The Dallas Mavericks have given Phoenix a reasonable chance to make a last-ditched run at the postseason. The Suns’ most significant barrier might be their problems on the road.
All of the disappointing losses the Mavericks have suffered recently won’t matter much if they win Sunday against a Phoenix team which is the only one capable of catching them for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot.
With Dallas’ 107-102 loss to lowly Memphis on Friday night and Phoenix’s 139-111 win over Sacramento the same evening, the ninth-place Suns (42-34) moved within three games of the Mavericks (45-31) in the race for eighth place in the West.
Each team has six games left and if Dallas wins this matchup, it will own the tiebreaker over Phoenix for winning the season series. That means the Mavericks would need only one more win to clinch a playoff berth and officially end the postseason hopes of the Suns.
However, if Phoenix wins Sunday, the gap would be cut to two games with the tiebreaker yet to be decided.
“We’re Italy going to France playing on their home court for the World Cup,” Suns veteran Grant Hill said, “so, no excuses.”
Phoenix is 8-3 following a season-high six-game losing streak, while Dallas has lost six of 11.
The Suns, though, play their next four games away from US Airways Center. They have lost eight of nine on the road, allowing 118.5 points per game.
Dallas, meanwhile, has remained tough at home, winning 20 of its last 23. The Mavs beat the Suns 112-97 at American Airlines Center on Dec. 4, and they took a 2-1 lead in the season series with a 122-117 win in Phoenix on March 10.
“Every game from this point is going to count for us,” Dallas center Erick Dampier said. “We don’t just want to get in the playoffs, we want to move up. The only way we are going to do that is if we win games.”
Having Josh Howard healthy for the final six games would certainly help the Mavs’ cause.
After missing 11 straight games with an ankle injury, the veteran swingman returned for two contests before sitting out Friday. Dallas said it was due to a sore ankle, but Howard also aggravated a left wrist injury Wednesday night against Miami.
Howard’s status for Sunday’s contest is uncertain. If he can’t play, James Singleton would likely get a second straight start as Dallas tries to compensate by picking up the intensity on defense.
The Mavs have allowed more than 100 points in 11 of their last 16 games. The Suns are averaging 119.8 points in their last 25 contests.
“When we make up our mind to play, we are a good defensive team,” Dampier said. “We can’t overlook anyone. It is going to be up to us to get the job done defensively.”
Phoenix is coming off one of its most impressive offensive games of the season, shooting 54.7 percent and matching a season high with 14 3-pointers against Sacramento.
Steve Nash continues to play well, posting 29 points and nine assists before sitting out the fourth quarter with the starters resting for Sunday’s game. The star point guard is averaging 28.3 points while shooting 60.0 percent from the field and 71.4 percent (10-for-14) from 3-point range in his last three contests.
Nash got some help in the backcourt with Leandro Barbosa returning after missing seven games with a bruised left knee, scoring 15 points in nearly 15 minutes. He’s posting 14.3 points per game, 19.0 in his last two against Dallas.