The Suns have won 11 of their last 14 games, but still find themselves in the thick of a final playoff reace with less than a week remaining in the regular season.
In order to keep their main competition – Dallas, Memphis – at bay, Phoenix will need to win at San Antonio on Friday night. The Spurs have gone just 1-2 since their 19-game winning streak, losing to the Thunder and, most recently, the Timberwolves heading into Thursday night’s Texas tilt against Dallas.
Can the Suns top the 60-win Spurs for the second time this season? Five things will play a role in the answer.
Playoff Race vs. Playoff Rest
The Spurs are on the verge of clinching the No. 1 seed out West, but they’ve made no secret of their preference to rest their older stars late in the season. Tony Parker (back) did not play in their recent two-game road swing, and Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili logged just 35 minutes combined at Minnesota.
Meanwhile Phoenix is fighting for its playoff life, which shows in its stars’ minutes. Goran Dragic is averaging 39.4 minutes over the last five games. Sixth Man of the Year candidate Markieff Morris is logging nearly 30 per contest off the bench over that same span.
The energy levels for each team will be interesting to note over the entire 48 minutes.
The Suns have leaned heavily on their slash-and-shoot game over the last three wins. Draggic, Gerald Green and Eric Bledsoe have averaged a combined 68.7 points per contest in that span, with each of them shooting at least 50 percent from the field. That’s not including P.J. Tucker, who ranks fourth on the team in scoring over that same stretch.
Phoenix would like to get its frontcourt back in the action if the opportunity presents itself. Markieff Morris is the only post player to average double-figure scoring (10.7 ppg) over the last three games.
Beat Them Early
The Suns escaped New Orleans with a win despite letting an injury-ravaged Pelicans team hang around and even lead at times.
The Spurs are a different animal, particularly when the game is close. Of the 28 games they have played when the score is five points apart or closer in the last five minutes, San Antonio has won 21 of them.
State of Offense
48.4 percent shooting. 41.3 percent from three. 108.3 points per contest.
The Suns’ offense has hummed to near-perfection during their three-game win streak, but it will be tested against a Spurs defense that ranks fifth in points allowed and opponent shooting percentage and fourth in defensive rating.
Over their recent 1-2 stretch, the Spurs’ trademark execution has taken a hit. San Antonio is turning the ball over an average of 17 times per contest in that span.
Phoenix, which is tied for first in fast break points per game, could use those micues as fuel for its offense. Bledsoe (seven steals in three games) is a likely candidate to spearhead that effort.