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Perfect bubble could still send Suns home as dramatic Thursday awaits

Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams watches play during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, Pool)

It’s a bit cruel for a team’s season to come down to one final day, right?

We all forgot what this felt like.

The potential for the unlikeliest of Phoenix Suns playoff berths is still alive, one some of the fanbase has been too soiled in misery to even consider as a possibility after a hilariously rocky last half-decade. It sure as hell feels real now, and it took the franchise’s longest winning streak in a decade for it to be.

All three teams that are directly involved in the Suns’ chances play on Thursday.

If the Memphis Grizzlies or Portland Trail Blazers lose, a Suns win and they are in.

It’s a legitimate thing now, to the point where head coach Monty Williams can now address it as such.

“We can finally look at it. It’s our next step,” he said after Tuesday’s win to make it 7-0.

“We know that we’re not totally in control our fate but we put ourselves in a good position. Nobody would have guessed the Phoenix Suns would be in this position.”

If that quick sketch of Thursday isn’t enough to produce anxiety for fans already, the circumstances and timing of the games that paint the entire picture surely will.

The Suns play the Dallas Mavericks at 1 p.m., who are coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Blazers in which Damian Lillard scored 61 points, the best game of the bubble so far.

That defeat locked in the Mavericks as the seventh seed, so there’s hope they will sit some of their key players. Head coach Rick Carlisle did so already on Monday, citing the team’s back-to-back and three overtime games as his reasoning.

When Phoenix plays, so too will the Grizzlies against the Milwaukee Bucks. The 1 p.m. tip-off could also see the Bucks resting guys, as they’ve had the No. 1 overall seed clinched for a while now.

And if they were thinking about playing league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, he was ejected on Tuesday after headbutting an opposing player, so they might not even be able to anyway if he gets suspended.

The Suns will have to do some scoreboard-watching if they want to properly celebrate making the play-in after a win on Thursday, and if the Grizzlies also do, they’ll have to wait until 6 p.m. for when the Blazers take on the Brooklyn Nets.

The Nets made the playoffs on Friday and are widely regarded as one of the worst teams in Orlando with players like Kyrie Irving and Spencer Dinwiddie opting out, but they’ve been scrappy. Brooklyn is 5-2 in seven games, owning a top-10 bubble net rating.

But what they do not have going for them is the guy averaging a bubble-high 37.0 points per game in Lillard, and with Memphis at 1-6, a shorthanded Bucks squad is the Suns’ best chance.

The San Antonio Spurs are still involved too, but they don’t factor into the Suns’ quandary of getting in, so I’ll spare you the details on them potentially being the Suns’ play-in opponent. Sorry, I’m sure that sent a chill down your spine.

We haven’t talked about the Suns still needing to win on Thursday all that much, and that’s another unforeseen challenge of this new environment.

They clearly were affected by the Oklahoma City Thunder and Philadelphia 76ers sitting a handful of important players each, playing their worst basketball of the bubble in the first quarters of both games.

This is a whole different level of distraction, though.

“We’re not going to change our approach,” Williams said. “I think that would be a mistake on our part. I think our guys need to have the same focus. We’ve always tried to implement championship practices and film sessions and have a high level of focus so that we don’t have to change.”

All-Star guard Devin Booker certainly is not going to come out flat-footed in the biggest game of his life thus far.

“These are the games that I’ve been waiting to be in and play in,” he said.

“We came in with the right mindset. We’re ready to go … We didn’t come in saying we wanted to win eight in a row. We just wanted to win one game eight times.”

Wing Mikal Bridges is often the one who shares the team’s mentality the best, and he reflected how and why Thursday is the team’s final test to prove what they’ve been doing is legit.

“We here to win,” he said.

“This one is the biggest one. See if we can really stay with what we’ve been doing. Go out there, have a mentality to play together and don’t change what we’ve been doing. “Don’t get selfish, just stay doing what we’re doing playing off each other. “

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