PHOENIX — Now for the real test: eight games against eight playoff teams over the next 16 days. Call it a mid-term exam to see just how far the Phoenix Suns have grown and matured as a team through the first half of the season.
The good news here is six of the eight games are at home, where the Suns have won a season-best six in a row, a far cry from their 6-7 start at US Airways Center.
The Suns will host the Blazers (31-11), Rockets (29-13), Clippers (28-14), Wizards (29-13), Bulls (27-16) and Grizzlies (29-12), with a road trip to the Golden State Warriors (33-6) and then a visit to the Blazers, the last game of this two-week-plus run on Feb. 5.
Each of the eight teams own winning percentages exceeding .600.
Combined, they stand 121 games above .500.
The Suns’ first test comes Wednesday against the Blazers, who will be minus LaMarcus Aldridge because of a left hand injury as well as fellow big men Robin Lopez (broken right hand) and Joel Freeland (left shoulder strain).
“This is the part of the season, where — we are at home, but we’re playing some great teams. If we want to make a push for (the playoffs), these are the games that guys should be fired up and ready to go and hopefully we win,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said.
“These stretches can sometimes make or break your season and we want it to make our season. We have a good stretch in here that just can catapult us for the rest of the year.”
The Suns (25-18) currently sit eighth in the Western Conference, 3.5 games clear of Oklahoma City and just 1.5 games back of San Antonio.
The Suns have not sniffed the postseason since their conference finals run in 2010.
Recent wins over the Cleveland Cavaliers, Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Lakers pushed the Suns to 13-4 in their last 17 games, or since Goran Dragic returned from a low back strain and joined a starting lineup that now features Eric Bledsoe, P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris and Alex Len.
Just four of those 13 wins, however, came against teams with winning records.
The Suns aced their quizzes, feasting on inferior competition while averaging nearly 112 points (111.6), 49.0 percent shooting and 20.4 fast break points. Only twice in the 17 games did they fail to score 100 points.
“Good game, but it’s the end of the game, so we need to go on to the next one,” Dragic said immediately after beating the Lakers 115-100 on Monday. “The next eight games we’re playing against playoff teams and it’s going to be really important how we’re going to play the next game against Portland.”