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Phoenix Suns playing well, playoff destiny is in their hands

PHOENIX, Ariz. — Teams, regardless of sport, want to be at their best down the stretch.

The Phoenix Suns are no exception, and in fact they are adhering to that philosophy, winning eight of their last 10, including their two most recent games against Portland and Oklahoma City to vault to No. 8 in the Western Conference playoff standings.

Only the San Antonio Spurs have played better basketball with nine wins over that same period.

Of the Suns’ eight victories, which includes a season-best six-game winning streak, four have come against teams with winning records, three of which were won on the road.

And that is where the Suns (46-31) find themselves this week, playing three games in four nights.

“We’ve won a lot of big games on the road,” P.J. Tucker said. “The way we come out and play on the road and fight. We’ve come back down 20 in a couple of games on the road and won (Minnesota, Denver and Cleveland) so I think we’re definitely road tested.”

The Suns are 20-17 on the road. They play at New Orleans on Wednesday before stops in San Antonio and Dallas on back-to-back nights on Friday and Saturday.

Being away from home is not ideal, but Tucker says the Suns aren’t shying away, describing the team “like a band of brothers coming together, trying to make the playoffs.”

“You know, shock the world,” he went on. “Nobody thought we’d even be in this position. Nobody really counted on us. Even to his point, people are still saying that we’re going to be the odds one out so I think it’s just fun that we just get to go out and play. (I’m) looking forward to it.”

Head coach Jeff Hornacek called the three-game trip and four of five on the road to close the regular season a good tune-up for the playoffs.

“It’s a fun time to play,” he said. “Our guys have the confidence they can beat anybody and I think they realize they can lose to anybody. They’re approaching this as kind of do-or-die situations. So far these last couple of games they’ve done great at it; and hope to continue.”

Beating Portland and Oklahoma City took some of the sting out of the back-to-back defeats to the Los Angeles teams. Losing a 17-point third quarter lead to the Clippers was bad. Losing to the Lakers was worse — an embarrassment really — something Hornacek attributed to his team feeling they could just show up.

“That’s not going to happen on this trip,” he said. “I don’t think there’ll be any sort of letdown from winning the other night because they know what’s at stake. We talk about the destiny is in their hands. If win out, we make the playoffs. There’s no doubt about that. That’s what their aiming at right now.”

The Suns lead Memphis by one game, a cushion they must maintain having lost the season series and thus the tiebreaker should the two teams finish with the same record. The Suns play the Grizzlies one more time in the regular season home finale on April 14.

“That’s the best part about it,” Tucker said. “If we win our games, we’re in the playoffs.”