Considering their challenging season-ending slate, the Phoenix Suns may need Gerald Green’s hot shooting to continue in order to reach the playoffs for the first time in four years.
The schedule won’t get any easier Sunday night when they host the Oklahoma City Thunder with Kevin Durant looking to extend his torrid scoring streak.
Phoenix (45-31) is tied with Memphis for eighth place in the Western Conference with Dallas a half-game ahead of both. However, the Grizzlies hold the tiebreaker over the Suns by virtue of winning the teams’ first three matchups, and they’ll meet again in Phoenix on April 14.
Besides that tilt and Sunday’s contest against Oklahoma City, the Suns other’ four games will come on the road, including visits to Dallas and first-place San Antonio.
"Our destiny is in our own hands, because we still play Dallas and Memphis," said Goran Dragic, averaging a team-leading 20.4 points this season but shooting 32.6 percent over his last three contests. "Those two games are going to be really huge for us. Win those games and it’s going to be really close."
Phoenix has won nine of 12, with Green going 30 of 65 (46.2 percent) from 3-point range in the last 11. He was 4 of 7 on Friday as the Suns improved to 7-0 when he has at least 28 points, scoring 32 in a 109-93 win at Portland while Eric Bledsoe had a season-high 30.
"There are times when you go, ‘Uh, oh, what are we going to see next?’" coach Jeff Hornacek said of Green. "He got a little wild, but he feels nobody can ever stop him. That’s the confidence he has."
Green went 13 of 23 from beyond the arc as the Suns split the first two matchups with Oklahoma City, and he had a career-high 41 points as Phoenix snapped its 11-game skid in the series with a 128-122 home victory March 6.
That marked the most points surrendered by the Thunder (55-20) in a regulation game since a 133-120 defeat at Golden State on Feb. 21, 2009.
Oklahoma City, 3 1/2 games behind San Antonio for the West lead, had limited opponents to 99.1 points per game during a 7-1 stretch prior to Friday’s 111-107 loss at Houston.
While Durant’s 28 points were topped by former teammate James Harden’s 39, it marked Durant’s 40th consecutive game with at least 25 points. That matches Michael Jordan’s streak in 1988-89 as the third-longest in NBA history.
Durant, who tallied 67 points over the first two meetings with Phoenix, is also averaging a career-high 5.6 assists. His improved penchant for playmaking has been crucial with Russell Westbrook’s injuries limiting him to 41 games.
"He’s more mature. He’s more comfortable with himself and has a better understanding of the game," teammate Nick Collison said of Durant, who is averaging 5.1 assists since the start of last season after averaging 2.8 over his first five NBA campaigns.
"And now, he’s not just thinking about how he’s playing, he’s thinking about how the team’s playing: What can he do to help other guys?”
Westbrook sat out Friday’s loss as it was the second night of a back-to-back. He scored a season-high 36 in last month’s loss to Phoenix while barely missing a triple-double with nine rebounds and nine assists in addition to four steals.
The Suns are 29 of 64 from 3-point range in the season series while the Thunder are 15 for 61.