PHOENIX (AP) — After victories over Portland and Oklahoma City, the Phoenix Suns have cemented their status as the NBA's most surprising team.
Now comes a three-games-in-four-days trip that could make or break the Suns' playoff chances.
Entering Tuesday's play, with five games to go, the Suns held the eighth and final playoff spot in the West, a game ahead of Memphis and a half-game behind No. 7 Dallas.
A team predicted to be among the worst in the league stands at 46-31, with first-year coach Jeff Hornacek overseeing a high-energy bunch led by the dynamic backcourt of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. The mercurial but often spectacular Gerald Green is also in a career year for a player who had bounced around the league with little success.
"I'm proud of these guys, of how they've battled all year," Hornacek said before the team left town Tuesday, "of having expectations of winning less than 20 games. They've been determined to try to prove that wrong all year. For us coaches, we're just proud of the fact that they play hard every night, they try to do what we ask, they lay it out there."
The Suns play at New Orleans on Wednesday night then face San Antonio on Friday and Dallas on Saturday.
Phoenix has won eight of 10, but one of those losses, a blowout to the Lakers, still haunts them. Hornacek expects no such flat performances on this trip.
"We'd just come off winning those six in a row and they thought we were just going to show up and win," he said. "I think they know that's not going to happen on this trip. I don't think there'll be any sort of letdown from winning the other night (over Oklahoma City) because they know what's at stake."
Dragic said the team can't afford to look past New Orleans.
"The first one, that's a huge one," he said. "If you win the first one on the road, then you kind of set the tone for the rest of those games on the road trip. We have to get that one, then the next two are the real games for us."
The last two victories over playoff-bound teams were critical in keeping Phoenix in the playoff hunt. At Portland, the Suns used a big fourth quarter to win. Then Sunday at home against Oklahoma City, Phoenix went on a 10-0 run in the final minutes, after the Thunder had taken the lead, to win 122-115.