After beating the Dallas Mavericks for their fourth straight win, and third straight against teams with a better record in the West, the Phoenix Suns could only look at the scoreboard on one wall in the locker room to know it's an uphill battle to make the playoffs.
But the players aren't giving up. They don't give up in games, and they don't give up on their hopes for the playoffs.
"No question there's enough time," Markieff Morris after hitting the game-clinching jumper on the baseline with under a minute remaining.
Well, that's true. The Suns are 2.5 games back of the Thunder for the 8th spot in the West with a game to play against them, and 11 overall to go in the season versus the Thunder's 12. If the Suns win over OKC next week, that would split the season series between the two teams. If they finish with the same record and a split-series, tiebreakers would come into play. The tiebreakers are going to be close, though, likely forcing the Suns to finish with a better overall record.
"There's always enough time," Markieff said of still making the playoffs.
The Suns built a 17-point lead before having a lull where they let the Mavericks go on a 34-11 tear across 16 minutes of play to take an 86-80 lead.
"We ran out of gas for a little bit, but we kept our composure and stayed with it," said MarKLUTCH.
When asked if he felt good about his shot going, he just nodded. Of course he felt good. Has Keef ever not felt good about a shot?
He and his brother Marcus combined for 24 rebounds in the game.
"Marcus and Markieff," Hornacek said after the game. "To get those rebounds, they're not the tallest guys in the world, so they really go after it. They're not afraid to get hit. When they got their hands on them, they corralled them. Again, that was huge for the rebounding because they weren't shooting a great percentage either, so there's a lot of misses out there."
Marcus also had 7 assists and 3 steals, along with his 11 points to make this a night to remember for the Morris brothers who would be quite content to have the Suns of the future be molded after their image of themselves.
"This is a high energy, smash mouth team," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said of the Suns before the game started.
And sure enough, that's exactly the team his Mavericks faced.
The Suns finished the game on an 18-6 run in the final five minutes, including five wonderfully timed points by 20 year old Archie Goodwin, who is just a bit thrilled by getting the chance to play big minutes.
"It felt great," he said of the three pointer he made to put the Suns on top for good.
"I don't really think about it," Goodwin said of being in there in crunch time. "Because that's when you start to overthink stuff and start to be timid. I just was really staying in the moment."
That Archie was in the game at all is a testament to his work this season and his focus in this game itself. Goodwin had committed three fouls in the first half, but played much better in this stint, prompting the coach to keep him in.
"I liked it because we haven't had that look where we've had that kind of high two-guard front in a while," coach Hornacek said of Goodwin and Bledsoe out there, with Knight injured. "So I thought that maybe with Eric and Archie out there, we could get the floor spread a little bit more.
"Give Archie credit, he made a big shot, made a big spin move and got the layup. Defensively, I thought he was good. He battled Chandler Parsons, didn't let him score there at the end. He challenged shots and big credit, that was huge for us."
The Suns have been passing the ball a lot more lately, even making inside passes from one big to another that wouldn't have been seen earlier in the season.
"We told the guys," Hornacek said. "Starting last night (against Houston), they were really trusting their team mates, I thought, on both sides of the ball and that was a perfect example where Eric could have probably just said, ‘I'm going to try to shoot this one.' Instead, he saw Archie over there and he just hit the open guy and Archie knocked it in. We made some big, key plays at the end of that game."
Tucker echoed that sentiment.
"We turned down shots to get other shots for each other," Tucker said. "Me and Marcus play so well together, a couple times I was wide open I seen him and swing it to him and he does the same. So it's just having trust in each other, playing together."
Tucker also stumped to keep the big lineup going, even when Knight comes back.
"I really like our lineup with me and Marcus (Morris) at the two and three," he said. "I don't think we lost a rebound battle against any team since we went to that lineup. We communicate better so I really like that lineup."
Along with Goodwin, T.J. Warren has been getting some regular run with good results. His eight points and two rebounds were helpful.
"I just looked at it as just playing basketball," he said of his playing time in key situations. "Actually getting on the court and getting reps up and staying in shape. Its benefitted me a lot to this point to actually get out there and get in the game and be effective any way I can out there."
For now, these games right here are the Suns playoffs. They probably won't make the postseason, sitting three losses behind the Thunder with just 11 games to go. But with a killer closing schedule loaded with nearly all playoff teams, the Suns have an opportunity to crash the party early and prove themselves down the stretch.
And the fans have been feeling it too.
"Yeah the crowd was good tonight," Tucker said. "We needed their energy, especially when we were down six. We hit a couple shots and the crowd was getting into it. It was fun."