The Phoenix Suns have been on track for the majority of 2013-14 to make the Western Conference Playoffs.
Unfortunately, after losing three out of their last four games, they currently find themselves a half-game behind the surging Memphis Grizzlies for the final spot in the West.
The last four contests — two versus the Los Angeles Clippers and one each against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors — were against teams that are likely to earn a spot in the postseason.
“That was a brutal stretch that we just came out of,” said Suns general manager Ryan McDonough on the Burns & Gambo show Tuesday on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “Going into it, realistically I think we would have been very happy with a split. You know, we got one out of the four games, so we’re a little behind where we wanted to be.”
It does, however, get a little easier from here — at least until the end of the month. The Suns will face eight Eastern Conference teams over the next 10 games up until the end of March. Those next 10 opponents have a combined record of 275-355 (.437 winning percentage).
If the Suns want to give themselves a good shot at making the playoffs, the time to strike is now.
“I think the rest of March will be very important for us,” McDonough said. “We have a lot of games that at least on paper are winnable, and we’ll probably be favored in a majority of them. And then our schedule gets difficult in April.
“So I think we need to go into April either even (with the Grizzlies) or hopefully with a little bit of cushion, because if you look at that April schedule, there are a lot of good teams on there — a lot of the top Western playoff teams. And it would be tough to make up ground if we go into the month of April behind where we want to be.”
The 36-27 Suns open up April against the Clippers, Portland Trail Blazers and the Thunder, all of whom are currently among the top four teams in the West. Phoenix later has a stretch against the playoff-contending San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks and the Grizzlies — before closing out the season in Sacramento.
The team hopes to get a boost from point guard Eric Bledsoe, who looks to return Wednesday at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Bledsoe has not played since the last game of 2013, as he has been recovering from a torn meniscus. The Suns were 16-8 in the games Bledsoe played earlier in the year, but they have gone 17-16 since he last took the court.
McDonough said that he thinks coach Jeff Hornacek will bring Bledsoe off the bench initially and “reintegrate him slowly” into the rotation, but that the fourth-year guard will be under no specified restriction on his minutes.
The GM added that even though Bledsoe hasn’t played a game in nearly two and a half months, it’s not like he’s unfamiliar with his teammates and Hornacek’s system.
“The good news is it’s not like you’re bringing back a guy that hasn’t played all year,” he said. “Eric’s played 24 games for us. He started almost all of those games. He’s been around. Doing his rehab, he’s been around practice; he’s been around the shootarounds. So he knows our plays. He knows the terminology. He knows his teammates. I think it’s different than trading for a guy and trying to work him into the lineup and having him learn all the plays and terminology on the fly.
“We do have good backcourt depth. We have guys with (Goran) Dragic and (Gerald) Green especially who are playing extremely well. So I think that’ll help ease Eric’s transition, but as you guys know he’s a physical specimen. He’s a freak. And so if anybody can come back quickly and get up to speed, it’s him.”