
The Suns have made accomplishing that feat much more difficult by dropping their last two games, though, falling 112-104 to San Antonio on Friday before losing 101-98 to Dallas the following night.
Phoenix trails Memphis by one game for the final playoff spot with the Grizzlies holding the tiebreaker by virtue of winning the first three meetings of the season. The Suns would have to win this contest and Wednesday’s finale at Sacramento, and Memphis would have to lose to Dallas that same day in order for Phoenix to qualify.
"We’ve got to stay positive," said Eric Bledsoe, who scored 29 points against the Mavericks. "You could tell it was a playoff atmosphere (Saturday). I thought everybody laid it out on the court."
The Grizzlies (48-32) won their third straight game Sunday, 102-90 over the Los Angeles Lakers, to put themselves in position to clinch a fourth consecutive playoff appearance with a victory over Phoenix.
"They’re playing very well," guard Mike Conley said of the Suns. "These are the games we get up for."
Memphis can clinch at least the seventh seed by winning its final two. It trails Golden State by one game for sixth and could wind up in that position with a pair of wins and two Warriors losses.
"It’s going to be a good test to go to Phoenix and play a team that is fighting for the same goal and can get hot really quick," center Marc Gasol said.
Memphis outscored the Lakers 34-17 in the third quarter to break open a tight contest at halftime. Conley finished with 24 points, while Gasol added 18 and 15 rebounds.
"This was a good sign on how we finished out the game," said Tayshaun Prince, who scored nine points on 4-of-7 shooting. "I hope we can carry it over to tomorrow."
Conley has averaged 20.0 points and 9.0 assists in the three victories over Phoenix, including a 31-point effort in a 104-99 victory Jan. 10. His counterpart, Phoenix point guard Goran Dragic, has averaged 23.3 points in the defeats.
Dragic, though, has been nursing a sprained left ankle that caused him to sit out against the Spurs. He hit only 6 of 18 from the field and finished with 15 points and four turnovers against the Mavericks.
Phoenix has dropped the last two meetings at home with Memphis after winning 11 of the previous 13.