With their chances of winning a fourth consecutive Pacific Division title slipping away, the Suns hope an eighth straight win over the defensively challenged Grizzlies can help them recover from a disheartening defeat.
Phoenix (51-26) went into Sunday’s home game against Dallas having scored at least 107 points in five straight games, averaging 117.2 in that span while shooting 51.6 percent. The Suns appeared on their way to another big offensive performance, scoring 91 points through three quarters against a Mavericks team that’s among the league leaders defensively (95.8 ppg).
Suddenly, Phoenix went cold, going scoreless for nearly eight minutes of the fourth and blowing a 13-point lead to lose 105-98. The Suns were 3-of-19 from the floor in the final period as Steve Nash missed all six of his attempts to finish 4-for-17.
“We were feeling good about everything, everything was going our way,” Nash said, “and their backs were against the wall, not only in this game but in the season. We played like two teams in different psychological places.”
The Suns fell two games behind the division-leading Lakers, winners of four in a row, and Los Angeles already owns the tiebreaker because it won the season series. Phoenix, 4-4 in its last eight, has won the Pacific in all three seasons since re-acquiring Nash.
The Suns also dropped to sixth in the Western Conference, one game behind fifth-place Houston with five to play, though they clinched a playoff berth Sunday when Golden State and Denver both lost.
Before visiting San Antonio and Houston this week on its three-game road trip, Phoenix faces a Memphis team it has beaten seven consecutive times. The Suns have averaged 129.5 points and shot 58.8 percent in two meetings this season, with each being decided by at least 14 points.
The Grizzlies have given up more than 100 points in 10 consecutive games, allowing an average of 111.3 in that span. Four of their last five opponents have shot better than 51 percent from the field, putting Memphis last in the league for the season at 48.0 percent.
Amare Stoudemire has averaged 29.0 points while shooting 71.3 percent during Phoenix’s seven-game win streak over Memphis.
Stoudemire had 31 points Sunday - he’s averaged 29.2 in 24 games with Shaquille O’Neal in a Suns uniform - but missed three crucial free throws down the stretch and shot below 50 percent from the field (12-of-26) for the first time in 11 games.
“It was just the fact of not really getting open and sometimes missing a few of them,” Stoudemire said. “But we still have to be in attack mode even if we miss a couple shots. We can’t back away from it, we still have to be aggressive.”
Memphis (21-56) is tied with New York for the league’s fourth-worst record, but has split its last 12 games and is coming off a 113-101 win at Minnesota on Sunday.
“I think we’re still on a pace to become a pretty good team. I think it’s going to take a while, a couple more practices,” Gay said with a smile. “A lot of things just happened too late in the season.”