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Suns could make headway to remain in playoff mix over next week

San Antonio Spurs' DeMar DeRozan carries the ball past Phoenix Suns' Mikal Bridges in the second half of their regular-season NBA basketball game in Mexico City, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Since losing eight games in a row, the Phoenix Suns have gone 7-4 and evened themselves out in the race for the eighth seed with an 18-24 record.

Over the next seven days, the Suns will play three games against teams standing between their 10th-place position in the Western Conference standings and a playoff spot.

They take on the ninth-place San Antonio Spurs (18-23) on Monday and Friday and the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies (20-22) on Sunday, with a game against the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday.

Forty-two games into the season and the Feb. 6  trade deadline less than three weeks away, this stretch could dictate whether the Suns will be buyers, sellers or stand pat with their roster.

Phoenix will first face San Antonio on Monday. The Spurs looked like their 22-year playoff run was coming to an end when they went 4-12 in November, but they have since balanced out and gone 11-9 since Dec. 3.

Behind LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan, the Spurs score the eighth-most points per game in the league. The Suns are tied with the Grizzlies for ninth in points-per-game.

Aldridge will give the Suns a new test they haven’t seen from him over his 14-year career: He’s been extending his game beyond the arc. Since Dec. 23, he has averaged almost five 3-point attempts per game. Prior to this season, he had only attempted five 3-pointers in a game one time over his entire career.

Phoenix and San Antonio have played each other just once this season. The Spurs won 121-119 in overtime on Dec. 14.

There is only half a game between the two in the standings entering the Monday matchup.

On Sunday, the Suns will take on the Memphis Grizzlies, who enter Monday on a seven-game win streak and hold the eighth seed in the West.

Point guard Ja Morant is the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year. Over the Grizzlies’ seven-game win streak, Morant has averaged 19.3 points, 9.0 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game while shooting 59.1% from the field and 37.5% from 3.

He’s not the only concern for Phoenix. The Suns allow Jonas Valanciunas to play like an elite center at times; last year, he had 34 points and 20 rebounds in a March game, and earlier this month, he put up 30 points and eight rebounds to help Memphis overcome Devin Booker’s 40 points.

Center Deandre Ayton will put his three-game streak of 20 points and 10 rebounds to the test against Valanciunas.

The Grizzlies have beat Phoenix twice this season. Another win would give Memphis the tiebreaker over the Suns if that becomes necessary for a playoff spot.

But the Suns are still 40 games away knowing if that will even matter.

Before, business entails taking out other teams contending for the same spot. Eight teams are within five games of the eighth spot, and the Suns, with an 18-24 record, can’t afford to lose many games against teams in that vicinity.


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