They are the Suns, who — after the Dallas Mavericks fell Wednesday night — check in as the seventh seed in the NBA’s mighty Western Conference. Sitting at 12-9 and defying expectations unloaded by, well, pretty much everyone but themselves, the Suns also are on the cusp of a three-game home stand.
But after taking down the Lakers in Los Angeles on Tuesday, venue doesn’t seem to matter, right?
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“I don’t think our guys, when they get between those lines, that it matters to them if they’re on the road or in the gym down the street,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “They’re going to play the same way.”
That’s certainly a solid approach, but at 6-6, the Suns trail all of the conference’s top six teams in winning percentage away from home. Perhaps the location matters to the other teams.
Regardless of how the Suns and the opposition approach each game, it can’t be bad to have three home games in a row. This stretch begins when the Sacramento Kings visit Friday, continues Sunday against the Golden State Warriors and concludes with a Wednesday challenge from the San Antonio Spurs.
“They’re big,” Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe said after Wednesday’s practice at US Airways Center. “They’re going to be tough games because they’re division games. We just have to fight through.”
Right, the first two of these home dates are Pacific Division tussles, and all three are within the conference.
Although the Kings have the worst record (6-14 after losing to the Utah Jazz on Wednesday) of the next three foes, they also are 2-0 against the Suns this season. The two Phoenix losses occurred over back-to-back nights (Nov. 19-20) but also happened when Sacramento’s team looked considerably different than it appears now.
Since then, the Kings have acquired former University of Arizona star Derrick Williams from the Minnesota Timberwolves and Rudy Gay in this week’s deal with the Toronto Raptors. Gay, who was held in check by Suns stopper P.J. Tucker a few nights ago, has yet to play for his new team.
Williams has played seven games as a King, during which time he’s averaged 13 points (on 54 percent shooting) and 5.4 rebounds. Sacramento is 2-5 during that span.
The absence of another former UA star has hurt the team scheduled to visit USAC on Sunday. Since losing Andre Iguodala, the Golden State Warriors are giving up almost eight more points per game than they were allowing with him. They did rally to knock off the Mavericks on Wednesday, lifting their record to 5-6 since Iguodala (left hamstring) was hurt. Golden State was 8-4 with Iggy.
The Warriors also have struggled to replace Jarrett Jack as a secondary ballhandler whose presence allowed sharpshooting point guard Steph Curry to work off the ball. Without Jack, the Golden State bench has slipped to 28th in the league for points produced per game.
Things are going a lot more smoothly for the San Antonio Spurs (17-4), who will be in Phoenix next Wednesday night. The Spurs own a three-point home victory over the Suns from back on Nov. 6. The Morris twins combined for 34 points in that contest, which registers as one of the few times Markieff and Marcus have thrived during the same game.
But — after we pointed out how rare this has been in a Monday story — it happened again Tuesday in L.A., when the twins combined to make 16 of 23 shots from the field and finished with 37 points.
That level of off-the-bench production often inspires Hornacek to close games with any reserve that has the hot hand.
“We’re just goin’ … we’re just playin,'” Marcus said. “Whoever’s going off the bench, that’s who we’re going to ride with.
“It’s all about winning. At the end of the day, it’s all about exceeding expectations.”
After taking on the Spurs, the Suns travel to Denver for a game with the Nuggets on Friday, play Dallas at home the next night and take on the Lakers in Phoenix two nights after that.
Rather than notice which teams are on their heels at the end of the playoff standard, let’s point out that the Suns are only one game behind the sixth-seeded Nuggets. With it hard to imagine the Suns falling anywhere near top-of-the-lottery level for the highly anticipated 2014 NBA Draft, why not set those expectations even higher?