The Phoenix Suns won’t be in the playoffs this season. They’ll have to settle for trying to take advantage of a soft closing stretch as they look to finish up strong.
After having their four-year streak of postseason appearances snapped, the Suns begin playing out their schedule as they go for their 11th straight win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night.
Phoenix was eliminated from playoff contention Wednesday night when Dallas defeated Utah. Beginning with the 1988-89 season, the Suns (43-35) had only missed the playoffs twice before falling short this season.
“It’s very disappointing but the good thing about America is you can always come back and try again,” said center Shaquille O’Neal, who had reached the playoffs every season since missing them as a rookie with Orlando in 1992-93.
O’Neal finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds for his 29th double-double of the season in Phoenix’s 105-100 win over New Orleans on Wednesday. Steve Nash led the Suns with 24 points and 13 assists and made six key free throws in the final 43 seconds.
Phoenix had allowed opponents to average 118.5 points in the previous eight games.
“We could have mailed it in,” forward Grant Hill said. “We got down early but we kept our composure.”
Seven of Phoenix’s previous nine games have come against postseason-bound teams. The Suns’ final four contests should be decidedly easier, as they face Memphis (22-56) twice along with Minnesota and Golden State.
Phoenix’s win streak over the Grizzlies is at 10 after it took the first two meetings this season. The Suns won the most recent matchup 101-89 at Memphis on Dec. 30 behind 24 points and 13 rebounds from O’Neal.
The Grizzlies, looking to surpass their 22-win totals from each of the last two seasons, fell 81-78 to Orlando on Wednesday for their second straight loss. Memphis led by eight going into the fourth quarter but the Magic went on a 19-7 run to take control.
“It’s something to build on,” coach Lionel Hollins said. “I just told the team, you took the fourth-best team in the West (in Portland), and the third-best team in the East, back-to-back, right down to the wire.”
Hollins is especially happy with how Conley has stepped up. The second-year point guard is averaging 10.9 points and 4.2 assists this season and 16.1 points in the last 18 games.
“He’s going to be the engine (that drives the team),” Hollis said. “He is the guy that is going to run the team in the future.”
Conley has scored just two points in 44 minutes over two games against the Suns this season, going 0-for-11 from the field.
The Grizzlies have lost five in a row at home to the Suns since a 91-87 victory Dec. 17, 2005.