Suns-Hawks Preview

The Phoenix Suns have a much better record than the Atlanta Hawks, but they’re in the wrong conference as far as what it will take to gain a playoff spot.

The Hawks are holding onto the eighth and final Eastern Conference spot while the visiting Suns are trying to move into at least that position in the West heading into Monday night’s matchup in Atlanta.

Phoenix (41-29) is trying to beat out either Golden State, Dallas or Memphis for one of the final three spots in the West to cap a successful season after being the conference’s worst team a season ago.

Atlanta (31-37) is in position for a seventh straight playoff berth, leading ninth-place New York by three games in the East.

The Suns are 17-10 against the East while the Hawks are 10-17 versus the West. That includes Phoenix’s 129-120 home win March 2 behind Gerald Green’s 33 points.

It marked the most points allowed by Atlanta all season.

The Hawks played that contest without Paul Millsap, who averages a team-high 17.9 points. Phoenix was without Eric Bledsoe, who is averaging 17.4 points during an injury-plagued campaign. Both have since returned.

The Suns opened this three-game trip with Sunday’s thrilling 127-120 victory over Minnesota. They completed their biggest comeback of the season, rallying from 22 points down.

”I’m always proud of the way they come back at the end of games, they never give up," coach Jeff Hornacek said. "We were playing horribly for a half, maybe partway into the third quarter and somehow they ended up pulling that game out.”

Markieff Morris scored 25 points, Bledsoe added 21 and P.J. Tucker chipped in with 19 as the Suns shot a season-high 57.5 percent.

”If we want to be contenders and be in the playoffs, we got to start showing it by winning these kind of games," Tucker said. ”We came out and played in the second half.”

Atlanta also was on the other end of a comeback Sunday, letting a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter slip away in a 96-86 defeat at Toronto. The Hawks also blew an eight-point second-half lead in Friday’s 111-105 home loss to New Orleans.

”We just lose our focus down the stretch,” Millsap said about Sunday’s defeat. ”I feel like we had it for three quarters. Fourth quarter, another letdown.”

Millsap and DeMarre Carroll each scored 17 points against the Raptors, who outscored the Hawks 36-15 in the fourth quarter.

”We just weren’t able to make enough plays down the stretch,” coach Mike Budenholzer said. ”Our execution wasn’t good enough and they made more plays.”

Atlanta sharpshooter Kyle Korver’s status is unclear after he missed his second straight game Sunday due to back spasms. Shelvin Mack has totaled 25 points while taking his place in the lineup.

The Hawks lead the NBA with 66.8 of their baskets coming off assists while the Suns are last in that department at 49.6. Phoenix averages 105.5 points while Atlanta averages 101.6.