Suns Ready to 'Scratch, Claw' in Final Stretch

Barry Gossage/NBAE

The NBA Playoffs aren’t a single-elimination tournament.

The Suns are approaching their last eight regular season games like they are.

Phoenix has seen its playoff positioning change on a nightly basis depending on what they, Dallas and Memphis do down the stretch (you can track all that here).

The players know this. Goran Dragic admitted last week one of the first questions after their own game is how their playoff-chasing competition fared.

At the end of the day, however, Phoenix knows it’s done well enough this season to control its own destiny.

“It’s the most important two weeks of basketball probably in all of our careers,” Gerald Green said.

That’s not an outlandish claim. Goran Dragic and Channing Frye played in largely reserve roles during the Suns’ trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2010. Both are now starters and form one of the most lethal pick-and-roll tandems in the league.

The story is similar for most of their teammates. Green and Miles Plumlee were little-used reserves for last year’s Pacers team that went to the conference finals. Eric Bledsoe backed up Chris Paul, who has yet to get the Clippers out of the first round.

Others have yet to taste the playoff atmosphere for themselves, including P.J. Tucker, the Morris twins and, obviously, rookies Archie Goodwin and Alex Len.

Yet despite the team’s relative lack of postseason experience, Head Coach Jeff Hornacek is asking them to approach each of these last games as if they were, in fact, playoff games.

“We’re at the point where you’ve got to scratch, claw and do whatever it takes to get wins,” he said.

“We have to play these last few games like they’re first-round games,” Hornacek added.

While effort has always been Hornacek’s first request for his players, it has taken on a greater significance during the Suns’ stretch run. The head coach repeatedly responds to questions about matchups, X’s and O’s with energy-based solutions. “Boxing out.” “Solid team defense.” “Playing our game.”

Not that Hornacek is overly concerned about motivation at this point. He sees first-hand the excitement over a big win, the frustration after a loss.

Now? He sees the hunger to finish what they started.

“We know what’s on the line,” Hornacek said.