That’s what it has come down to entering the final week of the regular season. For the Suns to make the playoffs, they must beat Memphis tonight and Sacramento on Wednesday while hoping the Grizzlies also lose their home finale against playoff-bound Dallas on Wednesday.
The first step takes place tonight. Phoenix will try to beat a team they have yet to overcome this season, though they will have a desperate home crowd and motivation behind them. That, among other things, will factor into the outcome.
Get Crowd Going
A hot start could give the Suns the jolt they need after draining back-to-back road losses. Phoenix has won the last pair of first periods against Memphis, both by four points.
The status of Goran Dragic’s ankle will play a huge role in this regard. The Slovenian playmaker is tied for 11th in the league and leads the team in first-quarter scoring (6.5 ppg).
Protect the Paint
It’s a hard thing to ask any team to keep likes of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol out of the key.
Yet that’s what Phoenix must do against a team that ranks second in the league in offensive rebounding percentage and fourth in points in the paint.
The most important assignment for Miles Plumlee, Channing Frye and the rest of the Suns’ bigs will be the simple act of boxing out – every possession.
The younger of the Morris twins has seen his shot go awry in recent weeks. Marcus has scored in double-figures just once over the last five games, while totaling just 15 in the other four.
The Suns have been able to count on the consistency of his mid-range game to add some scoring punch off the bench, especially in the second half of the season. They will need more of that to sustain a consistent offense against a stifling Grizzlies team.
Get Davis Down
Ed Davis is a Memphis reserve. He averages just over 15 minutes per game and less than six point and five boards per contest.
He also likes playing the Suns, obliterating his season averages by posting 15.7 points, 13.3 reboundsa nd 1.7 blocks in the 3 games against Phoenix this season.
Gasol and Randolph may indeed “get theirs.” The Suns need to prevent Davis from taking more.
In their last three losses, the Suns have led by 17, 21 and 13, respectively. They have, in stretches, proven capable of playing on a clearly superior level to their opponents.
For whatever reason, the fourth quarter has seen Phoenix perform a complete 180. In their three losses this month, they have been outscored by an average of 8.7 points in the fourth, shot just 36.1 percent (including 19.0 percent from three) and committed four turnovers per fourth period
Phoenix needs to forget all that, change it, turn it upside down and close out the game – and season – strong.