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Suns’ stranglehold on No. 8 seed slipping away

Photo Credit: ESPN.com

Photo Credit: ESPN.com

The Phoenix Suns moved to 28-20 less than two weeks ago following a 99-93 victory over the Chicago Bulls. At that point, the Suns were 2½ games ahead of the New Orleans Pelicans and four games ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder for the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Now, Phoenix is just a game ahead of both teams, and all three squads have 25 losses on the season.

The gap has closed thanks to the Suns losing five of their last six games, with the latest loss a 127-118 defeat at the hands of the Houston Rockets. Phoenix clawed back from an early 18-point deficit to grab an eight-point lead in the third quarter, but there was no answer for James Harden. The MVP candidate scored 20 of his 40 points in the fourth quarter to send the Suns to another tough loss.

Harden is no stranger to sticking a dagger in Phoenix this season, as in addition to the 40 points he scored on Tuesday night, he scored 33 points and hit a buzzer-beater on Jan. 23. And like Harden is no stranger to putting out the Suns, Phoenix is no stranger to heartbreaking losses. That Harden buzzer-beater was the third time this season the Suns lost on a buzzer-beater, and since then, there have been two more brutal losses.

Phoenix blew a 101-94  lead in the final 1:49 against the Memphis Grizzlies on Feb. 2, and the choke was capped off by Jeff Green getting an offensive rebound and scoring the game-winning bucket with four seconds left. And then, just two games ago, DeMarcus Cousins buried the Suns with yet another buzzer-beater. So if you’re counting, that’s four losses at the buzzer this season, and Phoenix is also 2-9 in games decided by three points or less on the year. That’s certainly not ideal when you’re fighting to get into the postseason.

The Suns certainly aren’t done, because there’s a significant amount of talent on the roster, especially in the backcourt. Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe form one of the best backcourt duos in the NBA, and Isaiah Thomas has been a spark off the bench. Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek often likes to use all three together, and it has been effective, at least on offense. In the frontcourt, Markieff Morris has had a strong year, and Alex Len was coming into his own as the starting center before suffering an ankle injury. Len getting right could go a long way in determining how Phoenix finishes out the year.

The bad news for the Suns is the Thunder could be on the verge of figuring things out. Steven Adams’s hand injury is a tough blow, but Kevin Durant is healthy again and the offense is starting to hum. If Oklahoma City finds that groove, it could be all over for Phoenix, and New Orleans as well. At any rate, it should be a fun race.



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